Yakuza 0 - The Perfect Time to Jump Into the Series | A Short Pause Review
Like I assume most of us do, I have a bucket list of franchises that I’d love to set aside some time to play through one of these days. The three franchises at the top of my list have always been Mass Effect, Dark Souls and Yakuza. Back in my early PS3-owning days, I remember watching a video review on Gametrailers.com for Yakuza 3 and thinking to myself, “Man, this looks like a freaking blast! I gotta get this!” And so I did. However, I was also really into chasing platinum trophies at this time, and Yakuza 3 is one hell of a time-vampire in this regard so the game was placed on the back-burner once again. Fast forward a few years, I’ve stopped chasing platinum trophies in every game, and Yakuza 5 hits the PS3. I picked it up and, after spending about four hours with it, I decided to stop playing because I wanted to start the series from the beginning. As luck would have it, Sega and Sony announced Yakuza 0 was coming West around this same time. The stars had aligned and I knew this would be the perfect jumping on point for myself and the series. Based on my experience with Yakuza 0, my decision to start the franchise from its inception was an excellent decision as I’m hooked on the narrative and anxious to play the next entry in the series!
Tale of the Tape
Title: Yakuza 0
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Yakuza 0 tells the origin story of series stalwarts Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. As the game begins, both men find themselves removed from their respective families of the Tojo clan for different reasons. While Majima is biding his time as the manager of the Grand — the hottest night club in the area of Sotenbori — until he’s given the opportunity to return to his family, Kiryu ends up embroiled in a plot to save someone he considers a father figure. Both men face a series of trials and tribulations over the course of the game as their narratives expand and eventually begin to intertwine.
The story takes center stage here. Cut-scenes are often long and informative as players are treated to loads of background information and lore. There are dozens of moving pieces in each of the character’s stories, but the team at Sega did a great job keeping it cohesive while throwing a fair amount of action at the player. Unlike many of today’s games – such as Halo 5: Guardians – the cut-scenes in Yakuza 0 are focused on the narrative and dialogue, leaving the player to go hands-on during all of the title’s action sequences. Whether you’re flying down the highway as part of a high speed chase, beating the snot out of a small army of Yakuza family members, or running through a corridor like a one-man-wrecking-crew, rest assured that all of Yakuza 0’s intense action occurs while you’re in control of either Majima or Kiryu!
When players aren’t wrapped up in one of the game’s high-octane story chapters, there’s plenty of side content to keep them entertained should they decide they want to explore a little bit. There are two cities in the game — Sotenbori and Kamurocho — and each location is littered with areas that house a wide variety of mini-games, from karaoke and underground circuit racing, to an arcade full of classic Sega titles and even phone dating. These activities are a nice touch, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend a good 20 minutes trying to fish out a particular stuffed animal from a claw machine for a fatherless young girl waiting outside the arcade.
Sub-stories are another wonderful distraction that players will stumble upon as they roam the streets of Sotenbori and Kamurocho. It’s here, within these glorious side-quests, that players will find themselves exposed to the lighthearted, humorous side of Kiryu and Majima. Sub-stories offer a wide variety of activities for those curious enough to seek them out, from Kiryu trying to teach a band how to be hardcore hooligans or filming a music video with some of the best talent in the world, to Majima aiding a helplessly in-love errand boy and everything in-between. Each city also contains a couple of sub-stories based around building a friendship with an NPC. The aforementioned fatherless child pining over stuffed animals is a good example of this kind of mission in action. Also, I want to send a special shoutout to that asshole Mr. Shakedown, an NPC wandering the streets whose sole purpose is to beat you down and take all of the money you have on you! These sub-stories aren’t marked on the map, but they’re regularly found by simply wandering the city. While exploring is often fun and bountiful, players will probably find themselves getting stuck on a variety of things in the environment when trying to navigate the world of Yakuza 0, including bicycles, small street poles, and the corners of food carts. It’s not a huge deal, but running around the crowded streets of Sotenbori and Kamurocho can be slightly annoying as you bounce off of people, accidentally find yourself stuck on the corner of a sign, and have to reposition yourself to keep running.
Rounding out the side activities for each character are the business-simulation quest lines. These are some of the most involved missions in the game as players are tasked with running their own real estate firm as Kiryu, or building up a small cabaret club as Majima. I won’t lie –- I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with the business simulation stuff after completing the tutorials for each of them. They’re a little grindy and a huge time-sink as they require players to not only invest funds into the business, but to tackle any issues that arise like sinking money into a manager battle or going out and beating up some goons making trouble in your neighborhood. Players looking to max out their ability trees across the board will likely find themselves heavily invested here as these activities are a great source of income. That said, I personally found them to be an unwelcome distraction from all of the other shenanigans I enjoyed engaging in throughout the cities.
Funds are important on a variety of fronts, from investing in various businesses to – as the game so quaintly calls it – investing in one’s self. As I broke down in my preview article, each character learns three different fighting stances. The directional pad is utilized to swap between these styles in the heat of combat, with the down arrow in particular mapped to equipping whatever weapon players have selected in their inventory. Each of these styles has its own skill tree which players can utilize to improve things like damage output, health bar size, or even the rate at which the Heat gauge — a refillable meter used to deliver devastating attacks — dips. Unlocking the higher tiers within each of the stance’s skill trees will grant players access to new moves and fighting capabilities, including the ability to tackle a foe after being knocked down. There are incentives to investing in each of the game’s fighting styles, even if it’s just for a health meter boost.
All in all, Yakuza 0 offers an insane amount of enjoyable and addicting content. The narrative is fantastic, and those who see it through to the end will be treated to an epic story dripping with lore and intense plot twists. While there’s a lot of dialogue to read, players won’t feel left out as key moments throughout the story are entirely in the player’s control; you’ll be center stage throughout all of the game’s bombastic action scenes. Side content compliments the action nicely, exposing Kiryu and Majima to situations that showcase the game’s light-hearted side as they aid various NPCs around the city with some pretty humorous dilemmas. Even when considering the less enjoyable business-simulation aspects of the game, players will still have plenty to do as they roam the streets and invest in their favorite fighting styles. If you’ve ever found yourself on the outside looking in on this franchise, I can’t recommend Yakuza 0 enough. This felt like the perfect introduction to the series, and I’m really excited to continue my Yakuza journey this summer when Yakuza: Kiwami arrives in the West. This wait is suddenly much harder to bear.
Yakuza 0 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy of the game provided to us by our friends at Sega.
Simple, yet effective, combat system
Rich and extremely fleshed out story
Dozens of hours of mostly enjoyable side content
You’re in the center of all of the action!
Business-sim side-stories require a lot of grinding
Easy to run into and get stopped by obstacles in the environment
Umm…the 5-6 month wait ahead for Yakuza: Kiwami?