Sega's Japanese mafia series has found a welcome home in the west ever since its debut over a decade ago. Now that we've seen five games and a few spin-offs, it's time to finally visit the series' origins.
Yakuza 0 tells the stories of both Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima who find themselves in the middle of a huge mix-up. Throughout the campaign, you alternate between them as you seek justice and freedom. In order to do so, you'll have to accomplish many tasks throughout the streets of Kamurocho (as Kiryu) and Sotenbori (as Majima). Along the way, you'll also be distracted by loads of side-missions and mini-games that can be so enjoyable that you'll spend hours avoiding the pressing matters at hand. The story itself is full of intense drama, unexpected comedy, and many memorable action scenes. It's a beautifully-crafted tale that acts as the perfect driving force to make anyone want to see the plot through to the end. It'll make you laugh, think, and above all else: take pride in the fact that you're a Yakuza fan.
Like other games in the series, the primary component of gameplay is combat. Both Kiryu and Majima have three fighting styles each (and perhaps a hidden fourth style) that you can switch to in the heat of battle. They gain these abilities by watching other brawlers in action then saying something like "Whoa..." before claiming the style for their own. It's pretty funny stuff. Both characters have a basic familiar style yet Kiryu can also implement one where he uses heavy objects as weapons and a boxing-inspired one where he becomes more agile. Majima can use a baseball bat in one of his styles while the other is influenced by break-dancing and will make you feel like a capoeira superstar. Overall, the combat is just awesome and it makes even the most insignificant bouts incredibly satisfying.
Yakuza 0's most impressive feature is its variety. Besides fighting, the missions include anything from fetch-quests, stealthily escorting folks from point A to point B unharmed, performing quick-time events, and carrying on conversations while choosing the most inconspicuous answers. You'll find yourself accomplishing feats such as breaking up panty-selling rings, buying booze for homeless people, filling in for a TV producer, and making friends with the police. Every five to fifteen minutes, you'll be doing something else and almost every task is memorable and a ton of fun. Meanwhile, you'll collect useful items, Pocket Circuit car parts, and better equipment as well as constantly upgrade your abilities via grids for each fighting style. There's so much to do that you'll never get bored.
To add even more variety, Yakuza 0 features an unbelievable amount of mini-games. For starters, you can play a few Sega classics in arcades including Space Harrier, Out Run, and their famous claw machine. If you have a friend over, you can enjoy some multiplayer games including bowling, darts, pool, and disco. Each one is so surprisingly in-depth and undeniably fun that Sega could easily release them as separate games. You can also fish in-game and challenge online players to mah-jong, Cee-lo, and poker. If that's not impressive then I don't know what is. Even if you don't play the main story, there's enough extra content to keep you busy for hours.
One of my biggest complaints about Yakuza 0 is that the two areas (Kamurocho and Sotenbori) are very small when compared to other open world games. Sure, they're crowded and there are many points of interest but it all ends up looking the same after wandering around the streets for a while. Heck, even a lot of the stores are just direct copies of each other but with different cashiers. It especially comes across as restricting whenever you're on missions that force you to travel around the district.
Another significant issue is that this is a PlayStation 4 game that looks like a PS3 game. Although I don't personally care about graphics much, this is kind of disappointing considering it's such a compelling game yet the poor visuals frequently take you out of the experience. For example, although Kiryu, Majima, and a few other key characters are somewhat detailed, almost every other person is generic and even sometimes blocky. Also, the environments may be flashy but their lack of finesse often makes them feel soulless. To be fair, Yakuza 0 was released almost two years ago simultaneously on both PlayStation 3 and 4 in Japan so that probably explains it.
Yakuza 0 may not have the best visuals or the biggest game world but its outstanding gameplay and amount of content make it a must-buy prequel for fans of the series. Even if you're unfamiliar with Yakuza, this is definitely one to check out.
- + Awesome combat with many various styles
- + Engaging story that's full of drama, comedy, and plenty of action
- + Loads of content and variety
- - The open world is rather small and restricting
- - Graphics and character models aren't quite up to PlayStation 4 standards