I’m writing this having just finished the story of Yakuza 0 and my blood is still pumping after beating the final boss to a pulp. Even after 6 games, Yakuza still gets me going like no other games do. On some level, this is what all those 80s action movies all try to do, but none get it as right as Yakuza. And that’s because Yakuza games work hard to get the player completely and emotionally invested in the characters and story that you do feel like ripping off your shirt and yelling “Come at me!” by the time introductions and pre war speeches are over. In Yakuza, words rev you up, but fists do the talking.
Readers of this site will know, I’m a long time Yakuza fan, having played all the mainline english translated titles in the series. In fact, its pretty much the only series in gaming I have kept up with to date. And while no Yakuza title would have made my Top 10 of all time, it still was more or less my favourite series. Yakuza 1 and 4 were the best entires, Yakuza 1 had an excellent story, while Yakuza 4 was the first time they really executed and made an excellent game as a whole. Y4 had a great story featuring multiple playable characters split into their own story segments which all linked back to the main story. Y2, Y3, Y5 were good games that were slightly flawed in some way, particularly Y5 which as you can read my review on this site had real pacing issues and content bloat. That then made it all the more surprising that Yakuza 0 could be THIS good, a game that not only is a (score spoiler) 10 out of 10, but a game that marches straight into my personal pantheon of gaming. I mean my top 3 games for the longest time has been Final Fantasy X, Silent Hill 2 and Pro Evolution Soccer and if I give it a few months, I don’t see why this wouldn’t overtake one of these games.
The secret I believe to why Yakuza 0 is so good is its execution. Almost every single complaint I had with Yakuza 5 is gone from Y0. And not only gone, but every aspect of the game and what it wants to achieve from a Yakuza game has been improved upon and mastered, and all the while producing a game that is both incredibly accessible for new comers who want to start at the beginning of the series and for old fans like myself to find out more about the past stories of these Yakuza. With these constraints, the Yakuza team has really outdone itself.
It starts with the story, unlike in Yakuza 5 where it was very bloated with 5 playable characters, here Yakuza 0 smartly trims it back to 2. Longtime series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and series fan favourite in his first canon entry Majima Goro are the two playable characters in this and the game shuffles back and forth between the two without ever overstaying its welcome. Much of the time, the chapter ends and the player is left with a somewhat abrupt feeling of wanting to play more and find out more of the story, only to be moved to the next character.
In Yakuza 0 Kazuma Kiryu spend most of his time in Kamurocho, the series main area of play modelled off Tokyo’s red light district Kabuki-cho. He’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and its up to him to clear his name. Standing in his way are Dojima family lieutenants, Kuze, Awano and Shibusawa who are after the owner of the empty lot, a tiny piece of land that all the various Yakuza family factions are fighting for. The Yakuza which gets hold of the land gets enormous power and influence with the Yakuza. On Majima Goro’s side of the story, he’s been tasked to kill a mark by his boss to win back his place in his Yakuza family, the Shimano family, but when he arrives at the scene, he finds himself protecting the victim rather than killing her. Little does he know how important she is to become.
From start to finish, Yakuza 0 is the most tightly scripted Yakuza game yet, in fact none of the other games can really hold a candle to just how lean of a script this really is. Gone are all the superfluous characters of the series past. Every character with more than a handful of lines gets meaningful character development. You know those movies/games where the villain just turns up at the end? Yakuza 0 develops them from the first minute with as much dedication as the protagonists. When the final fight comes, the player becomes totally invested. The game also makes wonderful use of both Kamurocho and Sotenbori (Osaka’s Dotenbori) and the criss crossing back and forth every two chapters keeps things fresh and interesting. It also uses the locations incredibly well by having story elements revolve around the two cities, both Kazuma and Majima have opportunites to visit both cities though that happens later on in the game. The writing is witty, sharp and badass and the localization is top notch. How many ways can the player be threatened before a fight, obviously countless ways given how many Yakuza games there have been. And yet after 10 years, it never gets old.
One thing fans love about the series is its abundance of content, and Yakuza 0 is no different. While the story may take between 25-30 hours if you do a straight run through, a 100% game will take well over 100 hours. Most of my past Yakuza experiences have been story only runs, but with Yakuza 0 I did a fair share of side content and mini games, and many of them are hilarious and fun. While the main story is on the serious side, the side content is where Yakuza devs let their hair down and have a bit of fun. You’ll find things like breaking up an underwear selling racket, a little boy that wants toys out of the arcade toy crane machine, a dominatrix that can’t dominate, a geek that invites you to use a ‘mobile phone’ (the game is set in the 80s) and just all sorts of wacky quirky stuff. With over 100 substories, not every sub story is a winner, but you can play them until they wear out its welcome.
Along with the sub story another HUGE part of Yakuza games are the monumental amount of mini games on offer. One of the most amazing parts of these games is that the Yakuza franchise builds upon each release so the games continually get more and more content and Yakuza 0 is no different. Here is a list of ALL the mini games in 0.
- Batting Cage
- Colosseum Arena
- Cat Fighting
- Pocket Car Racing
- Phone Dating
- Casino Games (Blackjack, Poker, Roulette, Baccarat)
- Dice Gambling Games
- Real Estate (Kazuma only)
- Cabaret Club Management (Majima only)
Each mini game is well fleshed out with difficulty modes, various songs for Disco and Karaoke, various modes of play for Billiards (8 ball/9 ball etc), oodles of opponents to beat up in the Colosseum, tons of customizations for Pocket Car Racing. You can spend hours and hours playing the mini games. Completing side content and mini games get you more completion points which allow you to unlock various bonuses and add to your final completion rate, and although not completely necessary its nice to be rewarded.
The combat then is the main portion of the gameplay and Yakuza 0 improves on the system found in Yakuza 5. There are now three combat styles for each of the protagonists which can be switched on the fly allowing the player to find one that best suits his play style or need. Not only are there more styles, but the combat itself is faster, slicker and more accurate. Gone are the clunky controls of the PS2 era, and while the PS3 games had good controls, Yakuza 0 is significantly improved. You can definitely tell this in boss encounters where dodging their attacks require precise controls. The heat actions (press triangle (when applicable) to do a badass move) are as badass as they’ve always been, and there’s an immense variety of them to find, many of them contextual. There’ll be ones to knock people off a ledge, or one to smack someone into a truck or even some relating to various items in the area. My favourite is the one where Majima pours boiling water from a kettle onto the enemy’s face. In short, its the best combat yet.
Another aspect that Yakuza games always improve on over time are the graphics. This game looks phenomenal and considering it has a PS3 version in Japan, being made as a crossover title makes it that much more impressive from a development point of view. You wouldn’t know it from just looking at this game and even though it came out in Japan in 2015, its easily graphically better than some exclusive PS4 games like Nioh that came out this year. Housed in glorious 1080p and running at 60fps, there is little to nothing to complain about from a technical graphical standpoint. There is a little pop in and fps slowdown here and there but nothing that ever becomes too noticeable. Artisically, the game is also filled with color during the day and amazing neon lit billboards at night time. This game also features some of the best facial motion capture of any game to date and all the actors do a phenomenal job with their roles.
Finally there has to be a mention of the music. We know Sega are masters of 8 bit and 16 bit tunes, but Yakuza’s music fits the game to a T. Walking around town is usually filled with ambient noise from the hustle and bustle of a busy Japanese street, but getting into combat lets the music take over, and much of it is glorious combat music of electric guitars that get your blood pumping. How do you get into the mood of getting into a fight? Why you listen to Yakuza music of course. And if you’re feeling extra badass, listen to the boss fight music.
But in the end, what keeps everything together, and what elevates this game above and beyond many other games, is its level of execution, its direction, its complete commitment to quality and its intensity of the story that gathers incredible momentum like the end of a 400m race. When its all said and done, this is Sega’s true masterpiece and their best game of all time.