Saturday, 29 September 2018 09:00

Yakuza 0 Review

Written by

Yakuza 0 is a “new” installment to the Yakuza series which turns the dials of time backwards to tell the origin story for the two main characters, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Released on Playstation two years ago, the PC port from SEGA is finally here. Set in 1988 Kamurocho, both characters are struggling to hang onto their Yakuza ties as the family battles with shadowy figures over enormously profitable plots of land.  

Little Orphan Kiryu

Yakuza 0 frequently switches you between the two playable characters, however, the first few hours of gameplay are devoted to Kiryu’s story. Orphaned as a child, Kiryu is adopted by a Yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss and aspires to pay him back by eventually becoming a Yakuza himself even against his father’s wishes.

Kiryu’s early Yakuza career is cut short when he is framed for murder from a simple collection job. As the family comes down on him from the severity of taking a life in Japanese culture he is forced to leave the Yakuza knowing that there is technically no turning back, furthermore knowing that it is essentially a death sentence.

Lacking any skills or knowledge outside of the Yakuza, Kiryu’s code of honor and his luck in being at the right place at the right time introduces him to a plethora of strange and shady locals who are eager to help him in return for his Yakuza abilities. Kiryu is willing to sacrifice everything he has — including his life — to prove his innocence and save his father from the disgrace of having a murderer for a son. His long story of redemption features countless twists, an emotional rollercoaster, and a ton of interesting side characters who derail the story in the most wholesome way. Kiryu will always be defending others when he’s not being dragged into singing karaoke and drinking by his brother.

Kiryu is a very serious character and it always shows whenever he does anything. His extremely down-to-business attitude mixed with his brutish strength and menacing demeanor is something that is always pointed out by others and really shows when you realize that he avoids wasting any time whatsoever on anything besides redemption and honor. This is not to say that Kiryu’s gameplay is not fun, in fact, some of the funniest moments in the game are a result of Kiryu getting thrown into zany situations that makes him stick out like a sore thumb. One side quest has Kiryu brought onto a commercial set as a fake producer dressed in ridiculous clothing in order to impress a director who refuses to drop the stereotypical showbiz act. The entirety of the quest has the director asking Kiryu to perform very specific film actions which either get him the respect of the crew or make him look like a fool. While the main story typically maintains a very serious tone, these small bits of humor thrown into the middle of the drama offer the perfect amount of comic relief to balance out the story.

An eye for talent

In attempts to share Kiryu’s dominating spotlight throughout the Yakuza series, SEGA has you sharing half of the game with Goro Majima, a one-eyed Yakuza with a desperate need to earn the Yakuza’s trust back and a golden customer service policy. Banished from the Yakuza after disobeying orders, Majima is tortured for a year in a pit where most perish. His unbreakable resistance spares his life but tasks him with running the most popular club in Kamurocho. The job is disgraceful to Majima, but he knows that the cash it brings in is the only chance he has at finding a way back into the Yakuza.

Unlike Kiryu, Majima is much more cunning, charismatic, and agile. Where Kiryu uses brutal strength combat and strong-arm tactics, Majima uses quick breakdance-inspired combat and a silver tongue paired with pockets filled with yen to get what he needs out of others. While at his core, Majima might just be as serious as Kiryu, he knows how to switch his personality to whatever will benefit him most at the time. What this leaves you with is deep moments filled with dread when he finally reveals his true self in his moments alone. Most of the time spent as Majima is used exploring the “business” mechanics of Yakuza 0 which also become available to Kiryu later in the game. As Majima, your job is to scout out new talent for your club and manage it to its fullest extent so that it can produce money as quickly as possible in order to buy your way back into the Yakuza.

Although the geography and attitude of the characters may differ, the sudden character swaps are still plotted in ways where it never feels like a frustrating break in the pacing of the deep stories that each character follows. Yakuza 0 frequently builds up the tension to get you on the edge of your seat and then swaps. Given that the overarching plot is filled to the brim with twists, there was not one time that my mind wasn’t racing as I tried to figure out what could possibly happen next and how long I would have to wait before I’d get to the character that I left right in the center of the action.

Overall, both characters have a lot going for them. The two main characters are both similar enough where you won’t struggle to keep up with the plot and who they are, yet they’re also different enough to add the perfect blend of variety. A preference is inevitable, but Yakuza 0 would almost definitely feel like it was missing something if it were to merely focus on one character.

The Japanese city that never sleeps

One of the biggest tragedies that gamers endure with most open-world games is a beautiful, large open world with absolutely nothing to do in it besides the main story. While other games seemingly use their large landscapes to pad the gameplay, Yakuza 0 shaved off that barren space and packed up its world to ensure that every street has plenty to do. The activities and encounters include engaging side quests, arcades, mini-games, and plenty of other things such as tiny shops to enter. While shopping may not be an insanely engaging activity, the point is that by scattering the activities, no area of the map ever truly feels disregarded by the developers.

At times, navigating the world can certainly feel like a chore due to the sheer amount of running that you have to do at times, but luckily, for a ridiculously low price you can have a cab teleport you to any side of the map. My only disappointment with Yakuza 0 is with how quickly you fill your pockets. By the end of the first chapter, you have enough yen to do any activity for as long as you’d like. It never really feels like you’re working towards being a high roller even though both characters you play as not only begin as recruits, but also quickly become Yakuza exiles as well. Given that you always have something that you need to do, this is very easily overlooked and really only becomes a concern as you get to the end of the game.

The look of the city is clean and I imagine that it is exactly what Japan looked like during the 80s. The exterior design is nothing mind-blowing, but the interior level design is where the game designers really found a way to shine. Every location is convincing and just as filled as the rest of the world. The city is just another testament to how nice this game looks in a general sense. Facial animations and certain visuals can certainly look outdated at times, but more often than not, Yakuza 0 stays perfectly on par with the graphical standard for 2018.

Streets of rage

Yakuza 0 does a lot of things right, but one of the most satisfying aspects is the combat. Kiryu and Majima both have three different fighting styles, along with a fourth slot for any miscellaneous weapons you’ve earned or bought. Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages and is easily switched with the press of a single button. The Heat Bar is essentially a combo meter that builds up as you attack enemies without being hit. Depending on how filled up your Heat Bar is, you can drain it to deal enough damage to insta-KO most enemies for the first few chapters. While it is very easy to stick to one stance throughout the entire game, every time you enter a fight, you’re rewarded more money based on how uniquely and effectively you pummel your opponents.

Kiryu focuses on the more thug-like fighting stances, such as a heavy set one which revolves around using items in the environment to take down enemies with devastating heavy attacks. Majima, on the other hand, focuses on quick attacks that utilize his entire body or weapons. One of the most satisfying moves in the game is by far his break-dancing ability which allows him to spin around while yelling, dealing serious AoE damage. Really the only stance that lacks any weight is ironically the slotted weapons. The equitable weapons in the game have limited durability and when Kiryu uses them they really feel worthless, especially given that the reach of them is very limited. Majima, on the other hand, utilizes them the same way that he fights with his base weapon stance, so he isn’t as affected by this. I really only found myself ever using weapons to optimize my execution damage.

Yen sprays out of defeated opponents like confetti and really reassures you that you dealt some serious damage when you simultaneously watch your cash counter start increasing rapidly. The final punch of the final enemy ends in a satisfying freeze-frame shot, paired with a stylish color reversal. A fun extra bit that SEGA decided to throw in is the fact that rather than leaving behind a pile of broken bodies, the enemies you defeat are reduced to cowering in fear, begging for your forgiveness. It’s certainly a minor touch, but enough of a breath of fresh air where the game feels not only more tasteful, but less shallow than your run-of-the-mill beat-em-up.


The Verdict: Transformative

Yakuza 0 on the PC is a brilliant game with a fantastic story and great, classic combat. It will either be the game that you have been waiting for since you saw it release on Playstation, or it will be the game you never knew you were missing out on all this time. It’s a great experience that will always keep you occupied in one way or another. Your only regret from playing this title will be that the other games in the series are still Playstation exclusives.

Read 3748 times
Stephen Martino

Stephen is the dedicated game critic of his friend group and always has a new recommendation he just can’t keep to himself.  Whether a AAA release or a hidden indie gem, he’s always the one his friends will consult when thinking of picking up a game.  Stephen started his love for gaming back with Resident Evil : Code Veronica on the Sega Dreamcast.  After dumping way too many hours into it, he moved to the Xbox 360 and then the PC upon realizing just how much he loved modding and customization in games.  If you ever plan on playing a game featuring customizable characters with this Brooklynite critiq, you’d better free up your schedule because you know he’s going to be fine-tuning every last slider and color.