Party Like it’s 1988
Good news for all Yakuza fans in the Western World, Sega has just released Yakuza 0 today! For the 10 year celebration of the franchise, they’re taking the series into the future of gaming… by returning to the past, before the main story even began. Romp through the city of Kamurocho as a young, fresh-faced Kiryu Kazuma, making money and busting heads as you get caught up in an incredible conflict concerning your crime family (as usual). On the flip side of this adventure, this time you also get to take control of Kiryu’s good friend, series mainstay Goro Majima, in his own drama as it eventually intertwines and comes to a head with Kiryu’s.
Check out how enjoyable this trip into late 80’s Japan can be after the jump.
Game Name: Yakuza 0/龍が如く0 誓いの場所 (Ryu ga Gotoku Zero: Chikai no Basho)
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 24, 2017 (March 12, 2015 in Japan)
1988 Never Looked So Great
Veterans of the Yakuza series will instantly find themselves at home in Yakuza 0. The same open-world adventure style that is a series staple returns here and the locales the game takes place in are pretty much brought in from the previous games. Kamurocho and Sotenbori are pretty much as you remember them, though with a more retro feel. The game also has a much darker and more mature vibe, almost like film noir at points, which fits the game concept like a glove and is a welcome change.
But while the game may look immediately familiar compared to earlier titles, the move up to PS4 does the visuals of the game some serious favors in terms of textures and graphical fidelity. I can’t remember a game where the skin of characters ever looked so real, outside of a couple odd scenarios where it seems corners were cut.
All in all, the entire game does a better job of looking like you just set foot in a real Japanese locale then ever before.
Old Setting, New Tricks
Though the setting of the game is in Kiryu’s past, that doesn’t stop Sega from giving you plenty of new tricks to play with during your time with Yakuza 0. Instead of telling stories of an increasingly large cast with different fighting styles for each, Yakuza 0 returns to a much more focused narrative, with just Kiryu and Majima to run the streets with. That said, the game still maintains versatility in combat, as each character has 3 unique fighting styles to master.
Similar to Dante in Devil May Cry 4, players use the D-Pad to shift styles on the fly, allowing multiple ways to bash your enemies’ faces in at any given moment. Each style has distinct strengths and weaknesses, so while they’re all powerful in their own right, none of them feel redundant. Mastery of them gives you a broad range of abilities while maintaining the narrative feel that these characters are still young and become far stronger as they get more experience in the earlier games.
Throwback Gameplay with a Twist
The leveling system has received a major overhaul as well. To add to the customization of how you want to play the game, not only do you level the 3 styles on each character separately, but within those styles is a branching system, reminiscent of Final Fantasy X‘s Sphere Grid. Choose what upgrades and abilities you wish to rush, although some abilities require sidequests to obtain.
There’s a few new wrinkles in the opponents you face as well. As always, there’s no shortage of poor fools willing to rush headlong into street fights with large, physically imposing men that look like gangsters. But those fools branched out to bothering the general populace as well, and when you trade blows with them you fight right where you stand instead of in a collection of scripted setpieces in your general area. This gives you a myriad of scenarios to intervene and interact with the public and surrounding areas as you feed the unruly ones their own teeth.
Knuckle Up and Throw Down
The combat is as brutal and visceral as ever, with Heat actions that look even more amazing with those high-res PS4 textures. Admittedly, there’s less special finishers and Heat actions in this game than I’ve grown used to in the series, but it makes sense given Kiryu and Majima’s near rookie status.
Yakuza 0 does a great job at impressing the fact that you’re not that tough yet on you. The game has a very welcome bump up in difficulty than previous titles, so you’ll find it a bit harder to just steamroll enemies than in games past, and as large as Kiryu is for a Japanese man, he’s no longer top dog when roaming the streets. That would be a series of enemies that dwarf even him, random boss like giants almost twice his size collectively called Mr. Shakedown.
Mr. Shakedown is one of the hardest and most tense encounters you face. Attacks hardly make him flinch, that he destroys your health bar in one or two solid hits and that there’s no retry option to start from the beginning with him. If you lose, you lose your wallet – he’s called Mr. Shakedown because he’s out to take all your money, and once you lock horns with him, one of you is leaving completely broke.
Money – the Root of Everything
Speaking of money, it takes on a whole new importance in this game. The experience point system of previous games has been abolished and is replaced with personal investments – literally. You’ll have to put your money into Yakuza 0‘s sphere grid to obtain upgrades and make your characters stronger, and self-improvement isn’t cheap. You’ll find yourself pouring billions and billions of Yen into each of your styles to give yourself that health boost, new move, or another combative edge you’re looking for.
Thankfully, this is the middle of a huge economic boom in Japan, and money is in no short supply. Instead of the thugs that you fight on the street giving you souvenirs as thanks, you beat the dough out of them, with thousands of Yen going flying as you break your foot off in their tails. Cleaner fights land your multiplier bonuses as well, so it pays to master your fighting technique.
You’ll be primarily generating income outside of fighting through side missions, which are more important since you need it for everything now. Kiryu and Majima are young entrepreneurs, with Kiryu in control of a real estate and property management firm, and Majima the lead manager at his own hostess club.
The side content is a bit less varied and more focused than in Yakuza 5, those side hustles are especially compelling content and can rack up a huge amount of cash. I’ve unwittingly spent hours managing hostesses and buying up property just to experience the storylines attached and fatten my bank roll.
Living in the City
The focus of money has shifted to leveling your characters, and the side content is a bit toned down. It’s a more focused experience, but you can still spend your ends in the traditional way. Buy items, or refill your health at the various eateries around town. Go blow some steam off at the disco, or hang out at classic haunts like the bowling alley, casino, arcades (where you play old school early Sega Genesis era games), or karaoke bars. You can even go on phone dates, actual dates, or check out risqué videos (too often hilarious results). Since money’s so easy to stack, and prices of everything other than upgrades are so cheap, it’s very easy to enjoy the ton of content Yakuza 0 throws at you.
After all, why not take time out to date a few girls while you’re in the middle of life and death struggles with the criminal underworld?
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True to form, with added focus and polish that was a bit lacking in the last few titles. Breaking the faces of Japanese miscreants never looked, felt or sounded so good. The graphics are great, the music is solid, the 80’s vibe is charming, the story, while still ridiculous and fantastic, is much more coherent and focused. If you love that open-world, beat ’em up gameplay style and emotional, dramatic storytelling the series is known for you need look no further, as this game does it and does it well.