My main experience with games heavily influenced by Japanese culture and beliefs have either been JRPGs like Nioh, Valkyria Chronicles, a little bit of Final Fantasy, and some adventure games from Sony’s Japan Studio, like The Last Guardian. And while these games do have strong Japanese references in them, none of them are grounded in a more real world setting, filled with weirdness and absurdity that can only come from a place that has been nuked twice.
A powerful Japanese criminal organization.
- a member of the Yakuza; a Japanese gangster or racketeer.
- plural noun: yakuza
And here we have Yakuza 0, sequel to the long running Yakuza series, that tells the tale of two protagonists in 1988’s crime riddled Japan. And as you unravel this tale of corrupt and power hungry crime syndicates, you will explore a vibrant city with neon lights flashing all around, delinquents around every corner, and perverts of all ages seeking your help. It’s just fucking fantastic..
You start off as Kazuma Kiryu in Kamurocho, who’s trying to clear his name off a murder he did not commit. The game starts a little slow, and is heavy on the story. But the way the story is delivered, with excellent facial animations and voice acting, you really start feeling invested in it. Meanwhile, in Sotenbori, you play as Goro Majima, who in his attempts to make it back into the Yakuza is given a task he’d rather not carry out.
Both protagonists have a really intriguing story and great supporting supporting characters alongside them. Both the main character and the villains have great personalities, making them very likable and worth of hatred respectively. And it’s all told in an emotionally over the top, yet believable manner.
While the main plot is great, it’s the side missions and the city itself that are the main stars of the show. Even though the game is not much of a graphical showcase, actually it looks more like a PS3 game running at 1080p, the city itself is vibrant, packed with detail, and places to explore and activities to take part in. There are tons of small shops, karaoke bars and arcades where you can take part in mini games, all of which are a lot of fun.
Other mini games include gambling, bowling, pool, fight clubs, and a lot more. You’ll easily find yourself spending a lot of time engaging in these activities, because unlike simply going about gathering collectibles, these activities are well fleshed out, and a lot of fun. If you want to go even deeper, you can build your own real estate empire or Cabaret business, which are again massive time sinks.
The side missions are varied, and offer some absurd and hilarious moments. You’ll be helping out young kids get a hold of some porno literature, phone-dating women, have some interesting conversations with fortune-tellers, befriend a man who roams around in his underwear with some pelvic thrusting actions going on to boot, impress a girl’s dad, beat up ex-boyfriends, meet a dominatrix, and so much more insane wacky stuff. And there are hundreds of these missions that keep popping up, and almost all of them feel different from each other and are rewarding.
The combat is another highlight here. Both the characters have their set of styles, which lets you mix it up between heavy attacks in Brawler mode, fast flurry of attacks in Rush mode, and a few more. Kicks and punches land with brutal impact, and combat feels weighty as you smash heads against concrete. Kiryu’s fighting style is good, but wielding an unbreakable weapon in Slugger mode and beating down enemies with break-dancing moves in Breaker mode, definitely makes Goro’s style way more fun.
The world is not exactly open, instead you are often pushed into narrow streets, and in fact can never move the camera much vertically. But with so much quality content content, it’s hard to complain about the game’s shortcomings or restrictions. The cutscenes are well presented, though there are some inconsistencies. Some of the cutscenes are fully voices and cinematic. Some just have text beneath character faces. While other have a more comic book style feel, with the character standing still while the background is moving. It’s a bit odd, but still quite stylish, and never feels off-putting.
And even when the graphics are not the best, the characters, dialogue delivery, and writing more than make up for it.
Overall, Yakuza 0 is a fantastic game, and definitely a great place to start for anyone new to the series. There’s tons of quality content to make this game absolutely worth your purchase. Be it action, story, or outright ridiculousness that you’re looking for, Yakuza 0 has it all in spades.