The birth of a legend.
The Yakuza series is known for its brutal combat, deep and interesting characters and rich, well-written stories. The series is well-received by critics but sadly it remains quite a niche franchise. Sega hopes to remedy this by finally giving the west Yakuza 0, a prequel to the series. After pouring 50+ hours into the game, I can safely say that Yakuza 0 is fantastic and it is one of best entries in the long running series.
First of all the game is a prequel, so no prior knowledge of the series is needed but there are plenty of nods to the sequels for people who have played the other games. Releasing Yakuza 0 in the west is a smart move by Sega as with the game being a prequel, newcomers to series won’t feel lost wondering where to start as this is the starting point.
The stories that each of the Yakuza games have are well-written and have interesting and believable characters. Yakuza 0 continues the high quality story-telling that the series is known for and I consider it to be one best in the series to date. Yakuza 0 is set in 1988 Japan and the game’s story is told through the perspectives of two people, the long-running series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and fan favourite Goro Majima. The story is the usual, criminal underworld politics, betrayal and revenge but in Yakuza 0 we get to see how Kiryu and Majima became the men that Yakuza fans know and love.
The series is no stranger to multiple playable protagonists (Yakuza 4 and 5) and the story isn’t hurt by having it told through two perspectives in fact it is stronger for it. Playing as two different characters keeps the game feeling fresh whilst you’re going through the story and helps flesh out the protagonists. Yakuza 0 also features a fantastic cast of characters aside from Kiryu and Majima. The supporting cast are great and are very interesting, they all feel believable thanks to the stellar voice acting and a well-written script.
The great writing doesn’t stop there, the game’s sub-stories (side missions) are also written very well and quite a few of them are very comedic which provides a break from the serious main narrative. The sub-stories don’t last all that long but there are 100 of them and they help extend the length of the game. Now the sub-stories could’ve been just there to simply give the player more to do but they feel like a part of the world and as a result, they make the game feel more alive and real, despite some of the really wacky and humorous side missions.
As you progress through the story both Kiryu and Majima will unlock side stories, Kiryu’s is about businesses and real estate and Majima’s is about running a hostess club. You are introduced to these part way through the story but they are completely optional however, these side stories unlock the ability to further enhance your skills and unlock a fourth fight style. The side stories will take several hours to do but you can do these in the game’s Premium Adventure mode, so you can still do them after you have completed the main story. These are also a good way to earn a lot of money, which is needed to upgrade each character’s fighting style.
Combat in Yakuza 0 is different to previous instalments. In past games your character only had one fight style but many different skills that enhanced it and your character. Yakuza 4 and 5 had multiple protagonists and each one had a different combat style. Yakuza 0 changes it up and gives each character three fight styles with a fourth one that can be unlocked (as mentioned earlier). Each fighting style feels and plays different. For example; Kiryu’s ‘Beast’ style allows him to pick up and use weapons automatically with devastating impact and Majima’s ‘Breaker’ style isn’t as powerful as Kiryu’s Beast style but is significantly quicker and deadly in its own way.
There are a large amount of skills for Yakuza 0 which add depth to the gameplay. Some skills will increase your health, attack and defence and some will unlock new moves and techniques for your fighting styles. Each fight style has a skill tree and skills can be earned by spending money doing training missions for various people. You could button mash through the game but you would be doing the game a disservice. The combat is basic on face value but as you gain skills, you will see that combat is very deep. Yakuza 0’s combat system can be summed up fairly easily; easy to use, hard to master.
The two areas in Yakuza 0 that you can explore are Kamurocho and Sotenbori both of which have been in the series before, especially Kamurocho which has served as the setting of the Yakuza series for numerous instalments. There are many changes to each map which you’d expect given that the game is a prequel. These cities aren’t as big as Los Santos or Liberty City but they are densely packed with shops and buildings to go into on every street, people to rescue from less from savoury types, sub-stories and mini games. There is so much to see and do in each city that they both feel incredibly vibrant and alive.
Yakuza is known for having a multitude of mini games and Yakuza 0 is no different. There are loads of mini games some which return and some new ones which are incredibly fun. My personal favourite Karaoke returns with some fantastic songs, my favourite being Judgement. Bowling and Baseball also return which are sure to please fans but some of the new mini games are just entertaining, if not more. There’s disco which can be hard at first; Pocket Car racing which is very fun and quite addictive, the Telephone Club where you answer the phone and try to get a date with girl, there’s a mini game where you watch an erotic video of a Japanese model (I’m not kidding) and you can bet on catfights. There are more mini games but I won’t list them all.
Yakuza 0 is a great game but it isn’t perfect. The story is fantastic overall but it starts of quite slow. This isn’t a problem that plagues just Yakuza 0 it has been present in previous instalments. The first four chapters are slow burners as it builds up the atmosphere but after chapter four, the story picks up and hits it stride. It can be a chore to get through those first few chapters but stick with it and you are rewarded greatly. The biggest negative that this game has, are its graphics and sadly it can’t be helped. The game originally released in 2015 for Japan, hence why the visuals aren’t as crisp as some of the more recent games on the market. The graphics aren’t terrible everywhere though. The games cutscenes hold up well and the attention to detail in them is great. I do have to give Sega a thumbs up though, as the game runs at 1080p and a stable 60fps.
Yakuza 0 is a game that fans of the series have been wanting for some time now and they definitely should pick it up. For newcomers there isn’t a better time to get into the series with it being a prequel. The game has flaws like its graphics and a slow start to the story but if you can look past them, you are rewarded with a game that has one of the best stories in the series, fun and deep combat and wealth of content that will keep you entertained hours upon hours. Even though Yakuza 0 is great starting point for newcomers, fans will appreciate it a lot more as they’ll witness the birth of a legend.
Score – 9/10