Review: Yakuza 0 – Seriously Silly Gangster Fun
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
The Yakuza series is a cult classic. Originally seen as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Shenmue games, Yakuza and its sequels have gained fans the world over with its unique blend of martial arts, mini-games, narrative and open-world gameplay. I’m going to be honest here, I’ve never played a Yakuza title all the way through, and the amount of characters in later Yakuza titles made me trepidatious about joining the series part way through it.
Thankfully, ‘Yakuza 0’ is a prequel that does away with an enormous and complicated cast of characters in favour of focusing on two protagonists. It’s fun, has more martial arts than an 80s Jackie Chan movie, and is packed full of Japanese wackyness. In other words, it’s great fun.
Set in 1988, the game opens with Kiryu Kazuma working for the Dojima family, who are members of the Tojo Clan. Not long into the game’s opening, he is falsely accused of murder and is on the run, while the other protagonist Majima Goro is contemplating an assassination in order to the Shimano family, who are also a part of the Tojo clan.
After that, the two are drawn into a series of violent conflicts known as the “Vacant Lot” dispute, a power struggle for all the dark organisations in Japan. The Vacant Lost dispute threatens to ruin the reputations of Kiryu and Goro, and it may even cost them their lives. They decide to solve the mystery surrounding the dispute in order to clear their names.
It genuinely surprised me how engaging Yakuza 0’s story is. Shifting between the two different protagonists at key points in the story helps elevate the drama (especially when there are slight cliffhanger moments), and the shift to focus on less characters helps hook players in and tell a more rewarding story overall.
While a lot of action games see character development seen in either cutscenes or certain missions throughout the main narrative, Yakuza 0 even explores the characters through side missions. Sure there are moments where the game can feel silly, but these moments are usually outside of the main plotline, and are going to be a hit with players who love some wacky Japanese humour.
Gameplay is a mix of open-world exploration, mini-games and brutal hand-to-hand combat. With only the two main characters instead of a larger roster like in previous games, Sega have given Kiryu and Goro multiple fighting styles that can be switched on the fly during any fight. From heavy strikes and weapons to swift attacks and breakdance-style fighting, there’s plenty of variety in the game’s combat. Oh, and the finishing moves and Heat Gauge from previous games returns too, with some truly brutal finishers on display.
Like a lot of modern action titles, Yakuza 0 features a skill tree, although instead of experience points being rewarded through combat and completing missions, players invest money earned throughout the game into improving their skills. The benefit of this approach is that it eliminates unnecessary grinding or collectible hunting.
Visually, Yakuza 0 is certainly serviceable, but it isn’t going to blow people away. Everything is crisp and pleasant to look at, but it’s missing that extra bit of detail or uniqueness that elevates it above its peers.
There are times where the game can feel a little dated, but oddly enough, that can be one of its greatest strengths as it avoids a lot of the trappings of modern game design. What we get instead is a game that is accessible, enjoyable and as close to modern version of classic brawlers from the 90s as we’re going to get.
|Yakuza 0 often trips up between being a solely serious crime drama and being a zany Japanese beat-em-up, but people who appreciate that style are bound to thoroughly enjoy it. I certainly regret coming into the series at such a late entry point – hopefully the HD remakes of Yakuza 1 and 2 get localised in the future!||3.5 3.5 ( on 5 rating)|