Here I’m facing a very difficult task which is to write this briefiew. In the past, the briefiews I struggled the most to write were because those games left me with mixed feelings but that’s not the case this time around.
The problem here is that briefiews are supposed to be brief (of course) but this game is ridiculously massive. I’ll try to be concise but I can’t promise you anything here.
It’s hard to nail down the exact genre of the Yakuza games anymore. It’s an hybrid between a beat ’em up in the same vein of Sega’s own Streets of Rage (or a modern version of it) and an RPG with leveling up, sidequests and all that jazz. Some people, including myself, consider this series an spiritual successor of the cult classic Shenmue games not only in gameplay but in the sense on how the game’s ultimate goal seems to be replicating in full detail a specific location and even a lifestyle.
This game in particular, Yakuza 0, is a prequel to the whole franchise as it sets itself in the late 80s, way before the events of the very first game.
In the game you will be playing as a 20 year-old Kazuma Kyriu and also a much more “sober” version of Goro Majima. This may sound like a step down as the later installments in the series have had a higher number of playable characters but fear you not, lack of variety isn’t a problem in Yakuza 0.
There might just be 2 playable characters in Zero but this time around, each of the characters have 3 different fighting styles which can be changed on the fly within the battles and also an extra one unlockable after completing each characters main side-story. Majima’s being the management of a Cabaret club and Kazuma being tasked with building a massive real estate empire.
These two side activities have very little to do with the game’s main story but yet they’re crafted with a depth that makes them actually quite interesting (and also addictive) to play through. It’s something you don’t really see in any other game series really, that the developers would create something this intricate within the game world despite being still clearly a secondary activity. But they did it to flesh-out the game further, to to make it feel deeper.
Apart from that there’s also a myriad other activities and missions in Yakuza 0. Activities like fishing, playing in the sega arcade, bowling, karaoke, building and racing slot cars, telephone dating… the list goes on and on. Also, doing those activities or simply by roaming any of the two cities you’ll sure trigger any of the hundred substories the game has. They can involve anything from helping a woman leave a cult to help MJ to film the video for thriller. Some are serious, some are even touching but I have to say that most of them are played for laughs and they can get very wacky indeed.
The story outside of the “side content” though is actually pretty serious. It has plenty of over-the-top scenes and dialog but all in all is a very competent crime thriller.
On one hand there’s Kazuma Kyriu who has just started working for the Dojima family and is framed for a crime. Meanwhile Goro Majima, relegated from his own family will be offered the job of dispatching Makoto Makimura in order to be re-accepted.
Those are the basic premises and for spoiler reasons I won’t go into much more detail but you can probably guess that the two stories are somehow related and that there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Typical mafia tropes are expected too with revenge plots, betrayal, corruption, power struggles… you name it.
The game’s story is long and well realised and while the two main characters never actually meet face to face (for plot continuity reasons), the both perspectives feel cohesive together.
If there’s just one aspect where the game might feel like it’s cutting corners that would be on a technical level. It’s not an ugly game and the game runs great on PS4 but it’s certainly not impressive. Comparing it to the Uncharted series you might say that Yakuza 0 looks more like the Nathan Drake collection than it does to Uncharted 4. The environments feel lively and full of detail that’s for sure but if you look at things like shadows, textures, reflections… it’s closer to the look of a remastered old gen title.
The audio department is more of the same. The game’s effects are “effective” but they sure feel old school. That also extends to the music from the soundtrack itself. In this case though, this has to be an artistic decision as the game is indeed trying to recreate that late 80’s vibe. The synth sound of the music track played in the emotive moments was kinda endearing actually.
Things I liked
- Story: I’m a fan of crime thrillers myself and the plot of Yakuza 0 was quite interesting. Real Estate isn’t my favourite theme personally though so that alone will always keep it from being my favourite in the the series but the story is still structured very well and managed to keep itself intriguing all the way through.
- Combat: At the very core, Yakuza’s gameplay is basically about beating people in the head with your fists, feet and also urban furniture. The fighting in Yakuza 0 is the most refined in the whole series so far and the inclusion of the different fighting styles added depth, variety and fun.
- Massive: Simply put, I’ve spent 63 hours in my first playthrough of the game and I’ve only managed a 50% completition rate. There’s so much to do and to see in this game that to the very last chapter you’re still be discovering new features you didn’t even know existed.
- Funny: The main story takes itself quite seriously but that sure isn’t the case for most of what comprises the rest of the game. The game has a very quirky humor sprinkled on most of the substories and I can recall actually a couple laugh out loud moments during my playthrough.
Things I didn’t
- Tech: This isn’t an ugly game and I consider a good call to choose fluidity over cutting-edge graphics but the game certainly looks dated in some aspects.
Things that eh…
- Writting: I said I liked the story so this might feel contradictory but the fact is that the writting isn’t up to par at some points. Some dialogs are drawn out way longer than necessary, some scenes are unintentionally cheesy and at one instance in particular the game was borderline offensive. Most of the time the game’s was perfectly fine by me though.
Who’d like this?
Do you choose graphics over anything else in a game? Do you despise the Japanese culture? If you can answer to both of those questions with a No, pick this game ASAP. It’s great fun, it has a good story and enough side content to keep you busy for a very long time. Immerse in this 80’s representation of Japan and have fun.