The Yakuza franchise was released in Japan back in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, and, since then, has become a franchise that is loved in its home country. In the West it has found itself a cult status, but has struggled to find a fanbase as strong as it has in the East. This is in part due to the fact that some feel they want to play the game from the beginning, which is not the easiest thing to do in the West unless you have a PlayStation 2.
That’s why the latest entry in the series is so important. Set before the events of the first game, Yakuza 0 marks the first entry for the series on the PlayStation 4 in the West. It brings with it all the things fans have come to expect of the franchise whilst also setting up a back story that’s accessible to newcomers and fills in gaps for long term series fans.
The first thing you’ll notice upon starting the game is the emphasis on story telling. There’s a huge amount of dialogue and cutscenes throughout the game between an intriguing group of characters. With it being a game about the Japanese Yakuza it’s naturally all spoken in Japanese when there is voice acting. The voice acting moments tend to come at the main story beats, with side stories having text only dialogue. A doth to the hat must be given to the localisation team who have done a great job in creating dialogue that is genuinely fun to read.
If you focus on just the main story then you will encounter two intense mob stories told through long term series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, and long term series favourite Goro Majima. Each character has different goals and very different styles about them and you’ll be gripped to know what happens next to each of them and how they’re connected. Yakuza 0 tells its story through chapters, making it like a television show. In doing so it gives itself structure to its overarching narrative. That’s not to say it ignores the concept of “filler episodes” though.
Although the main story can be quite serious, there are plenty of elements in the different cities you run around in that are not. However, they do still provide the opportunity to give a bit more character to the world surrounding you, as well as the main character you’re playing with at the time. Non playable characters will stop you on the street to ask for your assistance, or you’ll insist on giving it, and the stories that can occur are often on the dafter side, although some deal with some fairly dark subjects. The great thing about these side stories is they are not often telegraphed, but stumbled upon whilst running from A to B in the main story.
Some of these stories will just lead to collecting items, or hitting the right options in a dialogue tree, but sometimes they will lead to combat. Combat is how you deal with most conflicts in the game and is a lovely mix of 3D brawling and over the top violence. Some of the attacks you perform are brutal, especially if you build up your Heat bar. Your Heat bar is filled with certain food and activities, as well as successful attacks in combat, and allows you to trigger special moves. Depending on where you’re standing these special moves can include throwing someone head first in to the ground, or ramming their head in to a urinal and so much more.
Each character can unlock three different combat styles, with certain styles being effective against different types of enemies. It must be said, however, that both characters have one style that can deal with nearly every enemy without having to worry about it. In fact after the first few chapters, as you run from A to B, you’ll most likely find yourself wanting to avoid fights as most of the enemies are just low level distractions. You do unlock an option to lessen encounters whilst sacrificing a bit of money after a while though, which is a nice option to have.
If side stories, fighting, levelling up and an intriguing main story arc aren’t enough for you then you’re in luck, because Yakuza 0 has a huge amount of mini games and other activities for you. Some tie in to the story well, such as property and club management, whereas others are just there to help you pass the time if you feel like taking a breather. Maybe you’d like to play on a claw machine and win some toys? Maybe play some classic arcade games like OutRun or Space Harrier? Not your cup of tea, then what about a game of darts or pool? How about a batting cage to hit a few balls around? What about a rhythm based Karaoke game?
That’s just a small example of some of the things on offer and, what’s more, some of them are on par with video games released specifically for that purpose, which is quite a feat. It can be easy to lose hours doing nothing but passing the time in the leisure activities, and that’s part of the charm with Yakuza 0. Its map may not be the biggest but it’s so packed with life that you’ll easily be able to find something to do.
If you’re a fan of story rich games, 3D brawlers or just content rich games then Yakuza 0 should be on your radar. Some may be put off by the lack of an English voice acting option but, as previously stated, the localisation team have done a great job in making it a joy to read and genuinely funny in places. There’s so much to do and being able to partake in the story of the series from the very beginning makes it great for newcomers too. If you’re looking for something you can spend hours exploring and still not see it all, then Yakuza 0 is definitely something worth your consideration.
If you would like to see me play some of the early stages of the game then check out the video below.
+ Lots to do
+ A genuinely gripping story
+ Side stories offer a nice variety of situations
+ Combat is beautifully brutal
+ A great localisation job
- Combat can start to be tedious against low levelled foes
- Lack of English voice over creates an accessibility issue for some
- Some combat styles feel over powered
- Controls can feel a bit clunky at times