Over the past few years, there’s been a bit of a resurgence of the Yakuza franchise in the west, with many of the mainline games being localized over along with even some of the spin-off entries. The latest in that line of localizations, Yakuza 0, is now here and it’s the first western release of the series on Sony’s latest console, the PS4. So with the console’s more improved hardware, how does it stack up and improve itself upon prior entries?
Unlike Yakuza 5, which by its expected numbered entry took place much later on in the overall narrative, Yakuza 0 takes place all the way back in 1988 during Japan’s “Bubble Economy”, where wealth was more easy to come by as long as you were making a good living. The game’s narrative revolves around two central characters who’s names should be very familiar to long-time Yakuza veterans: Kiryu Kazuma and Majima Goro. The former starts out doing grunt work for the Dojima family of the Tojo clan, but soon ends up caught in a false murder accusation and is on the run. The latter is trying to get the favor of the Shimano family of the Tojo clan. And during the events of the story, their paths end up crossing in ways neither could have ended up expecting.
This focus on two sole characters primarily, compared to the mega-connected narrative in Yakuza 5, does a lot to both keep to the focus on the characters and the overall plot and also not overwhelm newcomers to the series and provide them a good entry point into the series. That latter point in particular is key, as this is essentially an origin story for these two characters and while knowing events from later games gives you some “aha” moments, you can easily get by without them.
Of course, the traditional Yakuza melodrama and out-there crazy moments are there when necessary, but the narrative as a whole feels much more grounded overall this time around and is much better for it. The game also changes how it switches between character arcs this time around, by switching every two chapters instead of after their storyline concludes. This works well when one character’s arc blends into another with some particularly powerful moments. This is key, as the story alone likely will last players upwards of 40+ or so hours.
If you’ve ever played a Yakuza game before, you already know that outside of the main narrative there’s a metric ton of side content available to partake in, something which Yakuza 0 doesn’t disappoint in. These aren’t just “find the person, get the mission information, complete the mission” missions either, as they’re diverse secondary characters with their own smaller backstories that flesh out Yakuza 0’s world. As an example, one quest had me helping a young boy get his stolen video game back.
And of course, there’s the slew of mini-games you’ve come to expect from the series available, ranging from baseball target practice, darts, mahjong, classic SEGA arcade games, underground fights, and even some kooky ones like karaoke (some of these even have multiplayer capability added in as a bonus feature). The two primary side-events come from Kiryu’s real-estate game mode where you can manage real estate in a relatively complex simulation, as well as a cabaret club game mode in Majima’s story. These are easily the most complex out of all of the excursions in the game, although the game doesn’t force them on you like some other games and you can easily ignore them if you want to focus on the main narrative if you wish.
Of course, to partake in those excursions you’ll need money. While you can earn that through the quests mentioned earlier, you can also earn it by beating up enemies you defeat in battle, of which the money itself amusingly literally flies out from them willing. Outside of the side events, you can also use money to upgrade your combat abilities. The traditional fighting mechanics you’ve expected from the series return, although now Kiryu and Majima have three different fighting styles which keeps things interesting — it’s a nice feature that switches things up for sure.
There are some things that interrupt the overall flow, though. Let’s say you’re in the middle of landing an attack but another enemy is about to attack you. Some games would allow you to cancel to either dodge or arm another attack, but Yakuza 0 forces you to keep on with your original attack. In addition, I often encountered issues where I would get knocked down and get knocked down again when getting back up, because the timing between getting up and enemy attacking was off just every so slightly that it let the enemy get the upper hand. This especially became annoying when I was in a crowded fight.
Graphically the game is very solid, with the main character models and locations looking nicely detailed. Some of the side characters and areas aren’t quite as nicely detailed and there’s some instances where likely the dual-PS3 development for the original Japanese release may have held things back slightly, but it still looks like a PS4 title. The cutscenes in particular, especially the voice acting, are especially top-notch.
While the game has some minor issues due to carryovers from prior games and likely its Japanese dual PS3 release origins, the overall package is exceptional and the game works wonderfully as an origin story for newcomers and veterans alike in wait for the upcoming Yakuza 6 and Kiwami.Yakuza 0 was reviewed using a digital copy provided by SEGA. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Like prior games, both the main and secondary characters are exceptionally well-written.|
|The changes to the narrative structure do a lot to help enhance the flow of the game.|
|A great launching point for newcomers, especially with the upcoming Yakuza Kiwami coming up soon.|
|Some of the fighting mechanics issues really should be fixed in a future game in the series.|
|Some minor graphical faults, likely due to the Japanese dual-PS3 release origins, make their way into the game.|