Review: Yakuza 0 (PS4)
There are so many games available that gamers are prone to making comparisons. These range from some very simple and innocent comments to game-defining labels like “it’s Skyrim with guns”. While most of these comparisons are quite accurate, there are a few that tend to miss the mark and occasionally misrepresent certain games. One such comparison is comparing the Yakuza series to Grand Theft Auto, and this is one that is definitely widespread. I found myself having this misconception before getting started with Yakuza 0, but I was swiftly educated by this prequel as to why this series stands out as something that needs to be experienced.
Crime does not pay
Yakuza 0 serves as a prequel to the Yakuza series and shows off the origins of series’ mainstays Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. As this game is set around the world of the Yakuza and criminal underworld of Japan, Yakuza 0 is filled with the themes one comes to expect from a crime drama. Themes of betrayal, vengeance, redemption and almost everything else one might come to expect from a tale centered around a life of crime but this is in no way a cookie-cutter experience. Yakuza 0 ‘brings the muscle’ to deliver a unique experience that delivers some heart-wrenching moments that will stick with the player long after the credits roll.
We’ll follow Kazuma Kiryu as he fights to clear his name and Goro Majima as he works to redeem himself for his past transgressions. These two characters stories are quite unique and expertly woven together into an excellent story for players whose only sin is that the first chapter is a little long-winded. The beginning might take a little while to get going but the moment it does it’ll engross you and keep you engaged without ever feeling like a chore. There is one little thing that will detract from the excellent main story and that is the incredible number of enjoyable side stories the player will run into.
As players run around doing main story missions you’ll occasionally come across some NPC interactions that’ll set off a side story for the player to complete if they so wish. These stories often involve lengthy dialogues or simple fetch quests, but the stories they tell are incredibly enjoyable thanks to them ranging from hilarious misadventures to heartwarming conflict resolutions. In the side stories you’ll find yourself doing things that range from shutting down a used panty selling ring run by high schoolers to teaching a punk band how to actually be hardcore. There is an incredible variety of side stories that complement the main story in such a way that the world of Yakuza 0 just feels alive and a pleasure to be lost in. Yakuza 0 has some incredible tales to tell and even if a crime-focused narrative may not be the thing for you, there are so many redeeming qualities to these stories that make Yakuza 0 an absolute pleasure to experience.
Sotenbori-City Beat Down
All the delightful story would, however, be lost if the game became a chore to play. At its core, Yakuza 0 is a brawler and while this might not seem to be very interesting, the core gameplay is expertly crafted to provide a varied and engaging experience for those who are willing to invest in themselves. Kiryu and Majima have three different fighting styles they can use during combat to fend off enemies that also seem to complement their personalities incredibly well. Kiryu has the Brawler, Rush and Beast fighting styles which are your more typical fighting styles that offer what you expect from Kiryu’s character, traditional fighting that ranges from fast but weak hits to strong but slow. Majima however, being a more eccentric character, has the Thug, Slugger and Breaker styles that do offer some more traditional street fighting but also allow for players to beat on their enemies with a baseball bat and the power of breakdancing.
The combat in Yakuza 0 is varied enough to give the brawler a lot of flexibility and depth that one does not immediately expect. At first, I got a little bored of the combat as all it felt like I was doing was mashing one button to win fights, but that was until the game started delivering more varied enemies and forcing me to think more about how I handled situations. I also appreciated that the game didn’t require me to earn skill points to unlock new abilities but rather to literally invest in myself by using money to unlock new abilities which, while novel, felt incredibly refreshing. There is no shortage of money in Yakuza 0 but with ability unlocks requiring an absurd amount of cash the player won’t find themselves unlocking everything in the first couple of hours and the game remains adequately challenging even as you unlock more and more. The combat was relatively simple but felt varied and rewarding, which meant that even while I was getting drawn away from missions by enemy gang members chasing me down, I still had a lot of fun as I got to try out a new combo or ability that I had just unlocked.
While, for the most part, the gameplay of Yakuza 0 is enjoyable and well crafted, there are a couple of things that do detract from the experience. The first, while being rather nit-picky, is the lack of an English voice over for the game. While it does make the experience a lot more authentic, it is something that will turn some players off. The English subtitles are more than sufficient to enjoy the game but there are one or two moments when a long dialogue box doesn’t stay on the screen long enough for you to read the entire thing, but these are few and far between. It isn’t something that takes away too much from the experience but given the space between the original Japanese release and the Western release SEGA could have gone on to get in some English talent for the main stories cutscenes. Another thing that could detract from the overall experience is that while the game definitely looks good, one can see that it’s definitely not pushing the PS4’s hardware. Fortunately, the game can do without excessively pretty visuals, but a little bit of polish could have gone a long way. The final negative one could see in the game is that its save system is a bit archaic and restrictive. Players can only save at telephone booths in the overworld and will find themselves unable to save part-way through some of the longer story segments. While the game does do a bit of auto-saving during these missions, it does mean that if you need to quit part way through you will have to start that segment over again from the beginning. Saving in Yakuza 0 is, of course, manageable and it doesn’t really hamper the player all that much, but at the same time, it does feel like an artifact of a past generation.
It’s making my head spin all the activities we can do
And now it’s time to gush over a pleasant surprise that Yakuza 0 holds, THERE’S JUST SO MUCH ROOM FOR ACTIVITIES. Yakuza 0 is filled to the brim with engaging minigames that range from the expected bowling and pool to full SEGA games that are playable in the game’s arcades. One is able to lose a lot of time to Yakuza 0‘s expertly crafted minigames that each feel like quality experiences on their own. None of the minigames felt shoehorned in and while some were definitely simpler than others, they all had their own depth to them that were refreshing to play. While the minigames will definitely steal your time from the game’s stories, you’ll definitely enjoy what time you spend with them.
One of my favourite aspects about these minigames is that they range from very traditional activities one could expect to the downright absurd that I never thought I would ever see in a video game. You can go from shooting pool to racing your own customizable RC cars to even betting in an underground women’s fighting league. While some activities may be a little more risque than others, they are all well made and are enjoyable to play. At first thought, it may be a little cringy to think of playing a phone sex minigame in a game about taking down mobsters but the hilarity that can ensue is well worth the blushing.
In the end, one of the simplest ways to describe Yakuza 0 is an exercise in glorious excess. There is so much to the game that it’s almost overwhelming, but it’s so expertly crafted that you will keep coming back for more. While I can’t say I had the highest expectations for the game going in, I came out of Yakuza 0 wishing more games had the attention to detail this game has. Games with a similar scope to Yakuza 0 often come out feeling incredibly hollow and lacking substance but this game just oozes entertainment. 2017 has so many titles that look incredible coming out that even if these more niche games are becoming must-play titles, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in front of our consoles.