Yakuza 0 is the prequel to the entire Yakuza franchise, in which you play through as Kiryu in attempts to prove his innocence in the early hours of the game, before taking over as Goro Majima in chapter 3, including a whole different area to play with.
It must be said that I have never (ever) played a Yakuza game before in my life, I currently own 3-4 but never ended up getting around to playing them as they always just seemed like they were clunky brawlers reminiscent of the generation before, which meant that something else was always above on my priority list.
Yakuza 0 has been billed as a great starting point for people new to the franchise so I thought to myself “now is a perfect time to prove my thoughts that these are just clunky brawlers that rips off GTA”.
I was wrong. On the surface you can be forgiven for thinking this, but hidden just underneath is an incredible, in-depth RPG with a story that is actually good and fighting mechanics which are a delight to play.
I won’t lie to you here – at first the gameplay seems like it is going to be quite clunky and basic, however this merely takes a little bit of getting used to, and the more you level up your fighting style the more fluid it all feels. This is complimented by ever evolving fighting styles that you unlock as you play more of the game; these range from a really nice and fast fighting style that hits a little softer up to a wrestler style that will instantly pick up any items around you to use as weapons to pummel down the enemies – This is incredibly useful when outnumbered by a room full of people.
I mentioned before that Yakuza 0 is more of an RPG than it is a clone of GTA in a smaller city, this is most noticeable by the levelling mechanic featured in the game. Essentially you are tasked with gaining money (I mean you ARE Yakuza after all! (kinda) ), which you can use to invest in unlocking abilities to use through the action sequences, on items or one of the games many MANY minigames present throughout the game. Personally I am a big fan of this and I like the option to choose how I would like to spend my money as well as being responsible for the full balancing of my bank account. You can also unlock CP as you progress by completing certain actions in the game which are used to spend on additional abilities such as “Get more Yen from battles” and the like, this is a nice additional level up system to spend on areas where your are weaker with the money management.
The RPG elements do not end here though, as you proceed throughout the cities in the game you will come across randomly placed groups of enemies to fight which is reminiscent of random battles from early JRPG titles. As you fight your way through these battles the enemies will drop fairly decent chunks of cash which increase as you progress more through the story which makes the levelling feel fair throughout.
Then there are the minigames… In honesty in most RPG’s I am not a fan of most minigames so I will admit to not being the target audience for these, what doesn’t help is that I absolutely SUCK at Shogi or Mahjong so these did not interest me at all. Alongside the typically Japanese (Seriously, this game is SOOO Japanese) minigames, you can also play pool and darts in the games local bars & clubs which again do not leave much of an impact but can provide a nice source of income the better you get. The silliest, and best, of all the minigames featured in Yakuza 0 is the Karaoke which is a button pressing minigame to the beat – whilst this seems really simple, in the background you can see your character featured in very Japanese music videos that tend to distract you from what you are doing.
This is something I do not often say when it comes to RPG’s in recent years but I REALLY like the storyline of Yakuza 0. Its pretty basic but because of this is just works so well.
I will avoid spoilers (mostly) here but essentially Kiryu has been framed for murder in a conspiracy inside the Yakuza so he has himself expelled from the Yakuza in order to prove him, and by extension the leader of his family, innocent. Once you reach chapter 3, you take control of Goro who is a very different character – he was expelled from the Yakuza (I don’t know why yet) and is running a club to make load of money in order to pay his debt.
What I like about this approach is that both characters have layers to them, whilst Kiryu appears to be a hardened Yakuza member at first, the more you play as him you realise his heart is actually in the right place and he’s just a big softy (I really really like Kiryu as a character) whereas Goro on the other hand, you start off with him and he will not hit a customer and comes across as a complete gentleman… Then, as you play through more of his side to the story you realise that in fact this is all a lie and he is a massive psycho, though I realise that this is not going to be a suprise to people who have played through other Yakuza titles
I thought this way of breaking up the story and subverting character tropes was incredibly satisfying, and stopped the age old problem with longer games that the characters and storylines get a little stagnant in the middle area and allows for the game to progress at a fast pace throughout without sacrificing longevity of the title, which is not an easy feat – Bravo Sega.
Appearance, Setting & Music
Graphically, I feel that Yakuza 0 excelled itself, no matter the situation I could see the emotion portrayed in the characters facial expressions and even though the city was always full of people, each character model looked unique and the frame rate didn’t drop a single time, even when I was mid-fight surrounded by 50 NPC’s which is a lot to say in itself.
Yakuza 0 is (so far) broken up into two cities with one playground for each of the characters. I loved this, each of the cities had it’s own type of people within it as well as different enemies that would attack either character.
One thing I noticed early on with this game is that both the cities felt alive and thriving which is a nice change from a genre often plagued with boring dead cities and nobody to talk too.
The music is another one of those elements that just makes this game SO JAPANESE. Admittedly most of the music is background noise in order to compliment the thriving city or fight scenes, it seriously excels during the karaoke sequences as well as the sections of the game where the music can make or break the tension. This is really hard to explain in words, so instead glance your eyes over this karaoke segment I recorded for you (Karaoke from minute 31):
The multiplayer feels a little like it was stuck in at the end at the moment, whilst it is certainly fun to play pool, darts or mahjong with your friends online they were (in my opinion) the weakest sections of the game so nothing I was going to invest much time into.
I am aware I am passing this off a little bit here, but do we really play an 80 hour RPG to play pool with friends online? No, we don’t, and multiplayer always feels tacked on and forced in games like this.
An incredibly competent brawling RPG that can sometimes collapse under it’s own weight with a huge amount of boring minigames (excluding Karaoke) that leave little to no impact in a title that has fantastic elements better than the sum of it’s parts.
After playing a title like this, I wish Sega would push more games out for the mature market as this is clearly what the excel at. I already see the end of year countdown now: “Top 10 Suprises of 2017 Number 1: Yakuza 0”. Well done Sega, much much much more of this please.
An incredibly fun brawling RPG that is often let down by really boring minigames that is 100% worth your time and money.