Yakuza 0 Review
Known by many as essentially a spiritual successor to Shenmue, the Yakuza series has always been respectable in it’s iteration of what made Shenmue such a masterpiece. But it is Yakuza 0 that arguably transformed the series from cult classic to a mainstream fan-favorite.
A young upstart in the world of Japanese crime syndicate, Kazuma Kiryu is a yakuza in the infamous Tojo Clan, one of the largest yakuza organization. Kiryu would soon get framed for murder, as he unknowingly got himself in the center of an internal power struggle over who gets to own a certain land. A controversy that would push him into deeper depths of the dog-eat-dog world of yakuza, and something that would make him self-reflect as a man and yakuza. Meanwhile, Goro Majima, due to a certain incident, was expelled by the Shimano Family and is doing whatever he can to return to the family. One day, he was ordered to assassinate a certain individual, a day that would force him to re-examine his way of the yakuza. Will these two monumental events be the cornerstones that would shape our two protagonists into the legend and men of stature that we would come to know of in the other games?
Set in 1980s Japan, Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the series. And just like the other games in the series, Yakuza 0’s story employs the same style of drama-heavy plot that slowly builds up over the course of the game, and the dozens seemingly irrelevant plot points joining together to form one gigantic narrative — all the while countless fists and kicks are thrown in your pursuit to connect the dots and seek out the truth. The Yakuza games have always presented themselves like a J-drama/action, and it’s always worked wonderfully.
But longtime fans of Yakuza would know that the beauty of Yakuza isn’t just it’s main story, it’s in fact the myriad side content you can do. One of these is the good ol’ substories — from retrieving a stolen game for a kid, to saving a mother’s daughter from a manipulative cult and even helping out Michael Jackson as he films a music video in Kamurocho. And while Kiryu and Majima are directly influencing the lives of these NPCs, it’s also through these substories where the personalities of Kiryu and Majima shine through, in the more mundane but light-hearted of moments where we get to see their reactions towards the little things in life. And by the time you completed a good chunk of the substories, the time you spent will make you feel attached to the characters; and in turn, feel more emotionally invested when shit hits the fan. Indeed, it’s these innumerable NPCs that shape the world of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, fleshing the world and it’s web of characters (even including Kiryu and Majima themselves) with a much needed substance which the main story; too busy with all the fights and action, had no leeway to care.
The world of Yakuza 0 is certainly not big, but jam-packed with details. I spent way more time than I thought dancing in the disco, singing in the karaoke, playing games in the arcade, playing pool, darts, eating at the restaurants, drinking in the bar, fishing, pocket car racing, running my businesses and so on; some of these minigames so good they could even work as a standalone. Set in 1980s, the game also spared no expense in simulating that particular period of time — Kiryu and Majima using pagers, comically gigantic phones, break dancing which was just getting popular during 1980s Japan, and the more lenient laws governing over burusera at the time. There was even a substory that seems to hint a concomitant to the bubble economy of 80s Japan. Outside of the main story, Yakuza 0 also made it very easy to immerse into the life and culture of 80s Japan. The exploratory nature of Yakuza 0 is a perfect complement to the story that is mostly all drama and action, and is one among the game’s few major components for it being such an endearing game.
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s finally time to address the elephant in the room — action. I can praise the game’s world and exploratory nature all I want, and while they do made up a big part of the game, Yakuza 0 is still at heart, an action game. The two protagonists who you get to control at different parts of the game, fight in two very contrasting ways; and each of them also have 3 in-game styles you can use. Kiryu has Brawler, Rush and Beast while Majima has Thug, Slugger and Breaker; depending if you are in a multi-men fight or in a tough one-on-one fight, the ability to switch styles mid-fight is excellent and made combat much more smoother compared to the older Yakuza games. “Heat moves” also made a return in this game, and in certain ideal situations, you can use Heat moves; Yakuza’s equivalent of a super move, to obliterate your enemies in style and brutality.
Furthermore, both Kiryu and Majima also has countless passive/active skills you can invest in, and in some cases, you will meet “masters” of respective styles who will teach you new moves and overall, give you even more tools in your arsenal to defeat your foes. Out of all the Yakuza games I’ve played, I personally find Yakuza 0’s combat to be the most fun, as it’s flexibility truly can’t be matched. Last but not least, Yakuza’s recurring QTEs also made a return in 0, and made every second in boss fights, even in the middle of beautifully-cheoreographed animation, filled with tension.
Older Yakuza games were extremely clunky — there’s a reason why they remained cult classics forever; gameplay felt more slower and sluggish, camera is weird and obviously they looked shoddy especially compared to the newer ones. In that aspect, Yakuza 0 is the most polished as it has ever been, and looks absolutely amazing. On my PC with default settings, with the exception of some meager audio stuttering, it runs perfectly. The soundtracks have a diverse selection that effortlessly capture the different moods depending on what you’re doing. When everyone is on the hunt for you and you don’t know when enemies will strike, a tension-filled track surrounds you; a frantic car chase scene also fittingly has a frantic song to go along with it; emotionally-charged songs that go along with the main story bosses; hell, you get different songs just from switching your styles in battles. Last but not least, the music specially written just for their karaoke and disco minigames just scream 80s.
In a way, a lot of the newer elements in Yakuza 0 felt like the pieces of puzzles that’s been missing in the older games. The game’s more polished than it has ever been, and with a story that is just as good as before, and with even more side content you can pour yourself into — Yakuza 0 is an excellent game in more ways than one.