Sega is a name that sticks with many different people for obvious different reasons. Sonic the Hedgehog was a staple of Sega in the 90’s, Mortal Kombat got it’s early beginnings with Sega and even games like Echo the Dolphin made a splash for the 60 year old video game giant. Sega has slowly fallen out of grace with the gaming community however, one series that has been a fan favorite for over a decade is the Yakuza series. One of the first of its kind, Yakuza has had a rich history of combining fun game play, whacky characters and serious storylines. In 2017, Yakuza 0 is no different, as when I first started to play it, I honestly wasn’t sure how to feel. As someone who has never really paid much attention to the highly acclaimed Yakuza games of the past, I got into this game in hopes of digging into an already storied franchise. What I got was something unique, clunky, fresh and weird, which I ultimately enjoyed.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the games that came before it, setting the seeds for some of the main characters we see in the original games. The story takes place in December 1988 in Kamurocho and Sotenbori, which are a fictionalized recreations of Tokyo and Osaka. The story follows two main characters, a young Kiryu Kazuma, who is involved in a complex real estate deal , which eventually finds him in bad situation with someone dead and him taking the heat, as well as Goro Majima, who runs a cabaret club after being exiled from the Tojo Clan due to an issue with the Yakuza years before. Despite his club being successful and his party lifestyle being fun, he doesn’t feel fulfilled. In the story, he’s offered the chance to get back in with the Yakuza; all he had to do was kill a blind girl. He takes problem with this and tries to figure out why anyone would be after her.
Yakuza 0 is an open world action-adventure game with RPG elements: the player gains experience from combat, which can be used to level up Kazuma’s stats and increase his fighting capabilities. However in Yakuza 0, we see money being the stat increaser, not traditional XP. The game itself looks really good. The graphics and gameplay are pretty fluid but I wouldn’t completely call this game “open world” You are often corralled into different places that the game needs you to go, making it kind of linear at times. Also, it’s not like you can leave the city and go explore elsewhere, you are stuck to explore parts of the city that are open to you and that’s about it. Even so, the city is large and has a lot to do in the various chapters of the game.
When you first get into the game, there is a ton of dialog and cutscenes. The cutscenes looked really polished and the graphics were spot on. However, the dialog, at least for me, was not as spot on. Being in the 80’s some of the use of words like “rad” and “bro” seemed kind of disingenuous and corky at times, leaving me to wonder if there were some translation issues. As the game progressed, I got used to it and now it’s kind of comedic and I like it but even so, I could have used more. The bad dialog is also injected into the enemies, as they are all pretty weird. It kind of makes it fun to beat the snot out of them.
As Yakuza games in the past have shown, sometimes mashing buttons can be fun and in Yakuza 0, I would have to agree that this formula is fun. The first battle you see is against a couple of street hooligans who are shaking a guy down for money. As Kazuma loves to do, he uses his fists to do the talking and the game gives you a quick tutorial on how to fight in the game. The beginning is very basic, just mashing square but eventually, you get to a point where you are ripping up the bad guys with combos and weapons left and right. The combat is quick, fun and easy to figure out but sometimes you find yourself swinging at air and the bad guys getting the best of you. You get different styles to fight with, starting off basic and getting more technical as you go. Styles like Brawler, Rush and Thug give you many different in fight options to simultaneously change to whenever you would like. The more money you put into a style, the better you get at that style.
As you are a target through most of the game, you do encounter larger groups of people who want to hurt you. This makes for a challenge at some points but ultimately, it becomes normal that you knock down 4 dudes at a time and you do it well. With different enemies comes varied fighting styles. Some were fast, some were strong but each had their place to defeat the cohorts of enemies you would face. As is true with many fighting games, you have a bar that fills up and eventually leads up to some special moves. It’s with these “special moves” we see techniques that stomp enemies into the ground, throw them across the stress and even pick up items off the street to beat guys down to a bloody pulp with. It’s fun to see what creative things you can do with a group of thugs trying to kill you.
Along with the main storyline, there are options to do some side quests and mini games along the way. Sega has implanted itself into the world with their own old games as well as things like karaoke and dancing. I like the addition of the mini games because they add just a little something extra to the world. Final Fantasy 15 did this and I sat and played those games for hours. I think the same can be said for these games.
The side quests are kind of weird at times but they help you interact with the city more and allows the player to gain some needed money to level up. One of the side quests had me stop a used underwear sales rink. Weird right? But in the end, I got to beat up some pervert, so it all came out in the wash. The side quests also allowed me to meet a bunch of different vibrant characters and showed off some of the storytelling aspects that made the original games great to begin with. I enjoyed that part of the game and some of the humor that came with it added to the experience.
With all of the good, this game is not perfect. Some of the flaws with this game really have to stem from the navigation in the city and the incredibly long cutscenes. I found it hard to get into the game because not only did I have to read subtitles but I had to read a lot of them. I didn’t understand a lot of the story until well into the game and I was confused even so, as someone who has never played a Yakuza game before. When the cutscenes were not taking forever, I got to explore the city but the map and the markers really make it challenging to find out where you are supposed to go. The map feels backwards at times and that got frustrating to navigate at times. Even so, these things become minor if you give the game a chance to show its strange charm.
In all, I really did enjoy playing through this game. As a game that I might have glanced over due to not knowing too much about it, Yakuza 0 is a fun and exciting game to play. If you ever wanted to get into this series, this is a cool game to pick up first, as the older games have been remastered for the PS4 and you can enjoy some of what this series was and has become. I would pick this up if you’re a fan of Japanese culture, and fighting games that are a bit on the different side. From its fast paced fights, to it’s quirky side quests, Yakuza 0 is a game that really surprised me and made me a fan of the series.
- Fun fights, quirky characters, interesting missions
- Clunky navigation, too many cut scenes
- Overall fun experience but might feel strange at times to the average gamer