It is a cold winter’s night in Kamurocho, Tokyo’s infamous red light area. The 1980’s are in full swing, and all manner of excess is being indulged in. In a seedy alley just off the strip, away from prying eyes, a debt is being collected. A young Dojima Family Yakuza, named Kazuma Kiryu, brings his rough style of justice to a quivering businessman and collects what is owed. After a hard night out with his friend and fellow Yakuza Akira Nishikiyama, Kazuma discovers that the man he roughed up is dead and the heads of the Dojima family are not pleased with this outcome. With his life in danger, Kazuma sets out to uncover the truth behind the murder in the alley.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Japan, in Sotenbori, Osaka’s centre of dubious nightlife, exiled Yakuza Goro Majima runs a cabaret club called The Grand. The club is highly successful and Goro is the talk of the town. However, the club is nothing more than a gilded cage, and Majima is constantly under surveillance by his former employer, the Tojo Family. Tsukasa Sagawa, the owner of The Grand Cabaret and Majima’s handler, offers a way back into the Tojo Family: take on a simple assassination mission. Sick of being a prisoner, and away from the action in Tokyo, Majima jumps at the opportunity to rejoin the Tojo Family.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the mainline Yakuza games and therefore provides a great entry point for newcomers to the series. Gone is the ten years worth of lore and backstory, which can feel intimidating and overwhelming at points. What is presented is a taught, precise crime thriller that does not require any previous knowledge of the ongoing narrative and provides the background story to two of the series’ best-loved characters. The story that follows our two main protagonists is excellent and easily the best in the series. The narrative on offer here is thrilling, engaging and full of unexpected twists and turns. In an era of serialised high-quality TV drama’s such as Hannibal, The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones, it is great to see a video game providing just as many water cooler moments as these great series. The writing on display is fantastic and provides real character development; you really do get sucked into the lives of all the characters. All the main characters have large fleshed out backstories and even the ancillary characters have real motivations and depth to them. The level of detail and care that has gone into the characters is very impressive and allows for slower moments where relationships can flourish in a logical and realistic manner.
Unlike previous entries in the series, all the main story dialogue is fully voice acted with only the side quest dialogue being delivered as pure text. While this can be slightly annoying, it is in the side quests, where some of the levity and awkward cheeky humour can be found. Usually, there are complaints that some of the more seedy aspects of Japanese culture, reflected in the Yakuza games, are removed for western audiences. Well, I can tell you that this is certainly not the case with Yakuza 0. Some of the side quests involve delving into used underwear sales, a gentleman referred to as “the walking erection” that is obsessed with porn and even visiting erotic booths to view real footage of women cavorting in bikinis, suggestively firing water pistols. This seedier side is fitting, considering the setting and shows that people operating in these areas will not be paragons of morality or political correctness. However, there is a lightheartedness to this aspect of the game and while it is played for laughs, it is worth noting as some people may find it a bit uncomfortable.
Yakuza 0 is a story driven; open world beat ’em up with roleplaying elements. You explore Kumurocho and Sotenbori, pummeling local thugs, biker gangs, Yakuza and anyone else that has the temerity to cross your path. The combat on offer is brutal and satisfying. The level of complexity and depth offered by the combat adds layers of strategy to every encounter.
As you beat up the various denizens, your HEAT gauge fills up. This increases the damage of your regular attacks and allows you to perform devastating finishers such as suplexes onto guard rails, smashing people’s heads into car doors or performing eye watering atomic drops. Half of the fun is figuring out which surfaces offer different finishing moves and how to combine them to unleash the most devastating moves. I must admit that some of the finishers made me wince and cackle at the same time.
It is worth mentioning that the targeting system can be a bit wonky during combat and does not always follow the opponent you want. This can be frustrating at times but it is easy to work around by manually targeting the opponent you wish to focus on. Kazuma has three different fighting styles at his disposal that are unlocked throughout the game, each with their own skill trees containing new moves and power-ups to unlock. The brawler style is the basic no-nonsense fighting style that is a mixture of punching, throws and the ability to use objects such as signs, bikes and swords as weapons. Rush style is similar to Jeet Kune Do, created by Bruce Lee, a mixture of fast kicks and punches. Finally, Beast mode is a mixture of wrestling and the ability to wield larger items such as motorbikes. Interestingly this fighting style allows you to incorporate picking up a weapon into your combos and allows a seamless transition between punching and weapon wielding. All the fighting styles can be switched between during combat and this becomes an essential strategy as the game progresses.
Goro also has three different fighting styles, the first is thug style, which is a mixture of punches, kicks, counter moves and disarming opponents. The second is slugger style; this allows Goro to permanently wield a baseball bat and focuses on weapon combos, and finally there is breaker style which is inspired by Capoeira and break-dancing. This style allows combos that are based on spins, kicks and chaining moves together in a similar vein to Eddy from the Tekken series. All six fighting styles feel and play very differently and encourage experimentation.
Gone is the traditional earning experience to level your character up and it has been replaced by earning money to unlock new abilities. This change certainly fits in with the 80’s theme of the game and reflects the culture associated with the time. As you pummel your enemies, they die in a flurry of bank notes that flutter around. You will earn different amounts of cash from each encounter depending on how creative you are at dispatching your foes. The cash earned can be spent on the myriad of mini-games and distractions available. This is an open world game after all, and the Yakuza series is famous for its other distractions. These range from playing arcade games such as Outrun and Space Harrier, going to an underground fighting club to bet on semi-naked female wrestlers, bowling, karaoke, racing slot cars, the highly addictive disco dancing club and much more. All the mini-games have their own mechanics and are fun distractions from the main quest.
There are also two businesses to grow, which enable you to earn huge amounts of cash, and are essential to unlocking the higher-level skills. Each has their own side story and mechanics. Kazuma builds a property portfolio by buying property, developing it and then pummeling the current owner in a big showdown to take over the area, whilst Goro has the more interesting and strangely addictive Cabaret Club side story. This involves recruiting platinum hostesses, training them up by talking to them, and then overseeing the night’s service in a mini-game that requires you to match the hostesses to customers that like their different traits. It really is addictive and the hostesses gain experience, level up and can be dressed up in outfits that enhance their stats. It really is an unexpectedly addictive mini game and each platinum hostess has their own backstory and personality.
The game runs at 1080p 60fps and is certainly the best-looking Yakuza game to date. Kamurocho is bathed in Neon and offers an excellent sense of setting, whilst hinting at the seedy underbelly that lurks just beneath the surface. The amount of people on-screen milling around is very impressive and they all go about their business in a very realistic fashion. The cut-scenes are excellent, the detail on the characters is top-notch and the facial animations are amazing. You can really see what is gong on behind a character’s eyes, and unlike many games where the characters seem like dead-eyed zombies, there is life and character on display here. The developers should be applauded for this accomplishment as it really draws you further into the drama facing the characters, however, there are some legacy issues on display here.
The game has been developed for both the Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 and this becomes obvious when looking closely at some of the background assets. There are some low-resolution assets and textures on display, such as strange plain boxes, flat walls with no detail and odd angular telephones to name a few. While this is not a deal breaker it can be a bit jarring considering how good everything else looks. It is also worth noting that there is some odd texture pop-in, which appears to be streaming related, and some screen tearing that occurs just at the top of the screen. The screen tearing seems to be due to the frame buffering at 60fps, and there is some brief, minor slow down in the centre of Kamurocho.
The audio is excellent. The Japanese voice acting is stellar and provides weight and depth to the characters. While there are moments of melodrama, the performances as a whole really add gravitas to the story and keep you thoroughly engaged. The music is also excellent with a mixture of 80’s synth, rock and ambient tracks that add to the atmosphere and immersion. During the boss fights and larger encounters, the music revs up, gaining a heroic edge to it, and really gets the blood pumping during the ensuing combat. There are even heavy metal songs that play in some of the bars and shops that sound like a Japanese Iron Maiden may have performed them, complete with Bruce Dickinson operatic vocals, it really is great stuff.
Yakuza 0 is the best entry in the series to date. It is accessible for new players, whilst providing some Easter eggs and nods for long-time fans of the series. The story is excellent and avoids some of the tropes that the series has become known for. The combat is deep and satisfying and the incredible amount of content on offer is quite staggering. The main story alone will last anything from 30 to 40 hours and when factoring in the dizzying amount of side quests and mini-games, certainly represents excellent value for money. While there are some minor graphical and targeting issues, they do not detract too much from the overall experience. Yakuza 0 certainly deserves a great deal of attention. It is one of the best games Sega have developed internally for years and shows that their glory years are not yet relegated to the 1980’s.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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