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Yakuza 0 — It’s too good to miss

I had so much fun playing Yakuza 0, I don’t even know where to begin. One thing I am certain of though—it’s time for you to give Yakuza a try.

yakuza_0_box_artWhile Sega’s action-adventure franchise has developed a modest cult following here in North America, in Japan, Yakuza is a bona fide sensation selling millions of copies. There are many potential reasons why the series has languished here. Perhaps it’s the perceived cultural relevancy (it’s a very Japanese series), or the poor timing of releases (Yakuza 5 finally arrived one year ago on PS3.) Whatever the case may be, it’s time to check out what this franchise is all about because Yakuza 0 is too awesome to miss.

Platform(s): PS4
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action-RPG
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature, 17+)

The perfect entry point for this series

Jumping into any long-running series midway through can feel daunting, especially one like Yakuza that has been telling a continuous story since the very beginning. The great news is that Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the entire saga, so it’s the ideal entry point for those starting fresh. In the game you’ll get to play as younger versions of two of the most notorious Yakuza members in the entire franchise, and see them rise the ranks to become legendary figures of Japan’s crime scene. It’s a win/win situation as these origin stories are thrilling in their own right, plus they’ll provide a rock-solid foundation should you decide to explore this franchise further.

Veterans of the Yakuza series should, of course, check this game out too. Not only will you get to learn the exciting backstories of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and his longtime “frenemy” Goro Majima, but it’s also the first entry on PS4 and it looks glorious.

Two gangsters out to prove themselves

Yakuza is one of the most interesting series in all of gaming, and its exceptional storytelling is a big reason for that. As you might imagine, life as a Yakuza member is extremely dangerous, and Yakuza 0 explores this aspect in fascinating detail. Not only do the Yakuza have to worry about outside threats, but internally the organization is rife with politics that can mean life or death.

Life is even more risky for our two playable characters—Kiryu and Majima—since the game is set in 1988 when they are both 20-something mafia up-and-comers. As junior associates learning the ropes, they quickly learn the hard way that the upper Yakuza brass will stop at nothing to solidify their power.

Storytelling at its best

People often make comparisons between Yakuza and Grand Theft Auto, but that only tells half the story. Yes, Yakuza 0 is an open-world action game featuring an involved story line revolving around crime and sin, but that’s where the similarities end. Despite their involvement in plenty of shady activity, the characters in Yakuza 0 are just as often depicted as virtuous and redeemable. One minute you’ll be performing a brutal “shake down” on a delinquent money borrower, and the next you’ll be off catching fresh fish to help a troubled sushi chef.

Hopping from white-knuckle encounters with hardened Yakuza thugs to compassionate moments with local civilians is exactly what makes this game so compelling. You can opt to take the critical path and forgo the tender moments, but they provide an entertaining balance to the grit and gore of everyday Yakuza life. Sega has packed so many odd, interesting, and wonderful side quest diversions you can easily spend dozens of hours exploring them all.

Enjoy the night life

When you’re in the mood for play, boogieing down in a neon-lit ’80s discotheque is just one of dozens of fun urban activities you can try. You can also sing along to cheesy tunes in karaoke bars, play billiards or darts, go for a round of bowling, or learn new Japanese games like Shogi. Retro game fans will get a kick out of the many Sega game centres scattered around town, which contain the era-appropriate Sega classics Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, Super Hang-On and Out Run. If exploring the more NSFW aspects of Japanese culture are your thing, you can also pay a visit to Tokyo’s photo clubs, bet money on catfights, or take hostess girls out on dates.

Old-school combat

Of course being a Yakuza family member is not all fun and games. Sometimes you’ll need to let your fists do that talking, whether that’s taking out rival Yakuza henchmen, or hustling street thugs trying to siphon your cash. Yakuza 0 brings back the traditional knuckle-busting gameplay from past entries, but spices things up by giving each character a variety of battle styles.

Kiryu “the Dragon of Dojima” styles

Kiryu, for example, can pound hooligans using a mix of kicks, punches, and throws with his Brawler fisticuffs style. However, if the situation calls for more power, switching to his Beast style enables you to pick up surrounding objects and beat your opponents to a pulp. Objects can be as silly as a tea kettle, or as skull-crushing as a motorcycle. When you’re feeling outnumbered, Kiryu’s Rush style lets you gracefully dodge attacks and counter with lightning-fast punches that are great for crowd control.

Majima “the Mad Dog” styles

Likewise, Majima possesses his own unique forms of offense. His Thug style is analogous to Kiryu’s Brawler, giving Majima a well-rounding repertoire of punishing kicks, punches, grabs, and throws. You can also knock the daylights out troublemakers using Majima’s Slugger style, which comes complete with its own metal bat. My personal favourite though is his flashy Breaker style where he performs nimble dancing attacks and then strikes a pose. You definitely don’t want to mess with a guy that good at spinning windmill kicks.

Tokyo and Osaka’s stunning entertainment districts

Proving that Yakuza 0 really does give you the total package, the graphics in this game are just unreal. The neon playgrounds of Kamurocho, Tokyo, and Sotenbori, Osaka, are absolutely magnificent in their colour and detail. Whereas most open-world games go for scale and scope, Yakuza 0 takes the opposite approach with compact slices of metropolitan cities absolutely bursting with activity. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny too because there are plenty of oddball characters, sidequests, and collectibles waiting in every side street.

Don’t be surprised if you pause to soak in the beautiful allure of each and every city street. The game takes place during the peak of Japan’s “bubble economy”, a period of rapid wealth gain and opulent living. Money drives this world and you’re encouraged to spend frivolously on whatever indulgences you choose. Half the fun of this game is spending ridiculous sums of money in the casinos, or eating the finest sushi you’ll ever see, just because you have the funds to do so.

Final Thoughts

Yakuza 0 is such a phenomenal experience and you really owe it to yourself to check it out. No other franchise will take you from the most serious confrontation between violent gangsters and within minutes having you pay a visit to the local arcade for a game of Space Harrier. This steep contrast of styles will have you alternating from moments of high tension to uncontrollable bouts of laughter all the way through. I really can’t get enough of this game, and if you give it a chance, I promise you’re in for a wild ride.

+ Engaging story filled with action
+ Hilarious side quests
+ Gorgeous, bustling cities
+ Awesome combat
+ Constantly fun

– A wee bit of texture pop-in
– Earns its M rating..may be too extreme for some

OVERALL

Gameplay: 4/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Sound: 4/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5

Overall Rating: 4.3/5 (86%)

Get Yakuza 0 on PS4