Yakuza 0 Review – Paging Kiryu-san (PS4)

Yakuza 0 has been out for almost two years in Japan, but Sega has finally given it the localization treatment, and the game is making its way to Western audiences next week. We’ve run through the game and busted countless Japanese mafia heads in our time with the game, and have our second review of the game ready to smash some heads in, and then some.

A Story Worth Watching

If you buy Yakuza 0 looking for a captivating story, then you’re in for a treat. It’s set in 1988 in and around fictionalized areas of Tokyo. Your main method of instant communication with other characters is a pager (anyone remember those?!), televisions are all small-screen cathode ray tubes, “erotic” videos are all on VHS and Betamax…The whole game is one giant blast from the past. Kazuma Kiryu and Gojo Majima serve as your main playable characters this time around, and you’re really getting two stories for the price of one. The story is at its best when it’s leaving one character at a cliffhanging moment, and though you may need some time to process what insanity just went down, you have to shift gears to get back into the other character’s mindset. While some of the story is almost comically predictable, there are a few moments that you don’t see coming, and you’ll find yourself second-guessing a few characters’ true intentions before all is revealed.

This being a Yakuza game, you can expect to get lost in the city well before you get anywhere with the meaty story. There are a ton of areas to explore, collectibles to find, and side quests to unlock. A diverse cast of secondary characters fill up these side quests with some wacky stories mixed in for good measure. One minute you might be helping a boy get his stolen video game back, the next you’re helping a timid young woman become a better dominatrix. Meanwhile, the Dojima family has a price on your head, but you can tackle that at your leisure. Besides, who has time to settle something as trifling as a framed murder when there’s bowling to be had, darts to be thrown, mahjong games to be won, underground fights to be fought, Sega arcades to visit, women to date, karaoke bars to belt out tunes at…The list of activities at your disposal goes on and on. Some of these games are even multiplayer, to boot! Just, try not to get too close to Mr. Libido.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

In Yakuza 0’s world, money is equivalent to experience. You earn it for quests, of course, but it also tends to fly out of every single enemy that you hit, by the bucket load. Perhaps this is a nod to the economy at the time in Tokyo, but it’s also just that particular kind of quirky that Yakuza is known for. You use this money to purchase new abilities for combat, or to buy up properties in the real estate/cabaret management portions of the game unlocked a little later on. This portion of the game is deeper than the other mini-games available to you, and rewards you with a boatload of money if you invest the time.

One of Yakuza 0’s weak points has to be its combat. It’s not due to a lack of trying on Sega’s part. Each character now sports three different fighting styles apiece, with special combos, powers, and health upgrades to unlock, for a price. There are just a few design decisions that are baffling. Enemies that you knock down with a flying kick, for instance, get up before you do. If you’re ever knocked down, you can expect to be hit again as soon as you stand up – the animation of Kiryu/Majima getting up takes just a fraction of a second less time than the enemy takes to attack you again, essentially forcing you to mash the dodge button as soon as you’re knocked down.

Speaking of animations, they are stiff and canned. If you’re in the middle of throwing a punch and see an incoming enemy attack from your side, there is nothing you can do. You can also expect a fight with the camera during combat. If you use a heat move, which results in a mini-cutscene, the camera is not guaranteed to be in the same position that you had it in before triggering the move, and you’ll need to re-orient yourself to get back in the fight.

Showing Age, Still Kicking Ass

Another area where Yakuza 0 disappoints is in its looks. Character models just look uninspired, and the population density of the city never rises too high. Having said that, there is no noticeable pop-in of characters, and as such the cities feel lived-in. There is the extremely odd behavior during in-game cutscenes where NPCs can be seen walking up to a certain distance away from you, looking in your direction, and then turning around and walking away, which makes it feel like perhaps you don’t really belong here. Thankfully, environment detail is fairly impressive, with countless signs, banners, and interesting architecture to take in. The game’s pre-rendered cutscenes dial up the graphical fidelity a little bit, but not by much.

Ultimately, Yakuza 0’s excellent story and intricate setting lift this game well above the technical issues mentioned earlier. Fights are never really too tough to handle, and as long as you come equipped with strong healing items, then you should fare quite well against the game’s later bosses. This is the kind of game you don’t want to put down in order to see what happens next, like a good book or television series. The subject matter also dips into rather dark aspects of modern life, however, so this is not necessarily a game you want to play for the little ones, but is one that most older gamers will appreciate, whether playing or watching.

Yakuza 0 feels a bit like an anime that also happens to be an action/fighting game. The only problem is that the fighting feels dated, though the environmental options and multiple fighting styles to master help to spice things up a little. A genuinely entertaining and captivating story lurks in the seedy underworld of Tokyo, where a miniscule empty lot somehow sparks a massive conflict. The setting feels authentic, and naturally there are tons of different restaurants to eat at, bars to hit up, and minigames to play, each with their own types of rewards. Toss in two completely separate and surprisingly deep simulators – real estate management for Kiryu, cabaret club management for Majima – and Yakuza 0 will easily take 40+ hours of your time before you’ve seen everything it has to offer. Fans of the series will no doubt be thankful Sega took the time to localize Yakuza 0, and those looking for a good starting point for the series can begin with this excellent prequel.

Review code for Yakuza 0 provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.

  • Authentic setting
  • Great storytelling
  • Lots to see and do
  • Combat can frustrate
  • Lackluster graphics