Finally, I’ve completed Yakuza 0. At just over 90 hours and with a 67% completion, I’m done with Kiryu and Majima’s early days. This is one meaty game. Where do I even start when reviewing this?
Basics first. Yakuza 0 takes place in 1988 and is a precursor to the Yakuza series. The game is split into chapters and in each chapter to take control of Kiryu or Majima. Both characters are separately embroiled in the Yakuza world but both connection by a string of events. Kiryu is stoic and loyal to his Yakuza subdivision family but soon finds himself to be a target over a dead body in an unfortunate location. Majima is tormented and longing to escape the punishment his Yakuza family has decided for him because of his past actions. He is the manager of a cabaret club, a great prospect for some but for Majima, his own personal prison.
You play as both characters, each with their own fighting styles, substories and locations as they try to unravel their current predicament. As you progress you will unlock new places of interaction and new side content. Besides the main story, both characters have a main substory. Kiryu has a real estate business which entails purchasing properties in areas owned by 5 corrupt real estate moguls. And Majima, has a cabaret club that he uses to conquer the cabaret scene. Again, he has to square off against 5 cabaret club owners and their main hostess’s. Both Kiryu and Majima’s stories also take place in separate locations from the other. Within each city there tons of side activities to try and lots of wacky characters to interact with. And that wackiness is Yakuza 0’s strength.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that flits between super serious to baffling bizarre as often as Yakuza 0. I’ve played Yakuza 3 and 4 in the past but I don’t remember this amount of absurdness. Maybe I’ve matured enough to seek out and appreciate the bizarre in these games than I had in the past but somehow I think Yakuza 0 goes above and beyond in its weird world. And therein lies its true strength. From its characters, the side missions and the over the top cutscenes for mundane tasks, Yakuza 0 had me with a smile on my face the majority of the time.
Then you get to the main story and it’s a tonal shift. People get murdered, there are stakes and there is a lot, a lot, A LOT of drawn out conversations. If you struggle with cutscenes and exposition in games, oh boy be prepared. Most of it is interesting stuff but Yakuza games have a tendency to retread topics within seconds of the topic’s introduction. For example:
Person A: We finally found the blank, Kiryu.
Kiryu: The blank, Person A?
Person A: Yes, it was with Mr Black.
Kiryu: Mr Black has it?!
Person A: Mr Black did have it but one of our own was able to retrieve it, Kiryu.
Kiryu: Who has it then if not Mr Black, Person A?
Person A: Person B.
Kiryu: Person B?! He has the blank instead of Mr Black?!
You get the idea. This won’t be an issue for some but for those that like to just play a game, may have an issue with Yakuza 0’s pace. You can click a button to speed up the dialogue but if a character is performing an action, you can’t skip until the action is performed. Personally, I enjoyed Yakuza 0’s story but after a couple dozen hours I found myself speed reading some of the dialogue. Saying that though, of the Yakuza games I’ve played, this story was the best in my mind. Playing as Majima definitely helped that. I really like his character and I think it works as a good contrast to Kiryu.
One thing I never got bored off is the fighting in this game. And although fights happen for the most minor of reasons in this universe, I was never bored with feeling like a fighting legend. Both Kiryu and Majima have enough fighting prowess to be MMA champs! You start to pity the street punks or drunks who challenge you to a brawl, only to lose a dozen teeth and most of their chump change. Yup, when you fight people in this game, money rains down constantly. Not only does the money work as currency, but also as your means of leveling up. So, you have great reason to fight every punk wanting to throw down. The combat itself is very satisfying. As I said, each character has 3 distinct fighting styles. For example, Kiryu has Beast mode which makes him sturdy to damage but slow to move. Majima has Breaker style which turns him into a twirling breakdancer of death. As you get more money you get to unlock more moves and bonuses for each fighting style. Doing that lets you unlock new moves from the masters that you learnt the fighting style from. This upgrade chain keeps things fresh and I haven’t even talked about the Heat actions yet.
Heat actions are possibly my favourite part of this game, along with the side quests. In combat, either through items or by fighting well, your Heat gauge will rise. As it rises Kiryu will get faster in combat and will have access to more moves. Once you’ve reached a certain point on you Heat gauge, you can perform devastating actions in the form of mini cutscenes. There are tons of these and I’m willing to bet I missed loads of them. Some include, smashing a guys head with a car door, suplexing individuals, using bodies as weapons to throw into enemies and many more. Then there are the weapons. Both characters can wield weapons and most weapons have a specific Heat action too. My favourite is the salt shaker. You pull an enemy’s head back and pour salt in his eyes. So stupid but makes me laugh every time. I never got tired of the combat through my 90 hours of gameplay. Especially because as you level up, Kiryu and Majima become so super powerful that random fights are like taking candy from a baby. Sure there are boss fights and Mr.Shakedown encounters but there is something really fun about being waaaay out of your enemy’s league. Everyone enjoys being Goku, he’s a fighting legend and so are Kiryu and Majima.
I mentioned Mr.Shakedown and that needs some explaining. Mr.Shakedown is a kind of mini boss that will randomly appear in the 2 cities. There are multiple Mr.Shakedown’s but they all are the same, fight wise. As you walk around town, you will sometimes see the hulking giants. You can’t miss them! They’re like 7 foot tall and build like Arnold Schwarzenegger. And yes, I had to Google how to spell that. They also have a Yen amount above their head. This is the amount of money they currently hold. If they spot you, they’ll challenge you to a fight. If you win, you get all his money. However, should you lose though, he takes all your hard earned cash. As you beat them, they’ll level up and have move health but they’ll have more money to take. I love the fights with Mr.Shakedown and the only times I’ll skip them are if I don’t have any healing items. He’s no joke and can easily beat you if you mess up. But he’s one of the best ways to earn money in the game and just overall is a great idea.
There is so much to talk about with this game that I am actually struggling to remember what I have and haven’t talked about. It is just filled to the brim with places to visit and things to do. As, you do more tasks you’ll unlock Completion Points. These are gained by doing trivial things to precise actions. Walk a certain amount of distance= 1 CP, beat 100 enemies in Breaker style= 1 CP, complete 30 Kiryu Substories = 1 CP etc. You trade these in for added extras to the game. These range from the main Substory components to the ability to run for longer duration. But it’s these CP’s that add a lot of incentive to try all the side content of this game. There is a lot to try too. I won’t go over all of them but there is darts, pool, catfights, toy car racing, dancing minigames and my favourite Karaoke. Besides those there are tons more and a lot of really strange and unique things to do, there is also a wide range of restaurants and bars to visit. Here you can replenish your characters health or learn about some alcoholic beverages. I mean that literally, each time you order a drink in some bars you get a little bit of its history. It’s a nice touch and one that went over my head. Is it rum? Yeah, OK mix it with Cherry Coke, thanks.
Overall, Yakuza 0 is one of the best games I’ve played this year. I think the aspect that sealed that for me was its weirdness. A serious game is great, a wacky game is fun but a wacky game in a serious world just hits that sweet spot for me. Not only that but because there is so much side content, I always had outs if I was getting tired of the serious Yakuza world. Just had a 10 minute long scene of Yakuza talking organisation rules and need a break from the story? Bowling or a visit to Mr.Libido sounds good. Also I’m not going to explain Mr.Libido, one of the highlights of the game and you should see it in all its glory. I highly recommend Yakuza 0 and if like me, you’ve played previous iterations and they didn’t grab you as much as you hoped, try this one. The fact that it’s a prequel to the original Yakuza also means you don’t need to read up on any of the lore. This is a reset point and it’s a fantastic place to start this series.
Thank you for reading this review and if you want a more in depth analysis into Yakuza 0’s side content, I have 2 other articles to view: Yakuza 0’s Cabaret Is Taking Over My Life What Was Your Side-Quest/Mini-Game Purgatory?. Feel free to share your views on Yakuza 0 or the Yakuza series in the comments.
P.S. Yakuza Kiwami which I believe is the original Yakuza remade, is currently available for this months PS Plus members. If you fancy a Yakuza sample. Just be aware that it takes place after Yakuza 0. Maybe minor spoilers.