Like Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto, the Yakuza series by Sega is an iconic franchise that has carved a niche for itself in the video game industry. Gamers familiar with the antics of anti-hero Kazuma Kiryu already know what to expect from Yakuza 0, Sega’s prequel to its long-running, mafia-style action adventure title — intense combat; deep character development; and a very large sandbox to explore.
The game’s story centers around an incident known as the ‘Vacant Lot’ dispute, which occurs during December of 1988. The three lieutenants of the Dojima family are set to capture this small, empty lot to galvanize the family’s control over the city, but things don’t go according to plan. After visiting the ‘Vacant Lot’ to collect an overdue payment for a loan shark, Kiryu is mysteriously framed for murdering the client even though he had left him bloodied, bruised and alive. This sets the entire story for Yakuza 0 in motion, as Kiryu denounces his membership to the Yakuza (which doesn’t come easy) to search for the killer that framed him.
The enormous, fictional cities of Kamurocho and Sotenbori are at the player’s disposal, and they’re teeming with NPC activity, malicious thugs and item vendors that carry useful health replenishers and food. In addition, the cities contain a variety of ‘sub stories’ (i.e. side missions) that deviate from the main story. While they all vary in difficulty, the ‘sub stories’ can be as simple as giving advice to a Japanese Rock Band to chasing down a group of thugs that stole a video game from a young child, to name just a few. Finishing these side missions will reward the player with special items and weapons.
The mini games that made the Yakuza universe so engaging have returned in Yakuza 0. For example: the Sega arcade is back, and it includes arcade perfect versions of Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, Outrun and Fantasy Zone. There’s even a UFO crane machine where the player can try their luck at winning various prizes (i.e. Sega-related plush toys). There’s also dancing, singing and karaoke; all rhythm-based games with a good selection of music. And this doesn’t include the other mini games that Yakuza 0 offers (i.e. Darts, fishing, shogi, tournament fighting, etc.)
The adult content from the Japanese version of Yakuza 0 is present in the Western release. While exploring the city, the player will find telephone cards that contain photos of female models. These cards can be taken to Gandhara Kamurocho (an erotic video store) and then viewed on a television. The short videos are erotic in nature, and they depict the models in compromising positions. In a twist of irony, the room where this all occurs contains a box of tissues and an ashtray.
The Hostess Club (a feature that has been absent from prior western releases) finally makes its overdue appearance in Yakuza 0. The hostess clubs from previous Yakuza games involved choosing from a selection of topics to entice a cabaret girl. Yakuza 0, on the other hand, uses a strategic card game that features 83 different topic cards. Aside from ‘Conversation’ cards, the game now includes ‘Drink and ‘Food’ cards. By selecting the appropriate cards, it will increase the ‘Tension’ of the girl(s). The on-screen Tension meter increases depending on the type of cards being played, and the conversation that follows afterwards.
The Tension meter can also be increased by stacking ‘Conversation’ cards, which are based on genres. When the right amount of cards are stacked, the player will enter what is called ‘Hit’ status, adding to the ‘good’ vibes. Showing a girl a good time can lead to dates and other activities, so experimenting with the card system is important. It should also be mentioned that the game scores the player based on the girl’s Tension meter. If a perfect score can be achieved, the girl in question will become excited and the intimacy level will reach its maximum, allowing for a special ‘something’ to happen at the end.
Yakuza 0’s combat system has been revamped to include additional fighting styles for the game’s protagonist, Kiryu. These ‘styles’ are as follows – Brawler (a brawler-style of fighting similar to the one Kiryu has used in previous Yakuza games); Beast (a powerful, but slow attack style that allows Kiryu to use heavy weapons); and Rush (a boxing-like attack style that places emphasis on speed and mobility). While in battle, the player can toggle between Kiryu’s fighting styles by tapping Left, Up or Right on the directional pad. Any ‘Heat’ remaining from the previous fighting style will instantly convert to the new ‘style’.
From there, the battles feel like classic Yakuza. For example: when the heat gauge is full, the player can execute a devastatingly brutal, cinematic-style attack by grabbing a nearby enemy with Circle button and then pressing the Triangle button when near a wall or vehicle. Kiryu will open-palm the enemies head up against the object in question, sending blood and Yen (i.e. currency) everywhere. A similar tactic involves beating an enemy to the ground, and then ‘smashing’ their head into the pavement by pressing Triangle button. As expected, the combat sequences do a great job of keeping the adrenaline pumping, even during smaller fights on the streets of Kamurocho.
Like its Japanese counterparts, Yakuza 0 includes the missing Hostess club and the ability to operate a business. Kiryu eventually builds a real estate empire to compete with five ruthless property tycoons who have divided Kamurocho into districts. To break their stranglehold on the city, the player must make ‘cash offers’ for the businesses in each area, from pachinko parlors to restaurants. Eventually, the player must hire a manager and security to manage each district, while having advisers invest in developing individual properties to maximize Kiryu’s profits.
When the player finally controls Majima, they must revive a failing cabaret club by enticing customers over from five different business rivals. This also involves becoming a ‘scout’ and searching for beautiful women on the streets of Sotenbori. The player must offer these beautiful women expensive gifts to convince them to work for the club. Once they join, the women must be coached in social etiquette and picking out clothing that fits one of four categories (i.e. beautiful, sexy, cute and funny). This portion of Yakuza 0 transforms into a management simulator, similar to games like Diner Dash and Cake Mania. When customers (or Punters as they’re called) come into the establishment, the player must quickly supply them with girls that cater to their personal interests.
A hostess can grow tired if her stamina bar depletes. When this happens, she will end her interaction with the customer by asking for the bill. During a conversation, a hostess may call the player over and gesture for more ice, a drink refill or even a towel. If the player can read the hostess’ hand gestures before a verbal explanation is given, she will be capable of enduring the guest much longer. This segment of Yakuza 0 feels like a juggling act, especially when multiple ‘Punters’ are being entertained. The player must prioritize issues on the floor and constantly monitor the ‘mood’ of the room to prevent customers from leaving. When an issue does occur, the player can ‘apologize’ and even offer gifts to ensure return business.
Yakuza 0 is the best game in the series by far, and it is definitely a contender for ‘Game of the Year’. Sega did an incredible job of localizing the content that was once considered too ‘taboo’ for western audiences, and the end result is a game that is far better than its predecessors. Sega deserves a firm pat on the back for listening to
its fan base.
Platform: Playstation 4
ESRB: M (Mature)
Yakuza 0 Official Website: http://yakuza.sega.com/yakuza0/home.html
|The 3D models and environments receive a major facelift on PS4.|
|Takaya Kuroda (the voice of Kazuma Kiryu) returns along with other well-known Japanese voice actors.|
|Classic Yakuza gameplay from start to finish.|
|Yakuza 0 is the best game in the series, bar none.|