Thank you Sega for sending us a review code for this game!
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the series with its story taking place in 1988 and begins with a young Kazuma Kiryu who is beating the snot out of a man to collect an unpaid debt. This takes place in an abandoned lot where this guy’s body is later found. Although Kiryu is a yazuka, he hasn’t killed anybody and is framed for this man’s death. This murder causes all sorts of trouble for the yakuza and their plans to acquire this lot to revamp the city of Kamurocho. This setback is costing the Dojima clan billions and they are out for Kiryu’s blood as payment. Kiryu must clear his name and also protect his imprisoned mentor, Kazama Shintarō in the process.
While all of this is going down, the twenty-four year old Goro Majima is the manager of a popular ritzy cabaret club. Though he appears to have everything (except a left eye), he’s under constant surveillance until he brings in enough money to get back into the good graces of the Tojo clan. To speed up the reconciliation process, Majima accepts a job of killing someone. Majima has yet to kill anyone and this job turns out to be way more difficult than he anticipated.
To avoid spoiling any of the fantastic story, the rest of this review will focus on the gameplay. True to the previous Yakuza games, this is an open world action game where you’ll be jumped on the street and will be forced to teach various thugs, yakuza members, and bikers a lesson or two. Depending on which character you’re playing, you’ll have different fighting styles available and can switch between them mid-battle. For Kiryu I preferred the balanced brawler mode, but the ability to use motorcycles and other heavy objects as weapons in the beast mode is fun too. When I was playing as Majima I enjoyed using the slugger mode, which let me smack people around with a metal baseball bat. No matter which style you choose, money comes flying out of people when you take them down. Fighting is a significant source of income for you in this game.
As you can imagine the fights can get bloody, fortunately there is an option to tone down the gore in the game settings. This does not impact the gruesome cutscenes where you get to witness people losing their pinky finger, an eye, or getting their toes and head smashed in with a sledge hammer. Naturally, with the pain and excitement there is a ton of language that should not be read or repeated by younger children.
True to any mafia game or movie, you can expect to see lots of smoking, drinking, and using woman as trophies or sex objects. Throughout the city, you can find phone cards, which let you watch erotic videos of the girls whose cards you have found. While the girls are wearing bikinis in the video, they are still suggestive with their positions and actions. After the video finishes the game focuses on a box of tissues and the main character gives out a sigh of relief. There is one male character nicknamed Mr. Libido who can be found throughout the city wearing only his underwear. As his name suggests he has a lot of stamina and uses different expressions for taking care of his needs on his own.
Mr. Libido isn’t the only unusual character you’ll run into. There’s also Mr. Shakedown who will beat you up and take away all of your money if you lose to him. Though if you do win against him, you can make millions. Don’t bother attempting until you have mastered techniques by literally spending millions of yen on yourself.
Each fighting style has techniques that become available once you spend money to unlock them. Some of the abilities are unique to that fighting style while others apply to all of them. For example, when you increase your health it benefits all of the styles.
As you walk around the streets, you’ll run into people you can rescue from muggings or rape and they will repay you with items if you intervene for them. There are also various side quests where you help people by teaching them skills or by rescuing them from bad situations. I was able to rescue one woman’s daughter from a religious cult and I also helped a high schooler get out of being forced to sell her panties and bras on the street. While it feels good to help people out of those situations, it has other benefits as well during the mini-games.
Each character has a different mini-game that can help them earn good money. Kiryu can buy up real estate and collect profits if he can protect them. Majima can help a fledgling cabaret club regain its customers and shut down the brutal competition. In order for each business to succeed you need to hire good staff, and many of the people you help out in the side missions are available to hire for these tasks.
Besides the main story and mini-games there are micro-games in this title. You can do all sorts of stuff to kill time including going fishing, singing karaoke, disco dancing, batting cages, shooting pool, throwing darts, and going bowling to name a few. At the arcades, you can play the claw game or the Sega classic, Space Harrier.
While the visuals in Space Harrier won’t impress you, the graphics in Yakuza 0 are extremely detailed. You can see the pores on the character’s skin and the city streets are quite lively with all of the people and animals going about their daily routines. I was amazed at the glamorous clubs and how stark the comparison was between them and the run down employee areas. You could definitely tell which parts of town were safer than others.
The audio is just as well done with great Japanese voice acting. Though most of the Yakuza games don't offer it, I wonder how it would sound in my native language. Thankfully, the majority of the dialogue is subtitled, but there are times when the camera shows a sign that isn’t translated and I’m left wondering what it meant. The background music and sound effects are great, especially during the fighting scenes.
If you really enjoy fighting, the unlocked climax battles are worth looking into. Each battle has a challenging victory condition that must be met to complete it. For example, you’ll have to punch out a certain amount of money before the time limit. You can also replay the story and boss battles just in case kicking somebody’s butt once wasn’t enough. If you like the gambling micro-games you can challenge people online to see who is better at them. Last but not least, you can play some of the micro-games like darts, bowling, and disco dancing against a friend or family member.
Overall, Yakuza 0 has plenty to offer to keep you entertained for quite some time. There’s a great story and excellent character development that hooks you in and gives you insight into yakuza lifestyle. Granted this lifestyle goes against many Christian values so please take that into consideration before embarking on this adventure. If you enjoyed the previous Yakuza entries, you’re bound to like this low-tech version as well. Grab onto your pager and buckle in for the ride of your life!