Who knew the real estate business had such strong bodyguards in Japan?
- Bit late to be reviewing this one, huh? You see, I actually got Yakuza 0 back when it first came out, but it became buried under the fifteen other Japanese games that came out that same weekend, and by the time I finished them, other games swallowed it up until I finally managed to get a free week to play it. And even then, I couldn’t finish it before Persona 5 came out, so I had to power through it last weekend, hence the convoluted tale you never asked for, which perfectly reflects this game in general when you think about.
- For those of you who don’t know, Yakuza is a Japanese sandbox RPG series about a bunch of serious-faced gangsters beating the shit out of each other one moment and then playing crane games or singing cheesy songs the next. It’s a very cult franchise, as I only just discovered it a year and a half ago while watching random video game reviews on Youtube and stumbling across one for Yakuza 4. And while 0 has brought it a little more into the mainstream, it’s still very niche, although to be fair, that’s probably for the best at the moment.
- I mean these Yakuza games are fun and all, but they’re pretty repetitive when you get down to it. They all follow the same basic plot outline, the combat system is mostly the same for each installment, the location is almost always the same, and there’s only so many times you can see Kazuma Kiryu nearly die before you start to disbelieve it. It’s kind of like Macross, only a lot more hilarious, because idol love triangles just can’t compete with men wearing permanent frowns doing Dance Dance Revolution minigames.
- This installment focuses on series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and fan-favorite Goro Majima as we see their journey into the Dragon of Dojima and Mad Dog that shook all of Japan in the prior installments while never actually meeting each other because Yakuza 1 still exists and all. Kiryu is a rookie member of the Dojima family who ends up going on the run after being framed for the death of a dude he non-lethally curb stomped in the opening segment while Majima is a cabaret manager who puts up with a lot of abuse from his superiors in order to be allowed back into the yakuza after betraying them once before, only for said abuse to get tested when he’s asked to perform a hit on a beautiful blind woman who looks kind of like Hana Kana, except she’s voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro.
- Although initially seeming separate, both plotlines inevitably converge when it turns out that the individual parties involved are all pursued by the same five organizations, who themselves are locked in a real estate war over a piece of land that will become the Millennium Tower in future games. And given this is Yakuza, the plot will be contrived, hilarious, full of betrayals, and have a bunch of shirtless fist fights in the end. It’s good campy fun that elevates the series over most Japanese open-world RPGs, and I dare you to not laugh at how characters can threaten each other one moment and then exchange cigarettes ten seconds later.
- Not much has changed gameplay-wise from the previous installments. You still explore the same Kamurocho district and get into random encounters with a bunch of assholes who have so little self-esteem that they like to bully people who are much taller than them simply because you breathed on their tie while crowds of people gather around to cheer them on. Fighting is still a bunch of button mashes along with special moves that have your character do non-lethal curbstomps and spine-breaking maneuvers to take out five enemies at once. And when you’re not doing that or progressing through the long long long cutscenes necessary to tell the slow-burn story, you’re participating in one of the many optional minigames that exist mostly for completion’s sake.
- All your favorite mini-games like crane games and such are back, but since this is the late 80s, you’ll also have access to old-school arcade games, phone-dating, and disco dancing. There’s even a cat fight arena where you play rock-paper-scissors in order to have one skimpily dressed female beat another for money. Did I mention that Yakuza as a whole is strictly a man’s game, and the one female character who can kick ass is an optional teacher with zero connection to the plot?
- What is new is that you now level up your abilities by exchanging them for money, most likely due to the large financial focus this game’s plot contains. In order to get the best power-ups, you have to participate in a large business practice two continents away from any actual fighting (until your rivals start taking things personally I mean) involving one of the two main characters defeating an organization of five kingpins so you can steal their profits. And if you defeat all of them, you get access to the characters’ unique fighting style, which meant I spent more than half the game trying to talk up women so I could be ready for the wave of bosses the game throws at you over time.
- Mind you, like most Japanese games, you need a strategy guide to make the most of it. Kiryu’s unique minigame involves him buying up local business and waiting minutes for profits to come in, which is kind of lacking in actual gameplay, and it doesn’t help that there’s no way to know which buildings you can buy until you run up and press your face against it. You also have to raise friendships with certain individuals in order to recruit them to mange your business as well as give you ventures to claim, with some of the conditions to do so being absurd, like getting three strikes in a row in bowling.
- Majima’s unique minigame involves him running a Cabaret club in the style of Cooking Mama whilst leveling up the hostesses’ ability, buying customers from other businesses, and recruiting old women who are surprisingly effective at keeping young men happy. It’s a lot more fun than Kiryu’s minigame once you get a handle of it, and it earns you a lot more money, but it takes a long time to fully bond with all the unique girls since you can only do one special training session per “open for business”. And some of the requirements to get the best girls is pure bullshit. Fuck that disco dancing minigame, man. It’s fun to watch, but not so much to play.
- What’s also new in regards to the game is how you can switch between three different fighting styles: a normal one, a fast one, and a strong one. Majima in particular benefits the most from this new mechanic because his fast style is basically break dancing and his strong one gives him a baseball bat that never breaks and he can wield like a nunchaku to spam through armies and their generals like a boss. He’s definitely the more fun of the characters to play as, and it helps that very few gun-wielders show up in his campaign. Because while not immediately lethal on the normal difficulty (and they’re not very lethal in the context of the story either), bullets are hard to dodge, and getting hit by one takes off a lot of health and gives you a seizure for three seconds, giving the bad guys time to reload.
- He does have to handle a bunch of knife-wielders admittedly, but by the time that happened, I had gotten his old permanent knife weapon and ended up massacring the bitches like Rurouni Fucking Kenshin.
- Yakuza 0 is definitely getting a recommendation from me, but it’s worth remembering that if you’ve ever played a Yakuza game before, 0 is most likely not going to blow you away unless you just really want to play as Majima. There’s not much that’s improved apart from the presentation (in comparison to other Yakuza games I mean, because the graphics really show that this game was also made for the PS3) and while everything else has stayed remarkably consistent, that doesn’t really help alleviate the repetitive nature, especially considering how long these games generally are.
- If you haven’t played a Yakuza game before, 0 is a great entry point due to being a prequel that never references the previous games apart from one moment in Yakuza 4 that you don’t really need the context of to understand. I really hope that one day, this series can actually enjoy more mainstream success, especially since it seems to be the only good thing associate with Sega until the new Sonic game once again tricks people into thinking he’s still worth a damn.
- Hopefully people will stop trying to get me into Mass Effect from now on.
- I find it funny how the characters in this game can just recover from bullet wounds like they’re mosquito bites, but apparently we draw the line at being caught in explosions.
- And of course Yakuza Kiwami would get an official announcement the day I schedule this review to go out.