The Yakuza series has been around for over a decade. First appearing back in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, Yakuza brought with it a unique experience of open world exploration and fast and brutal melee combat whilst telling an intricate, mature tale based around the inner workings and betrayals of the Japanese Mafia. Ever since then, there have been six subsequent titles that carried on and elaborated the cast of wonderfully diverse characters, giving them elongated backstories that you can’t help but want to explore. The latest title in the series is Yakuza 0, originally released on the PS3 two years ago, and it makes its way onto current generation with a slick new makeover and an origins story which takes you back and serves as a prequel to the game that made series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, famous.
In Yakuza 0 you start the game as a young Kiryu who is fresh-faced and rather seemingly submissive to his clan superiors. This, of course, all changes when he is framed for the murder of a civilian within a patch of land sought after by numerous Yakuza families which sets in motion a web of lies, deceit and revenge. In terms of story, Yakuza 0 is an intriguingly deep and mature trip into the Japanese underworld laden with sordid types and sneidy operations that make you really want to uncover them. Throughout your playthrough Kiryu encounters a lot of character archetypes, from suited and booted Yakuza to the less fortunate homeless, each of whom you will interact with in different ways. Full motion and fully voiced cutscenes are mixed with unvoiced text boxes, which won’t matter as the voices are Japanese anyway.
For the first time in a Yakuza game, you now get to play as Goro Majima, an ex-Yakuza who is banished from his clan and must gain his way back in by making big bucks by running a local night hotspot. Goro provides a different perspective on this dark neon-lit utopia. He is more notorious with the families than Kiryu. Sporting a ponytail and an eyepatch, he’s more distinctive too. His story goes deeper when he’s given a big opportunity to gain quick access back into the family he was once a huge part of; he must commit stone-cold murder. Both stories are extremely gripping and brilliantly written.
Playing as Kiryu and Majima provide similar gameplay experiences as you run around the districts of Kumorocho and Sotenbori towards the next part of the story. The streets are filled with people and truly feel like bustling, living parts of a thriving city. Whilst exploring these districts, you will come across many side missions for you to undertake. These are a huge departure from the main plot, but their rewards are great. Some are mere fetch quests, whilst others may require more effort, such as rescuing a brainwashed youngster from a phoney cult or giving a local street band advice on how to maintain a gimmick offstage; they can be really fun.
One thing both protagonists excel at, though, is kicking serious ass. Both are formidable fighters, and it’s here where both guys provide different experiences. Kiryu and Majima have three fighting styles which can be swapped on-the-fly. Kiryu’s ‘Beast’ mode is heavy hitting and allows him to automatically pick up a nearby weapon and use it seamlessly, whereas Majima’s ‘Breaker’ style allows him to go all-out Eddy Gordo on everyone in his vicinity, knocking out some seriously impressive break-dancing moves which are light hitting but rapid. Combat feels very meaty in Yakuza 0 with every combination carrying weight that is extremely satisfying to pull off. Repeatedly tapping the square button is the standard way to whip up a slick looking combo, but adding in the X button mixes things up a little by adding in a hard-hitting finisher. The circle button grabs your opponent, which allows you to unleash extra damage by punching whilst grabbing an enemy or utilising a huge slam.
The best feature within Yakuza 0’s combat system is the ‘Heat’ attacks. Every successful hit on your opponents fills up a three-tier gauge that, once filled, enables you to perform brutal cinematic finishing moves within certain situations. These are brilliant to pull off and never get old. Kiryu may pull off a somersault knee move whilst his opponent writhes in pain on the floor, while Majima can dodge an incoming attack and counter by breaking the guy’s neck. The most fun part of the ‘Heat’ system is experimenting in different situations. Activate it near a wall, Kiryu or Majima will use that wall in their attacks; activate it while holding a weapon, Kiryu or Majima will conjure up some badass way to use it to good effect.
Aside from the exploring and fighting, there are a healthy amount of mini-games to play too. As Kiryu, you will be able to sing karaoke which is a rhythm based game, or similarly Majima can bust a move on the dance floor. You can also go to a Sega arcade which has the classic games Space Harrier and Outrun to play for ¥100 a piece or collect toys won from the grabber machines. There are loads of activities outside of the main story to keep you playing, and they are all great fun and highly rewarding.
Yakuza 0 is essentially a remaster of the PlayStation 3 version which shows in some of the visuals. While characters look fantastically detailed going as far as visual pores on their skin, environments are not as much. Wall textures look drab at times with blurry details and jagged edges still visible. These visual inconsistencies don’t ruin the aesthetic though. You still feel like you’re within a lively city.
Platforms: PS4, PS3
Release Date: 24th January 2017