Title: Yakuza 0
Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
Official Site: Yakuza 0
Release Date: Aug 1, 2018 (PC)
Where to Buy: Retail, PSN, Steam
Yakuza 0 was a surprise for me. Essentially my first experience with the Yakuza franchise, I went in with mixed expectations. Half expecting to love the game and half expecting to be disappointed, the hype surrounding the series is fairly high. However my thoughts sway towards the former; like a Sake soaked businessman in the centre of Kamurocho, safe to say it was a very immersive experience.
Taking place in 1988; set in Kamurocho and Sotenbori, Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the original game. This makes the game an ideal starting point for new players such as myself. Yakuza 0 is an action adventure game with a heavy emphasis on narrative, which I might add is fantastic. You play as Kazuma Kiryu; the main protagonist throughout the Yakuza franchise, while also playing as Goro Majima, switching between the two at various points in the story.
Gameplay is made up of exploration and combat. Exploring the game’s locations is a truly beautiful experience; walking through Kamurocho in 4K was a real treat for the senses, so much detail and the environment oozed charm. Combat is essentially the games main focus, however, the environment is so immersive, I often found myself wandering around taking in the sights and the sounds. This leads me to my first gripe with the game, invisible walls. While this doesn’t detract from the overall experience; there were moments when I wanted to go explore a car-park for instance, the game wouldn’t let me mount the curb next to it. Not a major issue but it did kill the immersion for a second. I also encountered a few frame-rate issues and the occasional crash, however, after scouting around the internet I managed to lower the FPS drop rate.
Combat is your standard brawler mechanics; light attacks are fast and don’t deal much damage, heavy are bone-crushing but slow. You have three fighting styles for each character, this helps to switch things up when things get rough. Kiryu can go from standard brawler to hulking beast mode, while slow the beast style has tremendous power and will grab items and objects in the environment and clobber any potential threat with said objects. His other style is a fast less powerful set of moves, making up for lack of power with impressive flurries of quick hitting action. Majima’s style is different again; switching from the baseball bat-wielding Slugger to a breakdancing powerhouse similar to Tekken’s Eddie Gordo.
Yakuza 0 implements a heat gage which builds up when successfully landing strikes. This allows you to execute brutal finishing moves draining your heat, but, decimating your foes. Upgrades to the heat gage, health meter, and combat skills are done using cash. Completing fights and using finishing moves net you cash which allows you to progress through the skill tree upgrading each fighting style, however health upgrades are universal and don’t require you to unlock them for each style.
While the combat is fun; and the different styles keep the encounters feeling fresh, some encounters can be a frustrating experience. The mechanics feel dated; turning around can be clunky and unresponsive, the block system didn’t really help me and I found halfway through I had forgotten it existed. The game’s camera doesn’t help these issues; combining a small room with 10 opponents, all hoping to lay the smackdown, meant some encounters felt unfair and a bit cheap. The multiple styles help alleviate this to a certain degree, however one cannot crack skulls if one cannot see the target.
Fortunately, Yakuza 0 offers ample opportunity to relax and take a break from all the fighting. The world is full of side quests and mini-games to explore. Often finding myself sat in a quiet bar belting out hit after hit on Karaoke; a fun rhythm game similar to the guitar hero franchise, or hitting home runs in the batting cages, Yakuza 0 has plenty of things to find and do. The game offers experiences such as playing pool; or spending time in the arcade, contemplating if you really need that next skill or one more game of Outrun.
Distractions aside; Yakuza 0 has a story to tell, without divulging any details of the story rest assured it is fantastic. Memorable characters lead you through an exciting story of violence and internal politics. Essentially a story about dominance and power, Yakuza 0 focuses on the origins of its main protagonist. The story goes from stone cold, serious and intimidating; to bonkers crazy at various points, keeping the plot interesting and fresh throughout the 30-hour runtime. Voice acting is well executed and sombre moments carry the emotional impact enough to counter-act the more violent majority.
Verdict: Yakuza 0 had me hooked from the brutal opening; it immersed me in a beautiful yet dark world, filled with charm and things to do. Although not without its annoyances; the combat was fun and brutal, providing enough progression and depth to keep things interesting. The story provoked a roller coaster of emotions and I will definitely be playing through it again. Although not perfect; with a few small issues, Yakuza 0 has smashed open the door to the rest of the franchise for me to explore, and explore I will.
Yakuza 0 Review
- Fantastic Story
- Immersive World
- Memorable Characters
- Plenty to do
- Good progression system
- Finishers are brutal
- Occasionally clunky combat
- Invisible walls
- A few performance issues