I began my Yakuza 0 review looking into the detail of this interesting prequel to the Yakuza series. It’s so popular that it’s referred to as ‘The GTA of Japan’, and the similarities are definitely there. It’s easy to see how this franchise came to be well loved, with it’s odd humour, random side quests and dramatic yelling. This game has an incredibly authentic Japanese feel to it.
A very nice introduction to the series for me, having not played them before.
That said, I didn’t have to know the stories of the other games, which made this a great game to start with should you want to play the others later. The game takes place in the year 1988, in the areas Kamurocho and Sotenbori. These are based on the real areas of Kabukicho and Dotonbori respectively. You alternate between 2 characters every 2 chapters, playing as both Kiryu Kazama of the Dojima Family, and Goro Majima, who is an ‘erased’ member of the Shimano Family.
Both have their own stories to experience. Kiryu has been framed for a murder he didn’t commit and sets out to clear his name. Majima is a Yakuza forced to work as a cabaret manager who is suddenly given an opportunity to rejoin the Yakuza.
Look and Feel
The graphics in Yakuza 0 are very nice to look at, the world is full of lights, colour and people, making it feel alive and busy. Sometimes I found myself just stopping in the middle of a street to pan the camera around and take in the sights.
At first it felt overwhelming, there are literally people everywhere who you will bump into a lot. Lights and advertisements are all over the map too, it really does look and feel like a bustling city center.
The facial textures in this game blew me away. Tiny little details really make all the difference, like holes in ears where piercings once were, little imperfections like freckles and small wrinkles. Things that don’t necessarily matter, but make the characters look alive. I did notice that the quality of Kiryu’s face looked slightly worse than the rest of the main characters. He was a bit more blurry, which I thought was odd because he is a main, playable character.
In general, the game runs very smoothly as you play. The exception is in the game-engine cutscenes where there are some stutters and framerate drops. It pulled me out of the game when it happened, but it wasn’t bad enough that I was watching a slideshow. The CG cutscenes were simply stunning to watch, the facial animations were dead on with the emotions they were portraying, the fights felt energetic and the punches were meaty, and it felt like watching a movie.
Story and Gameplay
You play 2 characters during your time with Yakuza 0, playing as both Kiryu and Majima. The game starts with you playing as Kiryu, who is acting on behalf of a loan shark and beating up some poor dude for money he owes. A few hours later he then sees that the man he beat up was killed, and he is the one being blamed. His story revolves around him trying to find out what really happened, who killed the man and to clear his name.
Majimas story starts in a glamorous cabaret, he is an exiled Yakuza who is being forced to run the cabaret until he can pay off his debts over an event that happened before the game takes place. He is then given an opportunity, if he can kill someone for the Shimano Family, he will then be accepted back into the yakuza. Having never killed before, this creates a moral dilemma for him.
At first, the story confused me, I wasn’t 100% sure what was actually going on and it seemed like there was a lot to remember and take in. But as the game progressed it felt like I was able to understand more as it reminds you important things in bitesized easy-to-remember chunks.
I found Majimas story to be more interesting than Kiryus, as it had an interesting backstory that the effects where still being felt during the events of the game. The personalities also factor into how I felt. Kiryu seemed emotionless and stiff most of the time while Majima showed emotions and acted on them a lot.
I also thought that the story overall actually hooked me around Chapter 4 and 5, when the story really started heating up and getting interesting.
The voice acting in this game was awesome. No surprise there, as Japanese voice actors always give it their all. You definitely feel the emotion the character has, which engages you more. In fact, it was the voice acting that had me laughing, crying, and both in moments because it was so natural and was so good.
Getting your hands dirty
The fighting mechanics felt both powerful and vulnerable, as timing your strikes right so you don’t get knocked down mid combo felt realistic and satisfying. Each character has 3 different fighting styles which are basically strong punches and kicks, fast crowd control movement and using things around you as weapons.
I found myself gravitating more towards the fast crowd control, as I liked to get a few punches in before having to dodge. These fighting styles gave the game some variety, and switching styles depending on your situation required strategy, and it felt very satisfying getting hits in, switching styles and then getting more hits in again and again, and getting the heat bar full meant you could do some seriously powerful attacks which always came in handy against stronger enemies.
There were 2 main minigames, 1 for each character. Kiryu had real time real estate game, in which you would buy land and buildings and would then receive an income from these buildings in hopes you would make a profit. I didn’t spend much time on this one, as most of Kiryus money went into upgrading him, so I didn’t have enough to buy buildings.
The second minigame is Majimas ‘Cabaret Club’ minigame, and I enjoyed this one a lot more. Basically you match the right cabaret girls with certain stats to the right customer depending on what the customers want, such as attractiveness, personality, sexiness, etc. Matching the right girl will mean you get more money from the customers, and you’ll end up getting a profit. I got a lot of money from this minigame, which promptly went into upgrading Majima.
There are ‘side minigames’ around both maps, such as karaoke, pool and dancing, as well as an, ahem, erotic video shop, which unbeknownst to me, used real videos of real girls. That’ll teach me for doing something for the laughs.
The karaoke minigames and dance minigames are similar, you have to press the button prompt at the right time so you don’t screw up. It never gets old seeing the always-serious Kiryu really going at it in karaoke, and the same can be said for his ‘dad dancing’ in the middle of a dance floor.
Yakuza 0 is a great entry point into the series, and a super fun game. There’s lots to do and the story is full of ups and downs, revelations and plot twists that will keep you engaged until the credits roll.
The only thing that I’d change is the length of some cutscenes as they did drag on sometimes, and all you want to do is get back into the game. The minigames were fun, the graphics were stunning and the fighting mechanics didn’t feel clunky or slow. Beating the game unlocks ‘Premium Adventure’ mode which is a new game plus, so that adds to the replayability factor.
Yakuza 0 is a great game that I think any fans of open world, action-adventure games should play. Check out my scores below and don’t forget to drop me a comment about Yakuza 0 at the end!
About This Yakuza 0 Review
Game Reviewed: Yakuza 0 Digital Edition – Provided by Publisher
Review Format: PS4
PEGI Rating: 18
Developers & Publishers: SEGA
Gaming Platform: PS4, PS4 Exclusives
Genre: Action Adventure, Open World
Yakuza 0 Review Verdict
Graphics - 8.7/10
Story - 8/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Fun Factor - 8.5/10