Framed for a murder that he didn’t commit, low ranking Yakuza Kazuma Kiryu finds himself in a volatile situation, where remaining in the ranks of the Yakuza means risking his currently imprisoned foster father’s life due to his association. As the walls close in on him, Kiryu heads to the headquarters of the dangerous Dojima Family to seek permission to leave the clan and chase down the murderer.
What follows is a bombastic set-piece where Kiryu faces off against platoons of Yakuza, using chairs, tables, boxes of nails, vases and more to crush any opposition. Goons are thrown through doors, smashed through urinals in bathrooms and dropkicked out fifth-storey windows, culminating in a showdown with Dojima Lieutenant Daisaku Kuze; a reoccurring threat within the story who rips off his suit jacket to reveal a dragon tattoo, but he’s no match for Kiryu.
Yakuza 0 – The Biggest Gaming Gem of 2017
This is just the beginning of what is quite simply the best game I have played this year, Yakuza 0, and a game that everyone should experience if you own a PlayStation 4. This prequel is the ninth title in this long-running franchise, and chronicles the early days of series mainstays Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, as they uncover the mystery of a plot of land that is being pursued by the Yakuza, whatever the cost.
Yakuza 0 is entirely in Japanese, so you will have to read a lot of subtitles during the game, but oh boy, it is worth it. The story is one of the best crime dramas in recent times, crafting memorable villains that you actually feel pumped to throw down with. The amount of intricate, interwoven plot points is incredible. The voice acting is absolutely top-drawer, as you can feel the emotion seeping through every single line of dialogue in the game’s pre-rendered cutscenes, even though it is entirely in Japanese.
A Blast to Play
The Yakuza games do an amazing job of pairing this dark, cinematic tension with some of the goofiest, most off-the-wall content I have ever seen in a game. One moment, you’ll be hooked in by the game’s terrific main story, the next, you’re teaching a dominatrix how to properly teach her clients in front of children. Yes, you read that correctly. The side content in this game is utterly ludicrous, and there is so much variety that the game never gets stale at any time.
Substories appear as you explore the glitzy streets of 1988 Kamurocho and Sotenbori, the pleasure districts of Tokyo and Osaka, respectively. The streets are visually striking, with neon lights permeating light onto every street, giving the districts a warm feeling. This isn’t Japanese Grand Theft Auto, though, and if you go into these games expecting this you will be disappointed. The world is quite small, but has a lot of interiors that you can explore. Restaurants have unique food items, convenience stores, drugstores and supermarkets all feature, and they are all intricately detailed from top to bottom.
As well as crazy side stories that feature you protecting Michael Jackson from hordes of zombies whilst he moonwalks down the street, Yakuza 0 has a veritable platoon of other content. Darts, pool, bowling, fishing, mahjong, poker, blackjack, roulette, shogi, batting and many more feature, my personal favourites being the Disco and Karaoke minigames. Some of the songs, such as Judgement and 24-hour Cinderella are utterly hilarious to perform as your character starts to imagine himself singing in a dream. The wealth of content is staggering; it took me 70 hours to beat the game on my first run-through, and I didn’t touch half of the minigames.
Brutal, Realistic Combat
The combat of Yakuza 0 isn’t half-bad, either, being built off of the beat-em-up style, harkening back to classics like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, but more methodical. Each character has three main styles that they can switch between during the heat of battle.
Kiryu’s brawler style is an unrefined version of his main fighting style from the later games, with hard-hitting blows that do decent damage. Rush sees Kiryu become a boxer, evading blows instead of blocking and performing quick blows to wear down opponents, while Beast turns Kiryu into a machine capable of picking up objects in the midst of a combo and using them to cave the opponent’s skull in.
Majima’s basic Thug style is good for precise blows, while Slugger gives him a baseball bat that can be used to devastating effect. Breaker is the most unpredictable style, turning Majima into a break dancing whirlwind of death. Each character also has a hidden fourth style that can be unlocked through completing their business mini game, reminiscent of their style in the later games.
A big feature of the Yakuza 0 combat system is the heat bar, which rises as you fight. As it rises, Kiryu and Majima can perform contextual attacks that are both flashy and utterly brutal. Bicycles can be broken over goons’ heads, they can be flattened with motorbikes, kicked into the sea, suplexed into walls and onto railings, curb stomped, stabbed with a syringe, have nails put into their mouths, have boiling water served to them, and have their head crushed in car doors. T
he amount of Heat Actions is staggering, and there is always a new one to unlock and try to use; my favourite being one where Majima stabs two goons with a dagger, then jumps up in the air and performs a spinning roundhouse kick, kicking the dagger into another dude across the room, before pulling the dagger out while making a witty remark.
The fantastic combat is down to the sheer brutality of it. We’re not dealing with ninjas or demons here, this isn’t Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, and your characters aren’t defeating thousands of goons with each hit like Dynasty Warriors. Each punch and kick can be felt, and each victory is earned, and the heat actions are a great way of relieving the pressure after a tough brawl, as you feel rewarded for your performances.
Speaking of rewards, Yakuza 0 does reward you with money at every turn. Money can be used to buy food, energy drinks, weapons and equipment, new properties for your business, and a whole lot more. Both characters have their own business side operation, which is ridiculously lengthy but yield the best rewards. Kiryu opens a real estate operation, and you can buy properties, improve them, hire and assign managers and security guards and make serious dough.
Majima takes over a failing hostess club (a sort of nightclub where guys hire girls to talk to) and restores it to be a competitive force in Sotenbori’s nightlife scene, hiring hostesses, training them and then putting them to the test in all sorts of different scenarios. Money gained from these ventures can then be put into the extensive skill trees, unlocking new abilities and devastating Heat Actions for use in the course of battle.
Yakuza 0 really is a spoil of riches, and if any of what you read here sounds even mildly interesting, I implore you to give the game a shot. I believe the series is about to break out over here in the West, and it deserves to. A compelling story, fantastic voice-acting, great setting, smooth and brutal combat and a ludicrous amount of side content make Yakuza 0 the best game I have played this year, and there is no better point to jump into the series. With a remake of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami, only a week from release, there is also no better time. Give the series a shot, and you will not be disappointed.