The Yakuza series has been a cult hit from Sega and a spiritual successor to Shenmue. The series is a similar mish-mash of designs and genres just like Shenmue was. While Yakuza 0 is the latest in the series design-wise, it’s a prequel in terms of the story. If you like or dislike the series already, then I’m not going to change your mind, but new players will find an interesting, and very Japanese-styled game to get into.
Yakuza 0 takes place during the late 80’s, at the start of the careers of two of the major players in the Yakuza series. I’ve only played the first game a very long time ago, so my experience with the series is limited.
The game follows Kiryu and Goro who both start out in two different cities. When a murder is pinned on Kiryu, he finds himself now being hunted by his former Yakuza group. Goro is trapped in a town and forced to manage a cabaret as a way of seeking atonement for a past action. While separate, these stories will eventually merge as both men will have to fight their way through their problems.
If you’re new to the Yakuza series, the simplest way of talking about it would be a JRPG, but with beat-em-up combat instead of turn-based battles. As you explore, you’ll be attacked by punks, yakuza and more.
Combat is pretty simple: Two buttons for attacking, with lock-on and defensive options. Money is used as experience to unlock new abilities and perks over time.
Both men unlock three different styles of combat that can be switched to at will. You can build up heat to be used for special attacks, but you’ll lose it for taking damage.
The big draw of the series is the sheer amount of side content and other activities to get into besides crushing heads.
While both stories start out slow, you’ll eventually unlock a variety of optional content. Both men will get into running a business; Kiryu goes into real estate and Goro runs a cabaret club. The side quests are both huge money-making options and have their own unique story to tell in the game. Making progress will also unlock new abilities to upgrade for each.
All around the towns are side stories ranging from the serious to the bizarre to uncover. Some of these will reward you with items or unlock content for the business content. The game keeps track of what you do via completion points or CP. CP is used to unlock special bonuses and provides a reward for doing everything.
And when I say “everything” there is even more in Yakuza 0 to list here. Just like a RPG, it’s very easy to get distracted by all the side content and ignore the story for a time. While this may not look it, you should be able to get at minimum 30/40 hours + out of the game.
For more side content, you can also unlock a variety of “climax battles” with your high scores posted online.
There was also the option to play the minigames with other players.
The Yakuza series is one of those “love it or hate it” games, and it has to do with how the game was designed.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you need to go into the game with the right expectations. This is not an open world or sandbox game where there is always action going on. Yakuza 0 is quite slow in its pacing and again hearkens back to the RPG genre. You’ll be sitting through a lot of cutscenes with the vast majority of them unskippable.
The combat system is okay, but a few steps below what we see from other action games. Each of the character’s three styles are fine, but you’ll most likely pick one style to stay in for the most part. There were cases where it seemed like the enemies were able to dodge or block no matter what I did. You will fight regular enemies most of the time, but there are boss fights that raise the frustration levels.
The reason is that the bosses tend to be able to easily dodge your attacks no matter what angle you’re attacking, and can start attacking while you’re in the middle of your combo.
Several bosses gain hyper armor and enhanced damage as a second phase; leading to these fights becoming more about chessing them compared to combat mastery. Keep in mind that I did play the game on hard mode and can’t comment if this is the same for the easier difficulties.
Overall, there was nothing that stood out to me as amazing in the game. I was really hoping the business sidequests would be more involved. Goro’s cabaret club was okay, but the real estate gets very repetitive.
Yakuza 0 may continue the series’ polarizing gameplay, but is a good entry point for new players. If you like your RPGs with more action and have time to kill, Yakuza 0 has a lot to offer. For more on the game, you can watch my spotlight video below: