January is a really busy month for fans of Japanese games on PlayStation 4. In fact the last two weeks in particular have multiple big name games releasing within days or even on the same day as each other. Yakuza 0 from SEGA is the first PlayStation 4 entry in the franchise to be released in English and it is already a game of the year contender for me in January. I gushed about it already in my preview that covered the first few chapters but having completed it, I now can safely call this an essential purchase for any PlayStation 4 owner.
Yakuza 0 takes place in the late 80s and the recreation of Tokyo is great. Both Kamurocho and Sotenbori are colourful, dense, and bustling with people and activities for you. There are various aspects about the game that really make you appreciate the attention to detail from SEGA at capturing the late 80s mood. This is seen in mini-games and attire.
There are two protagonists in Yakuza 0 and you get to experience parts of their stories in groups of two chapters before automatically switching to the other protagonist. I absolutely love how the narrative comes together when you realise how both tales are intertwined together and how the story concludes. Speaking of the conclusion, beginning the last few chapters at midnight was not a good idea because it took until nearly 5 am when the credits finished rolling and I’m still blown away by the quality remaining consistent. One thing Yakuza 0 has done for sure is cement the fact that Goro Majima is SEGA’s best protagonist. Everything from the first appearance he makes to his side stories build up an amazing character. Kiryu is awesome but Majima definitely stole the spotlight for me.
I’m going to avoid any story spoilers but I will say that Yakuza 0 is one of the few games with side quests/stories that actually makes you care about NPCs. The side stories are genuinely funny and unique. I still can’t get over the one where you get whipped in a public park wondering what you are doing with your life. The main story involves betrayal, death, brotherhood, becoming a man (I’m not even kidding), extortion, and more. There are characters you will get attached to and the voice acting is sublime in all types of cutscenes. Yes, there are multiple types of cutscenes here. The luxury gangster feel has been captured brilliantly. While Mafia III has been criticised for repetitive gameplay and performance, the story is great. Yakuza 0 is like an improvement even in that department with everything else remaining compelling enough to keep you wanting to play more. I like how they have shown just how far some people are willing to go to rise to the top by using or killing anything in their paths.
The core gameplay loop involves you exploring the small town completing missions. There will be random-esque encounters on the street with yakuza, hooligans, bikers, or even a huge man who will beat you up and take your money away if you aren’t careful. I’m not a fan of the save system being tied to save points in telephone booths because this isn’t the 90s. We should be able to save anywhere. I’m not a fan of the few escort missions this game throws at you. While they are manageable, escort missions have always felt like lazy design to me.
There’s a lot of combat in Yakuza 0. It often feels like an open world brawler given how much you end up beating people up. Both Kiryu and Majima have multiple fighting styles. Each style has its own unlocks on a skill tree and its own theme which makes fights feel fresh. The skill tree lets you unlock various abilities and stat boosts with money. You earn money only when you beat up people and when you complete chapters early on. Later on, mini-games unlock letting you gamble, invest, run a cabaret, and more. Safe to say, if you spend time doing a few side stories and mini-games once in a while, there will be no shortage of money at all. Investing money into health boosts will really help early on though so I recommend doing that.
Exploration is a lot of fun and useful. It leads to new sub stories, helps you find new items, and even sometimes results in helping out a person in need only to be rewarded with a rare piece of equipment. As you progress and complete certain requirements, you unlock completion points or CP. These can be exchanged at the shrine to unlock some useful abilities or items for both Kiryu and Majima. One accessory beeps when you’re near a phone card and this will be handy for a certain trophy. I will not mention more about said phone cards because reasons. The map system could be better with some modern conveniences like fast travel from anywhere (it is restricted to certain spots only) or a proper waypoint system but these are small problems.
Some of the mini-games here are so well done that I feel like SEGA could easily release mobile ports of things like Cabaret club manager or Real Estate management. The disco and karaoke mini games on the other hand deserve full releases as well but you all know how much I love SEGA rhythm games already.
Once you finish the main story, there’s a wealth of extra content. You can even access some of it from the start like 2 player mini-games or online mini-games against the CPU and other people. The Premium Story mode lets you load your clear save and get access to all your unlocks to just explore the world. Thankfully Yakuza 0 also has an event viewer that lets you re watch story cutscenes. If you want to test your battle skills, climax battles will rough you up in a variety of sitations that require different battle techniques.
Visually Yakuza 0 runs at 1080p and 60fps and looks great. The neon lights and signage looks superb and doesn’t get old. There are some instances of screen tearing that occur in certain areas of the game. Nothing major but that’s the only visual and performance flaw I faced in my near 50 hours in Yakuza 0. There are multiple cutscenes types with some involving in engine dialogue, others being pre rendered, and some sepia styled dramatic cutscenes with just subtitles and voice with no animation.
Speaking of voices, the voice acting is all in Japanese. A Yakuza game hasn’t seen a dub since Yakuza 1 on PS2 and the Japanese voice acting is magnificent. Every NPC is voiced well and the main antagonists and import characters have distinct and memorable voices in their performances. Some cutscenes are fairly long and you really get sucked into the drama on screen thanks to the performances. My only complaint with the audio side of things is the lack of the original Japanese intro audio. The audio was changed for licensing restrictions.
The localisation in Yakuza 0 is really good. SEGA even translated the Shogi (mini-game) pieces. I appreciate the little things like this and how the controller light responds to your combat and when enemies spot you. Yakuza 0 is a perfect entry point into the franchise. It also helps that the game is priced nearly 40% lower than AAA games in India. It is an easy recommendation with the quality and amount of content offered.