There have been quite Japanese a few franchises that began on PlayStation 2 or at least came into their own on the console. Yakuza began on PlayStation 2. The franchise has seen multiple games across various consoles across the last few years and the latest game to release in English will be Yakuza 0 on PlayStation 4. Yakuza 0 will be the first English release for the franchise on PlayStation 4 and it is a great entry point for newcomers to the franchise. This preview is based on playing for little over 18 hours.
Taking place in the late 80s in the Kamurocho and Sotenbori, Yakuza 0’s recreation of Tokyo is dense and lively. One thing needs to made clear from the outset of this preview. Yakuza 0 is not an open world game in the traditional sense. It has elements of an open world game with a ton of things to do but the setting is more intimate than your average open world game. This allows for a more personal experience and more dense and detailed locations. There are cabarets, massage parlours, colourful billboards, and multiple NPCs with side stories that you can explore in Yakuza 0.
Yakuza 0 is split up into chapters and you get to play as 2 different protagonists: Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Just like in GTA V, each protagonist has his own fighting style, own means to make money, and own baggage. Both Kiryu and Majima have distinct fighting styles and backstories that are revealed as the plot progresses. Speaking of the plot, get ready for some drama. Not the bad kind but some of the best voiced drama spoken in Japanese with cutscenes that make you want to progress the story and not spend time doing activities. There is betrayal, extortion, abuse, and more and there hasn’t been a single moment that wasn’t compelling me to play more.
When it comes to the actual fighting, the way enemies and mobs appear outside of the screen and only resort to combat if you move near them reminded me of battles in Japanese Role Playing Games. There’s even one section that had Kiryu running through back alleys fighting enemies at every few steps that felt like a dungeon. Being able to hit someone with a motorcycle on the head to see money flow out and then go to the karaoke bar after is something only possible in a Yakuza game.
The RPG system in place is pay to win (but not in the way you think). It literally has you beating up enemies to see money fall out that you earn followed by you spending that money in an ability grid to unlock abilities and boost stats. You have the option to spend money in each fighting style and they are all useful in different situations. I’d recommend investing in health boosts early on.
Yakuza games are known for their detailed and playable minigames. You can sing karaoke, dance at Club Maharaja (That is the actual name), play SEGA classics like OutRun in the arcade, and even get into a detailed real estate management simulation. The amount of side content is pretty daunting but it is all there if you need a break from the main story or just want to have fun. I spent nearly 3 hours and tried maxing out the Karaoke and Disco songs on all difficulties because I’m a fan of rhythm games. If you aren’t and just want to go bowling or play pool, there is something for everyone.
So far, the side stories which basically are Yakuza’s side quests are really interesting. I’ve done things ranging from distracting people while a street performer needed to use the restroom to helping a man find a forger to make a fake necklace for his girlfriend and one that involved getting whipped in a public park. I’m looking forward to actually spending time doing various side stories as I play more.
In my time with Yakuza 0, the only things I haven’t liked so far is one particular escort mission (I hate these missions in any game) and the lack of modern conveniences on the map. If you want fast travel, you’re forced to find a cab that is available in certain parts of the map. This lets you travel to other cab spots and not anywhere else. While each district is smaller than your average open world in AAA games by quite a bit, not being able to set a waypoint on the map for where you want to go causes confusion in some smaller alleys while walking or even running away from enemies.
The attention to detail overall really impressed me. Little things like cup noodle names on the shelf in a convenience store make a difference. The overall 80s feel extends to the karaoke as well with the song selection and the catchy music will make you want to spend more time doing mini games than progressing the story. This is a conundrum I faced many times while playing.
Yakuza 0 blends some amazing aspects from games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Sleeping Dogs, and more. If the pacing and quality keeps up, this maybe a game of the year contender and we are just in January. I can’t wait to see what happens next.