The Yakuza series is well-known amongst most Sega fans as a weird, wonderful sandbox brawler. However, even after over 10 years and millions of copies sold collectively, many people are still in the dark when it comes to this series. Sega’s hoping that will change with the localization of Yakuza 5, 0, and Kiwami, with Yakuza 0 as a prequel promising to draw in new players before Kiwami, the HD rebuild of the first Yakuza game, releases. Is Yakuza 0 the perfect entry point to the series that Nagoshi was hoping for, or is it merely a fun diversion to hold us over until Kiwami and Yakuza 6 come to the States?
As a side note, I refuse to even chance spoiling anything related to the story, so I’ll solely be talking about gameplay mechanics and other content unrelated to the story.
Money makes the world go round, and in Yakuza 0 that statement’s more true than ever before. Depending on how well players fight, (how little damage you take, use of flashy finisher and Heat moves, and how varied combos are) players can potentially earn large sums of money from every enemy encounter. Even more interesting is the fact that instead of the standard level up system present in the other games based on gaining experience and skill points from fights, players upgrade our hero by buying skills using the money earned from fighting. It makes for an upgrade system that directly and quantifiably rewards players for a job well done, and being able to see clear results in your training is incredibly gratifying.
Racking up your savings for those big fighting style upgrades isn’t all fun and games, though. All that cash burning holes in your pockets attracts the ire of one Hiroya Egashira, otherwise known as Mr. Shakedown. Mr. Shakedown is a insanely strong behemoth of a man with one thing on his mind- forcefully taking every cent from our heroes that he can get his grubby mitts on. You never know when he’s going to show up, and it’s best to avoid him at all costs if you can manage it- every time he so much as touches you, he steals massive amounts of cash, and should you lose to him, he takes everything you’ve got. Conversely, once you get strong enough, it’s very possible to turn the tables on him and relieve him of any cash he may be carrying, which varies randomly between encounters but is almost always in the millions of yen. It’s not easy, but it’s also a DAMN good feeling when you wipe that smug look off his face as you pocket your hard-earned cash.
Another interesting addition to the game is the existence of the Dream Vending Machines peppered throughout both of the cities players will traverse. The vending machines each have a set price- the ones I’ve seen are in denominations of 10,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000 yen- and unlike normal vending machines, they don’t allow you to make a selection. Instead, they spit out a randomized item; you can receive anything from a piece of equipment to a Staminan Spark to a part for your customizable toy car. Yes, I did just say toy car. Just to make filling out that completion list all the more harrowing, some car parts can only be obtained through sinking indeterminable amounts of money into these Dream Machines.
Amidst all the changes made to the gameplay system fans of the Yakuza series have grown accustomed to, the one that stands out the most is definitely the combat system itself. Each character had their own unique fighting style in the previous games, and while this still holds true, each character now has not one but FOUR different fighting styles that players can switch between, even in combat, once they’re learned via cutscenes reminiscent of the revelations from Yakuza 3-5. I personally love this addition as it gives a lot more options to consider when strategizing against particularly tough enemies. It also allows for more versatility in the game itself, suiting a variety of different play styles instead of forcing the player to adapt to the single best way to play with each character that was offered before.
So many different fighting styles to master means a lot of upgrading, and fortunately players aren’t limited in how they would prefer to invest in themselves. Want to sink all of your cash into upgrading your favorite style before touching the others? Go for it! Prefer to distribute your cash across all styles to even it out? Be my guest! In addition to the upgrades able to be purchased immediately, there are a variety of upgrades and moves for each style that can only be unlocked for purchase by training under the respective masters of each style- martial arts and weapon masters in Majima’s case, and both hardcore debt collectors and the people successfully ducking them in Kiryu’s story.
An odd stylistic choice I’ve noticed in my time with the game is that while some cutscenes are the usual fully animated sequences, others are similar to the style of Bayonetta 2‘s cutscenes- conversations are played out in mostly still images that are subbed and voiced. Character facial expressions are still present and even subtly animated in the scenes, whether it’s a slight nervous tick or an eye twitch, so it seems strange that the entire cutscene wouldn’t be animated as well. Perhaps it was to save time or having to cut back for the game to fit on one disc, but these sequences feel a bit out of place when compared to the fully animated scenes that fans of the series have grown accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong- they definitely don’t look bad, and the effort put into producing quality scenes still shows, but the switch between fully and partially animated cutscenes is a bit jarring at times.
Beyond the odd pseudo-cutscenes, when it comes to style, Yakuza 0 has it in spades. Every aspect of the game is dripping with a mixture of the sort of silliness and intensity fans of the series have come to expect and a “hip” and trendy 80s-style extravagance. Everything from the way characters talk and interact with each other to how they dress to the collective “live fast” philosophy in the game world’s bubble economy makes for high-stakes, high-intensity throwdowns the likes of which have never been experienced before.
One of the best parts of the Yakuza games that hasn’t changed in 0 is the staggering amount of purely optional content to entertain yourself with. Every bit of it is back in full force, with Club Sega being even more amazing than ever- because of the 80s setting, the arcade machines host a couple of classics that any Sega fan knows very well: Space Harrier and Out Run. In addition to the side minigames that Yakuza fans have come to expect: bowling, darts, pool, and mahjong, Yakuza 0 showcases some completely new time sinks such as racing fully-customizable toy cars with kids and getting your groove on with disco dance battles.
What’s that? The single player isn’t enough to slake your thirst? Fear not! Yakuza 0 allows players to put their mad skills to the test with the addition of a two-player mode for bowling, darts, pool, and disco and an online versus mode for mahjong, cee-lo, and poker. While you can’t actually fight other people online- that would just be TOO good- these additions definitely add more replayability to the game and make it a fun game to pick up and play with hanging out with your friends. For those of you who couldn’t care less about the minigames, Yakuza 0 also adds a Climax Battle mode. In this mode, players face a plethora of interesting challenge fights to compete with others across the globe via online rankings. Hone those fighting skills and rise to the top of the leaderboards!
Yakuza 0 is a game chock full of what some people would complain is nothing but fluff and padding to add to your total play time. Personally, I think the “fluff” is what makes the world so fun to experience and keeps players coming back for more. Though the cities you explore in game may not be very vast in size, they’re incredibly expansive in spirit, and every character, locale, and substory showcases the love and care Nagoshi and his crew put into building the world that our story unfolds in. In introducing so many new elements in terms of gameplay mechanics and optional content, Yakuza 0 does a fantastic job in both attempting to draw new players into the series as well as satisfying established fans.
- Yakuza 0 is better than Yakuzas 3 and 4, and it’s on the same level as 5 in my book.
- If you get Addicted to this, you should try Yakuza Kiwami, when it comes out.
- A better name for Yakuza 0 would be Zero to Hero: A Biopic.
- Buy/Rent/Avoid: Yakuza 0 is absolutely rife with things to keep you occupied. It’s got something for everyone, and anybody looking to complete the game is definitely looking at their total play hours running into the triple digits. With so much to do and lots of replayability to boot, how could I suggest anything but a buy?
- I look forward to flipping out over the story with you and schooling everyone in poker and Climax Battles!