From Zero to Hero
For over a decade, the Yakuza series has featured the adventures of yakuza legends, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Now, we get to see the humble beginnings of the Dragon of Dojima and the Mad Dog of Shimano.
Yakuza 0 takes place 17 years prior to the first game. Kazuma Kiryu, the main character of the franchise, is a rookie yakuza, doing routine yakuza work, primarily collections. Goro Majima, in his first playable appearance, is forced to run a cabaret club after he betrayed his boss two years prior.
The story of Yakuza 0 is full of twists and turns, lots of angry shouting men, shirtless battles, and plenty of other over-the-top shenanigans. Par for the course for the Yakuza series; except this time, it is much more focused.
In Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, there were more than 4 playable characters, resulting in a bloated cast and story beats that would not be touched for dozens of hours after being introduced.Yakuza 0 features only two playable characters, which reduces the number of characters to keep track of right away. It also helps that the major participants of the story are also smaller in number, which results in a story that is much easier to follow. Instead of having half of the game dedicated to Kiryu and then half dedicated to Majima with a conclusion that ties them together, the game switches back and forth between them. It uses this to great advantage, allowing for elements introduced from one side to be subtly tied into another early on, instead of doing all of that at the end. Because of this, the conclusion does not feel as contrived as the past two games.
The worst part of the story stems from typical prequel missteps. It goes overboard trying to set up Kiryu and Majima’s future titles. Towards the end, Majima is told that he has “the eyes of a mad dog” and Kiryu is called a dragon. Yakuza 0 does a good job setting up for why they are called that, but it laid it on way too thick in some cases.
Since Yakuza 0 is chronologically the first in the series, it seems like a good jumping on point. For the most part it is, but there are some character appearances in the side stories that will not land at all for newcomers. The most potentially confusing scene is Majima’s flashback to 1985. That flashback is ripped right out of Yakuza 4. But since it comes before any of the major plot of 0 is laid out, it may look like that it is laying the groundwork for 0’s story. In reality, the only reason it is there is to establish why Majima is running a cabaret club, and no characters from that flashback appear in 0’s story.
Combat in the Yakuza series is best described as a beat-em-up. That genre may be associated with simple, repetitive combat, but the depth in the Yakuza series is anything but. Of course, harder difficulties necessitate more use of the various skills acquired, whereas easier ones can be completed through button mashing. Even so, the over-the-top non-lethal brutality on display is entertaining no matter how you play the game.
Yakuza 4 and 5 had up to five playable characters, each with a unique combat style;Yakuza 0 reduces this to only two, but makes up for it by giving both characters four fighting styles each. Styles can be switched on the fly and all have a different feel and moveset. Both Goro and Kiryu have a fast style, a heavy style, a balance of two, and a legend style. The four styles feel unique for each character, despite having similarities. For instance, I found Goro’s break-dancing inspired fast style to be useful for dealing with large groups of enemies and his heavy style for taking on one or two. With Kiryu, I used his fast and heavy styles in the opposite manner; fast for a small number of enemies and heavy for a large amount of enemies.
The legend styles are based on Kiryu and Majima’s fighting styles after Yakuza 0. It is a neat idea, but in execution they are the weakest selection for both of them. First off, acquiring them requires playing through their business side stories, which can take hours. Despite seeming like a meaty reward, both their legend styles are pretty shallow. Kiryu’s legend style is derived from his combat style in the previous games in the series. Problem is, it uses the basic moveset, meaning it has almost no depth. Goro’s is also based on how he is seen fighting, but is also pretty barebones. Despite the legend styles lacking depth, there are six others that are more than enough to carry the game.
As mentioned earlier, Kiryu and Majima have business oriented side stories. Kiryu runs a real estate company while Majima manages a cabaret club. Both are presented in a sort of managment mini-game. Kiryu’s involves clicking through some menus to assign managers to districts and to pour money into upgrading buildings that can be located to purchase. Then a timer runs in the background while doing other stuff in-game. After the timer runs back, Kiryu can collect the cash and repeat the process. It is a simple little game that results in massive profits that can be used on character upgrades. While it lacks depth, it takes so little time to do that it would be stupid not to.
Majima’s on the other hand, is the opposite. It requires a similar menu system to assign hostess to use in the club. And then, to actually run the business requires a mini-game. The mini-game boils down to assigning a hostess to make a customer happy, decoding hostess’ hand gestures with a painfully repetitive multiple choice quiz, and sometimes activating a cash multiplier. It is fun the first few times, but gets incredibly repetitive quickly and does not make nearly as much as Kiryu’s business. At some point, it became better to run Kiryu’s business and then transfer money to Majima.
These two side activities are obviously follow-ups to the character specific mini-games from Yakuza 5. While some of those were hit and miss, they were infinitely more interesting and engaging than either of the business mini-games here.
Yakuza 0 is nothing to write home about visually. While it certainly is not a bad looking game, it is not stunning. The fact that it had to run on a PS3, and it originally released in 2015, is quite apparent. However, the bump in power from the PS3 to PS4 allows the game to run at 60 FPS. Because of this, combat feels slightly more responsive and smoother than other games. The pre-rendered cutscenes look pretty fantastic though, and are weaved in and out of the game rather smoothly.
The Verdict: 8.9 out of 10
Other than the character specific mini-games, Yakuza 0 surpasses Yakuza 5 in every way. The game runs smoother, ifeatures a more focused intriguing crime drama, and has deeper combat. On top of that, it is a great jumping on point for newcomers. I have put 86 hours into the game at this point and am craving more. Thankfully, Yakuza: Kiwami is right around the corner.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Riley Berry is an Associate Writer for MONG who loves his crime drama/soap opera video games. You can follow him on Twitter.