2005 was the beginning of the Yakuza series and the journey of on Kazuma Kiryu. It has been twelve years since the first game released. However, last year's Yakuza 6: The Song of Life marks twenty-eight years in Kiryu's life. Earlier this year, we got Yakuza 0 which told of events seven years before the start of Yakuza (now Yakuza Kiwami). Whether Kiryu's start in the Dojima Clan was a story worth telling is what we now take a look at.
Yakuza 0 – Welcome to Kamurocho 1988
Enter Kazuma Kiryu, twenty years old, foot soldier of the Kazama family. Tasked with a simple collection/education, things go wrong when the guy he beats up turns up dead the next day. Yakuza are not supposed to kill civilians, thus Kiryu has put his family in a bad position. The thing is, he left his victim breathing and he certainly did not put a bullet in him. Somehow he must clear his name.
As Kazuma fights his battle we join twenty-four year old Majima Goro, “imprisoned” in Sotenbori for disobeying his patriarch, Shimano. We come to learn all about his transgression and how he lost an eye. Now living as a civilian, Goro struggles to rejoin the Shimano family through his efforts. This leads him to a difficult moral decision. Majima must decide what is more important between his personal code and the Shimano family.
Side plots aside, Yakuza 0 has a great story. Two men fight for their ambitions but refuse to compromise their ideals in the process. The story here makes it easy to understand why Kazuma and Majima are feared and respected throughout the Yakuza series. You will expect the plot twist by the time it hits, but it does not feel forced or cheesy. This is a tale of two men being “real” men and if you like badass stories then you will not be disappointed.
Master the Shakedown
If you have played any of the previous games then you will instantly be familiar with the gameplay of Yakuza 0. What sets it apart from the original release is that you have four fighting styles instead of one. The other major difference from other titles in the series is that money is the name of the game. In 1988, Japan was in the midst of its “bubble economy” and the money was flowing. This is why you buy everything, including your moves in this game.
There are three primary ways to make disgusting amounts of money in Yakuza 0 and none of them really have to do with the main story. While the narrative will lead you into the Real Estate Royale (for Kiryu) and Cabaret Club Czar (for Goro) side quests, they immediately become optional. In the real estate game, Kazuma will take on the Five Billionaires and literally buy up Kamurocho. Completing the quest will allow him to earn roughly ¥1.5 billion every few minutes. Majima takes on the Five Stars in Cabaret Club Czar to control Sotenbori's nightlife; this is the more fun of the two but has lower returns.
The top method of making cash is of course, fighting, but it does slightly tie back to the two games mentioned above. Fully unlocking Dragon and Mad Dog fighting styles requires that you have beaten those side quests because there is plenty of fighting involved. Of course, no one can get you more money faster than an encounter with one of the infamous four men collectively known as “Mr. Shakedown.” You will want to master the art of humiliating these giants in the street because they will give you anywhere from ¥900,000 to two billion yen per fight. Finally, a get rich quick scam that works!
The Customer is King
The Yakuza series has always been an “art imitates life” series and Yakuza 0 is no different. Every game thus far has placed Kazuma Kiryu in the fictional district of Kamurocho in Tokyo. You may not know that this is based upon the real life district of Kabukichō. We also have the district of Sotenbori in Osaka. This is based upon the real Dotonbori. A quick YouTube search will show you that the detail put into the game very much mirrors the real locations. This goes a long way in visually selling the story.
The Western release of Yakuza 0 is PlayStation 4 only, but the original was also on PS3. While the graphics are beautiful and very detailed, they are far from pushing the power of the console. We shall have to wait for Yakuza 6 and future titles to see how well that goes. Regardless, you see every pore on a characters face and every mole on their body; the series has come a long way since its PS2 inception. There is also no worry when fighting large groups of enemies. I think in later parts of the game you can face something like twelve or more at once. Thankfully there are no framerate issues. The roughest thing in this game is you and that is how it should be.
You Won't Talk Your Way Outta This
The Yakuza games are meant to feel like movies and thus have a lot of cutscenes. The main story scenes are fully voiced but the substories usually only have a word or two and some lady giggles. Regardless, this is a game your home theater will enjoy. The town is alive with sounds and um . . . experiences.
So uh, yeah… The music can be just as crazy as what you see on screen and the battle themes are awesome for the '80s or today.
Verdict: Is Yakuza 0 the True Birth of a Dragon?
I really enjoyed playing the first Yakuza all those years ago on PlayStation 2. I enjoyed it even more when I played the remade version in Yakuza Kiwami which I reviewed last month. Truth be told, Majima kind of outclassed Kazuma in this game. Seeing his real persona and how he became the Mad Dog of Shimano was a real standout for me. In the end, I found his to be the more powerful story. Regardless, I enjoyed the progression of both men. The only portion of the story I did not like is that the game does not properly flesh out how the rivalry between the two really started.
Weighing in raw gameplay, I enjoyed using Kiryu more because his moves are brutal and punishing. If you are willing to put in the effort, you can become strong enough to destroy Mr. Shakedown in seconds. Majima is more playful (insane) with his attacks; it feels more like you are insulting the enemy than brutalizing them. When you need a break from the fighting, you can engage in one of dozens of substories, gamble, sing karaoke, meet women, etc. In terms of “stuff to do,” this game feels much more like an RPG than an action title.
Personally, I love the Yakuza series and it seems that SEGA is getting that feeling from a lot of gamers. With the worldwide success of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami they have announced the development of Yakuza Kiwami 2. This will bring the much sought after Yakuza 2 into the HD realm with new story and gameplay elements. What I am saying is that now is a perfect time to get into or back into this series. Yakuza 0 is the perfect starting point and you really do yourself a disservice if your PS4 does not have it in your library. Over 100 hours of gameplay from start to platinum completion await you.