Yakuza 0 Review – Majimagnificent

Where has Yakuza been all my life?

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Format: PS4
Released: January 24, 2017
Copy provided by publisher

Yakuza 0 is my first foray into the Yakuza series, believe it or not, and I can safely say it’s been a trip.

My first impressions were not completely positive. A graphically basic game, full of restricted pathways and a slow moving story, I honestly wondered what the big deal was about the beloved Yakuza games. Once things started opening up, however, the game revealed its allure to me. With every ridiculously overblown fight sequence, every bizarre side quest, I fell in love with Yakuza 0 more and more.

Now I’m angry nobody told me to jump on this train sooner.

Set in 1988, Yakuza 0 takes us to the early days of series protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, telling two stories in a pair of distinct – but equally crime-riddled – cities in Japan.

As Kiryu, players will attempt to clear their names of murder and enter the cutthroat world of property development in a fight over Kamurocho’s notorious Empty Lot – a patch of land owned by an unknown entity and fought for relentlessly by the Dojima Clan and Tachibana Real Estate.

In Sotenbori, Majima is attempting to earn his way back into the Yakuza by working as manager of The Grand Cabaret. His story details the lengths he’ll go to in order to regain status, as well as the lengths he won’t.

Both story paths are distinct and offer engrossing plots with surprisingly grounded premises. While younger and more naive versions of the characters they’re due to become, Kiryu and Majima are thoroughly likeable protagonists who consistently have to act as straight men in a variety of weird situations.

The antagonists set before them are given tons of personality and plenty of reasons to have their heads smashed in – 0‘s ability to present a villain worth hating is exceptional.

Side quests, however, steal the show. Those aiming to experience everything in Yakuza 0 can expect to teach a dominatrix to berate her clients effectively, get sexually imposed upon by an old woman with purple hair, meet a man in underpants known only as Masochistic Man, and get involved in tons more equally unusual situations.

As a newcomer to the series, I’m reminded of cult classic Deadly Premonition and its relentless eccentricity – a comparison that speaks highly of Yakuza 0 if you know anything about my love for Swery 65’s farcical murder mystery. Yakuza 0 is unapologetic in its oddball nature, though sometimes it gets weird to the point of discomfort – the mission where you hand pornography to a child rather than risk breaking your word to him is one particularly questionable event.

Sega’s criminal caper strikes far more often than it misses, however, regularly surprising its players with strange storylines and funny scenarios.

Part adventure game, part brawler, Yakuza balances weighty combat against dialog-heavy scenes and tons of additional content to sidetrack the player. As well as Deadly Premonition, it’s hard not to bring up Shenmue when describing the overall atmosphere and wealth of activities on offer.

Yakuza 0‘s combat system is one of the most brutal I’ve experienced in a long time. Every single punch and kick connects with bone crunching impact, the sound and visual design dedicated to making opponents look as if they’re being put through physical hell. Heat actions – special contextual moves that can be used by maintaining a steady offense – bring the camera close to the action with vicious sequences that routinely see heads slammed into concrete or bicycle frames wrapped around ribcages.

New to the series is the ability to switch styles, with Kiryu and Majima each accessing three unique ways of fighting. Both characters get a default style – Brawler for Kiryu and Thug for Majima – that consist of easily performed Heat actions and standardized attacks, but their alternate styles, unlocked through the course of story mode, present some wonderful alternatives.

Kiryu gains access to the Rush and Beast styles. Rush is a fast moving style based around dodging and using flurries of blows to dizzy opponents, while Beast allows Kiryu to quickly grab potential weapons while attacking, incorporating environmental clutter fluidly into his combos. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the unpredictable Rush style, but Beast style is gratifyingly powerful.

Majima’s default style isn’t as good as Kiryu’s with its slower combos and more easily exploited openings, but he makes up for it with both his variants. Slugger gives Majima an unbreakable baseball bat (other weapons “enjoy” severe durability issues) that offers both superior blocking ability and a range of devastating attacks. Meanwhile, Breaker incorporates breakdancing into a range of punches and kicks that tackle multiple opponents while presenting a constantly moving target.

Enemies will effectively spurt money from their cash holes every time they take significant damage, and players can earn bonus bucks through Heat actions and combos. This money may be spent on all sorts of healing items, minigames, and weapons, but also acts as potential experience, being used to buy both passive and active abilities across each protagonist’s three battle styles.

While combat can grow formulaic across the hours and hours of potential gameplay, it somehow refuses to ever grow irredeemably dull. The sheer mercilessness of every fight and the switching of battle styles keeps things interesting, and there are some Heat actions I don’t think I’ll get used to witnessing – Majima jamming his baseball bat into a victim’s mouth and then kicking it makes me wince every time.

Frankly, I don’t know how any of these fights are supposed to be nonlethal, but neither Kiryu or Majima take a life while fighting for their own in the city streets. There’s some disbelief that needs suspending when you watch a man get quite literally curbstomped and somehow walk away afterwards.

The open worlds of Yakuza 0 are not particularly big, to the point where “world” is really pushing it. They are, however, densely packed with stuff to do – vending machines selling random loot, the randomly wandering Mr. Shakedown opponent who will beat cash out of players, and all manner of establishments offering food, items, and minigames.

Such minigames include Karaoke, dancing, darts, gambling, a dating sim, a catfight betting game, and far more. Not all of them are winners – the catfight wagering is particularly frustrating and time-consuming – but they all offer more content on top of an already robust package, and some of them are incredibly fun. Joining the telephone club to flirt with girls using an abstract arcade shooter mechanic is memorable, to say the least.

Oh, and full working of versions of OutRun and Space Harrier can be enjoyed in the game’s Sega-flavored arcades, alongside an annoyingly engrossing UFO Catcher machine.

In addition to the game’s many side stories, minigames, and recurring events, both Kiryu and Majima get to operate side businesses with their own detailed systems and potential to rake in buckets of Yen. Both these businesses are designed to be integrated into gameplay naturally, but can quite easily take over a player’s attention.

Kiryu will be able to buy various properties around town and collect money from them at regular intervals. Before collection, he may invest in the business and assign staff, increasing potential profit and protecting the business from attack. Meanwhile, Majima takes charge of a beleaguered cabaret club, employing hostesses and assigning them to incoming clients while trying to keep everybody happy.

It’s not particularly cutting edge in the graphics department, but Yakuza 0‘s energetic animations and stylish camera cuts make for visually exciting action regardless, demonstrating how raw technical power is no substitute for genuine artistry. Additionally, everything runs at a consistently smooth 60fps, which is always more important than simply looking pretty.

A fantastic soundtrack underscores everything, and I think the voice acting is good. It’s all Japanese, and I lack the linguistic diversity required to appropriately appraise the performances, but the voice actors seem really into it and certainly appear to be pouring their emotional range into each scene.

Audio and visual direction really come together in 0‘s more climactic battles, with lots of exciting camera switches and plenty of opportunities to pull off dazzling Heat actions.

I’m not quite sure how much of what I’m praising is true of previous Yakuza entries, but I know it’s damn fantastic here, and the prequel nature of the story makes it a perfect starting point before the series’ remakes start rolling around. The 1988 setting is downplayed but ever-present, and there are plenty of jokes at the expense of future developments littering dialog.

Majima’s awed surprise at the concept of delivery pizza is particularly amusing.

Playing Yakuza 0 has been a revelation, one tinged with excitement at the prospect of what I’ve been missing and can now experience. As a first foray into Sega’s world of gangsters, BDSM, and fishing minigames, it’s been an utter joy to play.

Most complaints I could have are negligible and mostly revolve around a few of the chance-based minigames being frustrating and occasionally disheartening – almost all optional stuff, and even then it’s made up for by those optional activities that really nail it. Oh, and some of that questionable content can be a little offputting, even if temporarily.

If Yakuza‘s always been this magnificent, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and a lot of “friends” to chew out for not recommending it to me sooner.

9.5/10
Superb

SilentPony
Guest
SilentPony

This game totally never blipped on my radar, but now it has! Might check it out if it ever comes on sale.

Lycanthrope
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Lycanthrope

Ugh… A series I wish was on PC. Absolutely love it.

AvanStrike
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AvanStrike

haha I love this review. Glad you enjoyed it, this series is amazing! I have so many great memories playing the Yakuza games, I can’t wait to get my hands on Yakuza 0.

archvile78
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archvile78

You’re definitely in for a treat with this serie Jim and you’ve got a lot of catching up to do indeed.

I’d probably skip dead souls though, it was fun but yeah…if you ever play the other games i’d love to hear your thoughts on them.

Riley Holt
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Riley Holt

Only PlayStation? Balls. This looks like a great deal of fun, as I’m always a fan of well-made crime sandboxes. The Asian flavor reminds me of Sleeping Dogs (which I adored), and the silliness sounds like quite the draw. I’ll definitely add this to my list if I ever bother with a console in the future.

Stephen Mc Devitt
Guest
Stephen Mc Devitt

Welcome to the world of Yakuza! I got into the series with Yakuza 3 and become addicted ever since despite all the games following the same beats with so many side-quests (usually in Kamurocho) and Majima being a nutty. It’s hateful though that it takes a year for each game to be localised while Yakuza 5 came out digital-only on PS3 in 2015 despite being out in Japan since 2012. I usually blame the Sonic franchise because Sega’s more interested in given us that blue bastard as oppose to something consistently competent and better. I’m just worried about the yearly… Read more »

Donald Illoh
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Donald Illoh

Great and informative review from a newcomer to the series, Jim; and yes, almost every praise you throw at this sequel it’s perfectly applicable to the rest of the series (minus the various fighting styles, introduced for the first time in Yakuza ishin!).

If you’re interested in giving the rest of the games a go, check out Yakuza 4 and 5 for PS3, two of the best games of the previous generation.

Welcome to the world of Yakuza, Jim, you’re in for a doozy!

Banjo Colucius Smythe
Guest
Banjo Colucius Smythe

The Masochistic Man…

There was a character called “The Masochist” in Everly who wore only underwear. Is that a stereotype of masochistic fetishists in Japan?

N. Miño (Albiore)
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N. Miño (Albiore)

Jim, eres el mas lindo

lol
Guest
lol

i like to think of these games as japansimulator, the games give alot of new experiences and themes not previously known to non JP residents, my first yakuza game was 3, so i’m just a few years in after the first game, i like yakuza games as i get a new perspective on things, and i like that feeling, as a scandinavian i also got the same feeling when i ventured in more mature themed mangas, i always stay far away from “waifu” material animes, so i kinda get why people hate on weebs alot, it really has become a… Read more »

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

Also, the thing about uncomfortable sidequests is not a new thing to the series. But it’s less about the game and more about japanese culture and how it perceives certain subjects. I remember a sidequest in either 3 or 4 where Kazuma had to run away from a transexual woman who had the hots for him and the joke is “Hahaha transexual people, am I right?” and I’m like “Uuuuuh, can we go back to piledriving fuckers into guard rails, please?”

Fortunately those moments are rare and sparced out.

Mister Sterling
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Mister Sterling

Fantastic news. Of course, I am still playing Yakuza 4, Yakuza Dead Souls, and Yakuza 5 on my dusty PS3. These games take forever to play if you’re a casual gamer who doesn’t focus on finishing one game.

Sperium3000
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Sperium3000

I’ve been saying this stuff since Yakuza 1, motherfuckers! This series is amazing, buy it! Buy it RIGHT NOW!

Iftekhar Ahmed
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Iftekhar Ahmed

2017 is Sega’s year ladies and gentlemen. It’s only January and Yakuza 0 is already gaining critical acclaim. With Sonic Mania and Persona 5, Sega’s looking at a profitable year of quality titles!

ihh
Guest
ihh

Yes, you do have a lot of catching up to do. There´s this mission in Y5 where you are roaming the town and come upon a white dressing man crouching in the street, seemingly in pain. When you go talk to him he tells his story about him being a ramen delivery guy and being proud of how well he does at his job or something. The thing is, Y5 story happens in the Winter and there´s snow all around the town. The delivery man tells you that he fell and hurt his back so he´d need help to deliver… Read more »

Ron Baron
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Ron Baron

Wow, I definitley need to check this one out.

Cesar Ortiz
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Cesar Ortiz

I can’t believe you haven’t played other games. Their quirkiness and wackiness seems right just your alley. Hope you can get on that 🙂

BoneCrusher KSA
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BoneCrusher KSA

Jim The real estate and Cabaret minigames for both protagonists while sometimes grindy offer 4th fighting styles for each character repreasenting their fighting styles from the older titles although tweeked to fit Y0’s system.

diamond
Guest
diamond

Aw Jim you’ve been missing out, you’ve got to check out the rest of the series, I hope 1 and 2 get a re-release one of these days(I heard the first game got an updated version that was only released in Japan, hopefully it’ll come out in the U.S. one of these days), it’s a damn shame that the two PSP Yakuza games never got an English release. 5 is my favorite in the series so far, but one thing I am dissapointed at is the lack of an English audio track, I actually liked the English dub of the… Read more »

Jamesworkshop
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Jamesworkshop

What’s my face like?

Like a meth addict on day release.

Alex
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Alex

Yes, it’s always been this delightfully bizarre. I got my start in Yakuza 3 and have been a huge fan since. I sunk 80 hours into Yakuza 5 without beating all the substories. (20-30 in each previous) This has been on the top of my watch list.

Matt Yaeger
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Matt Yaeger

Yakuza has always been that magnificent 🙂

Jut a heads up but there’s fully playable arcade versions of Fantasy Zone and Super Hang On as well, you just have to get the friendship meter filled for ladies in two of the arcades.

Terriosaurus Hex
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Terriosaurus Hex

Shenmue and Deadly Premonition?? Damnit, I’m too poor for all these good games right now!!

goodbyejojo
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goodbyejojo
Shui Gor
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Shui Gor

Even though you’re starting chronologically, I hope you’ll go back and try the earlier entries, Jim, despite 0 having more modern mechanics and mini-games.

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