Yakuza 0 owes a great deal to the past and what’s come before. It’s both positive and negative.
Its pedigree is strong and gameplay has been refined over five previous iterations. It’s Yakuza at its absolute best, but it’s also held back by the aging hardware of the PS3.
While a PS4 exclusive in the West, Yakuza 0 was released for PS3 and PS4 in Japan in 2015; and it’s obvious. Unfortunately, by their very nature, Yakuza titles take a long time to make the transition into English. With the amount of dialogue in each, it’s easy to see why. Usually it doesn’t make an enormous impact visually, but given that Yakuza 0 is cross-gen, it’s often pretty ugly.
We’ll come back to that though, because much more important is Yakuza o’s content. Like coriander, Yakuza is a love or hate affair. Either you’ll find the exaggerated, ridiculous, anime drama charming and engaging or you’ll be bored to tears repeatedly fighting goons, watching long cutscenes in Japanese and pillaging the UFO Catcher.
There’s really no in-between.
I’m a member of the former group. I love Yakuza. I love its ridiculousness and its ability to swing wildly from po-faced sincerity to outright, offbeat eccentricity. If you’re a fan of Japanese media and entertainment then you’ll likely know what to expect.
One minute I’m witnessing a Yakuza boss hacking off his own finger to repay his disrespect and the next I’m helping a dominatrix practice how to demean men in a park. You’d think with such sharp tonal shifts, players would get whiplash. Not so. It’s all part and parcel with Yakuza and somehow, against logic and reason; it works.
While Yakuza 0 is a prequel, it’s probably the best place a newcomer could start. Set in the dizzying 1980’s — 1988 to beprecise — Yakuza 0 takes us back to the days of series protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima were still green.
To go into the plot would be to do it a disservice, but the basic gist is that Kiryu must prove his innocence and Majima must protect a young, blind girl. Their stories intertwine and revolve around various factions fighting to control a small piece of vacant land in Kamurocho.
Gameplay largely consists of moving from one location to another, talking to or fighting some people and repeating. It can get repetitive, though the story is definitely intriguing enough to make it worthwhile. Also, the game world is filled with side quests and activities. There’s bowling, mini car racing, arcade games, dating, restaurants, karaoke, dancing and…well you get the idea.
Yakuza 0 is packed with things to do, characters to meet, games to play and story to uncover. If you’re ever feeling bored with one aspect, you can simply find something amusing to pass the time and dive back in later.
The various fighting styles you can unlock bring some variety to the tremendous number of fights you’ll be forced to engage in. The varying styles change up your speed, damage dealt and taken, ability to use items and weapons and special moves.
Rush mode is my personal favourite, despite not allowing the use of items picked up in the street. In rush mode you move quickly and generate heat (a booster earned from landing hits) far more quickly. With a full heat meter enemies are taken out in a matter of seconds. Beast is a close second though. It’s always fun to pick up a full sized motorbike and smash it into a group of hooligans.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, walking around the fictional areas of Tokyo and Osaka gives an indescribable feeling. Sega has once again absolutely nailed the look and feel of being in Japan. Every street, building, shop and pedestrian is perfect. It’s the closest thing you can get to actually being there. The maps aren’t truly open world however and are in fact pretty small by today’s standards, but it’s barely an issue.
Yakuza 0 tells a tightly paced, story that’s set in small areas, so it doesn’t need a sprawling metropolis to get the job done. Besides, it packs in more content than most games with twice the game world do.
Gorgeous in cutscenes, Yakuza 0 struggles in real-time. Character faces and animations are impressive, but textures are frequently low-res, blurry and ugly. Fortunately, the gameplay more than makes up for the lack of graphical prowess. The frame-rate is rock solid and overall Yakuza 0 gets the job done. It’s definitely not a pretty game, but you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to notice too often.
Yakuza 0 is a game best experienced than read about. It’s the culmination of over a decade of refinement and improvements and it’s easily one of the best experiences available on PS4 right now. There’s frankly nothing like it. Yakuza 0 is a genre-straddling masterpiece.
Yakuza 0 was reviewed using a digital promotional code on PS4, provided to PowerUp! by the pulisher.
Game title: Yakuza 0
Sleazing your way to the top 80's style - 9/10
Goons. Hired goons. - 8/10
Slick, dazzling veneer of the 1980's - 7/10