'Yakuza 0' Review: More Game Than You'll Ever Need

Yakuza 0 has so many game modes, it's hard to keep track Atlus

As of late, it seems everything is a multiplayer game. Games like Overwatch, The Division, Battlefield 1 and more all seem to focus heavily on playing with others. If you’re into something opposite of that, a deep, long-lasting single-player campaign that you can spend weeks on, look no further than Yakuza 0.

This is my first Yakuza game, so I had no real idea what was in store. What I found was an entertaining, if long-winded, story with a deep combat system and the ability to play more mini-games than I thought possible.

The story of Yakuza 0 sees series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu just starting his way into the life of the Yakuza in 1988. Kiryu is doing a simple shakedown on a man who hasn’t paid his debts, but it turns out the man ends up dead. With someone targeting Kiryu in an attempt to get to his mentor and father figure, Kiryu decides to leave his criminal family and sort things out on the outside.

This starts a long and ever-escalating war between a number of different factions all to control one empty lot of Kamurocho, the red-light district of Tokyo. In Japan, property is everything so organizations will kill to get more of it. Once control of the lot can be locked down, then taking over the rest of Kamurocho is possible.

Believe it or not, this is just the first two chapters of Yakuza 0. Later, a second playable character with his own story gets introduced. Goro Majima has had his own issues with being in the Yakuza, and has even lost an eye due to his misfortunes. Even after all the torture, Majima wants back in, and is working his way up by managing a popular nightclub in Sotenbori, the Entertainment Capital of the West.

Majima’s debts continue to be pushed further and further into the unreasonable, so he is tasked with one big job: kill some woman. Upon finding the target, Majima ends up as her protector against other would-be assassins, complicating his relationship with his criminal family.

If that all sounds complicated, it is. But don’t worry, the story is told through several long cutscenes that are all really wonderfully animated and voice-acted. Yakuza 0 is entirely in Japanese, but the English subtitles seem to be a pretty solid translation. Keep in mind, when I say these cutscenes are long, there were multiple times when I would be sitting for over 15 minutes straight of just cutscenes. There’s a lot of story to tell in Yakuza 0’s 80+ hours of gameplay, and thankfully it’s told in an entertaining way.

In addition to two complicated stories, Yakuza 0 also happens to be a game! How about that? Indeed, Yakuza 0 has an extensive brawling mechanic, with players able to switch between different fighting styles on the fly. Both Kiryu and Majima have three different fighting styles to unlock, with a number of upgrades for each style available to learn. Each fighting style plays very differently compared to the others, and different scenarios sometimes call for different styles. It helps to try them all out, and find out where you should focus on upgrading as early as possible.

The brawling is a bit strange, though. Players typically find themselves in either Kamurocho or Sotenbori, decently sized open-world environments. When running around the streets, groups of enemies will jump out at you to start an encounter. This cuts to Yakuza 0 basically going into “Fight mode” and the brawling can begin. I wish it felt a bit more seamless, but that’s pretty much my biggest complaint.

As far as open worlds go, Kamurocho and Satenbori are small, but densely packed. Since both are just neighborhoods of cities, the maps are confined to areas of just a few blocks. In these blocks, players are able to find all sorts of side quests and more mini games than you can remember.

Just looking back on the mini games I actually played, there was bowling, batting cages, karaoke, dancing, talking to girls on the phone, playing classic SEGA arcade games and crane games. I didn’t even get around to the billiards, betting on catfighting (because Japan) and mahjong, and there are probably way more that I don’t even know about. I also didn’t dabble into the two-player mini games, but it is possible to play some games with a friend as well.

There are two additional game modes introduced in later chapters, making a game already crowded with features even more packed. Kiryu (through various means) becomes a property manager, capable of assigning different people to run various businesses. This mode requires you to invest money and, if need be, protect your business investments with force.

The second game mode is for when players control Majima. To expand on club ownership, Majima starts operating a new Cabaret Club, giving players a Diner Dash experience of pairing guests up with hostesses, while also doing other things to accommodate them such as refilling drinks and giving gifts. It’s a quick-moving game mode, and easy enough to sink a few hours into.

As for side quests, these all stand out as being pretty darn funny. The main storyline is serious, with the occasional joke or funny line thrown in, but the side quests involve impersonating a TV producer, helping a punk band learn to act tough and pretending to date a girl so she can impress her father. The dialogue often made me laugh out loud, even if the gameplay of the side quests typically boils down to “pick option A, B or C” or “fight a guy.” The side quests can be tricky to find, so keep an eye out for people on the street who are looking to talk. Or just stumble into them like I did. .

If you’re new to the Yakuza franchise, Yakuza 0 is a great place to start. Seeing as how it’s a prequel, you don’t really need to know any backstory from previous games, and it’s easy to pick up and follow along with some things that those who have played other games in the series might already know. If you’re a veteran Yakuza player, you’ll probably find more of the same Yakuza goodness you already love.

With a long, but interesting and engaging story, side content on top of side content and fun brawling gameplay, Yakuza 0 is a great game that is definitely worth the price. While gameplay could be a bit smoother between transitions and the story can feel like it’s dragging a bit, there’s still plenty to appreciate.

Yakuza 0 has already been out in Japan on PS4 and PS3 since March 2015, but releases in America on Jan. 24 exclusively for PS4.

So what do you think? Are you excited to get playing the latest Yakuza game? Is this your first entry in the franchise, like me? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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