There’s a hell of a lot of content in Yakuza 0. So many side missions, attractions, events and time wasting opportunities. Most of these are introduced as the story plays out, such as the slot car racing, the arcades and the underground female wrestling. Or Kiryu’s real estate empire building or Majima’s Cabaret Club improvements. Or what about blackjack or pachinko? Karaoke? Shogi? So many different things to do.
I barely touched any of them.
Sure, I played a bit of Outrun, bought a few upgrades for my toy car, and even collected a fair few telephone cards. But 95% of my time was spent progressing the story and oh my what a story.
Like other Yakuza games, there’s more turns than a slalom skier. The bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy and sometimes they’re both and neither and that other guy? Well, he’s that guy. Backstabbing and oneupmanship are the order of the day here. There are rarely friends, more enemies with aligned goals or people with shared respect. Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.
As the name suggests, Yakuza 0 is set before all the other main series titles. Back before Kiryu became the Dragon of Dojima, before he met Haruka, before Daigo and while Kazama, Kiryu’s mentor was still alive. Kiryu is, as he always is, dragged into a yakuza power struggle. This time, it’s over a seemingly worthless patch of land in Kamurocho – The Empty Lot.
Kiryu, a fresh faced yakuza newbie in the Dojima Family, is framed for a murder on it, and while trying to clear his name discovers the significance of this tiny piece of land and how owning it could give a huge amount of power and influence to any one of the players vying for a higher spot in the Tojo Clan. Or even in other rival groups.
Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.Yakuza 0
Meanwhile, a seemingly unconnected story involves Majima running a lavish and elite hostess club in Sotenbori, Osaka. Turns out he’s essentially being held prisoner until he manages to raise enough money from his endeavours to pay off his “captor”. Until he’s offered the chance to cancel his debt with just one simple murder…
Every couple of chapters the game switches between Kiryu and Majima and soon you realise there might be something linking the two events, until it’s made conclusive around two thirds of the way in. But are the two protagonists fighting for the same outcome, or at odds?
If you’ve played any other game in the series, or even – to a lesser extent – the similar precursor to the series (Shenmue), you’ll recognise the Deadly Serious Main Game coupled with the Utter Nonsense that goes alongside it. For every attempted mugging on the street (and there’s a lot of it – Kiryu must just have that sort of face), there’s a side story about a girl who wants you to use the crane games to win her toys or a man who can’t walk across a bridge because of the jacket he’s wearing. For every solemn chat about being an orphan or the stress of leadership, there’s a pretend punk rocker who needs help being macho or an almost naked man called Mr Libido who wants to teach you how to get the girls.
You’d think one would totally grate against the other, but somehow, it all works. Even the cringe-worthy bits, like visiting a “Telephone Club” (spoiler: it’s a sexy chatline) or Hardened Gangsters Kiryu and Nishikiyama singing J-Pop, somehow fit in this world.
If you’re new to the Yakuza, 0 is the perfect place to jump in. Not least because it’s on a modern console, but also because it’s both chronologically first and also easier to get in to. There are excellent “in-story” tutorials for all the fighting moves and styles, the character upgrade system is now based on money earned rather than XP gained, and the loading times (I’ve recently come from Yakuza 5 on the PS3, remember) are much less obtrusive. Having only two characters to play as – and no forced Idol Mode – helps too.
Some of the minor complaints from the series are still here, such as the slightly annoying camera (especially during fights), NPCs just appearing and disappearing in the streets, and too many muggings (is Japan really like that?), but the good – the fun, the weight of the story and the realised setting – far offset these. And, if you’re someone who wants to do everything there is to do, then there’s even more everything here. It’s the best Yakuza game I’ve played, and although I’ve still Kiwami 1 and 2, and then 6 to do, I’m finding it hard to think how they could improve in this.