Yakuza 0 (PS4): COMPLETED!

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.

Kiryu takes down a helicopter with a pistol because of course he does.

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.

Just some Chinese Men.

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.

Yakuza 5 (PS3): COMPLETED!

いいね!

I know it has been some time since I completed Yakuza 4, but I’d forgotten just how bonkers it was. Playing through Yakuza 5 reminded me, but then took it further. So much further. Warning: very minor spoilers follow, although I’ve avoided any details.

For a game which is essentially a man punching game with some city exploration, the amount of time you can spend not punching men is astounding. Within minutes of starting out, I’d already found a Sega Club in which I then collected every item from all the UFO Catchers, played a few rounds of Virtua Fighter, and then had a go on Taiko Drum Master because why not. Bad things are going down? Pff.

Eventually, I took Kiryu off to progress the story and then was sidetracked again with noodle making mini-games and street racing. When I tired of the side-quests and managed to push on properly, I found the gritty violence and twisting story somewhat at odds with the whimsy of the rest. That’s the Yakuza way, though. Finding out why the Tojo Clan chairman had vanished, and what treachery was involved, peppered with giving a TV chef a gastronomic tour of the city. Of course.

After Kiryu it was time to take control of Saejima who briefly pottered around Kamurocho before giving himself up to the police and getting sent to jail. What felt like a retread of his story in the previous game soon morphed into Monster Hunter. I’m not even joking. Sure, it’s foxes and bears not dinosaurs and dragons, but it felt and sounded so much like Capcom’s series it absolutely had to be intentional. Now with a prison-issued crew cut instead of his long sweaty locks, Saejima has to try and find out who killed Goro Majima – his sworn brother and long-standing Yakuza series character. Or is he really dead? Before it’s clear it’s time to genre swap again…

To Haruka. Kiryu’s adopted daughter is now All Grown Up ((C) Daily Mail) and about to break into showbiz in that legitimate Japanese stereotype – the teen girl idol. Yep, Haruka’s story mostly involves rhythm action style dancing and singing, with street dance battles replacing the “hey guy nice clothes I’m going to fight you” fracas the other characters endure. When things turn upside-down, everyone’s favourite plum-suited moneylender Akiyama steps in, as he’s money invested in (unknown to him) Haruka’s future success. He doesn’t get a full story of his own, having to share Part 3, but he breaks up the dancing nicely.

After discovering some of What Went Down at Haruka’s talent agency, the next part of the game focusses on Shinada. He’s a new playable character, as washed up ex-baseball pro with a cashflow problem. Although he’s quite likeable himself, his story is dull as anything (being baseball linked doesn’t really help) and I couldn’t gel with his fighting style either. His plot involves his loan shark (Takasugi – who is a great character), and finding out what really happened 15 years ago when Shinada was kicked out of baseball for cheating.

The final chapter, as expected, brings everyone together and eventually explains how all their individual stories are just small parts of some massive plan to, well, that’s a spoiler. There’s twist after twist after twist along the way there, though. Imagine an episode of Scooby Doo, only after taking the mask off the monster it just reveals another mask and another under that. Then another. There’s even the now traditional finale atop the tower in Kamurocho, only it’s not because there’s another twist.

In all, it’s Yakuza. The serious organised crimelords at war juxtaposed with singing contests and taxi driving. Men in suits executing other men in suits alongside baseball practise and playing darts. Punching a huge beast of a man who just won’t stay down followed by a drink with a pretty lady in a hostess club. It’s ridiculous.

And it’s the best. Sure, there are a few slight plot holes. A couple of MacGuffins. A sometimes problematic camera and invisible walls a-plenty. There’s asset reuse, occasionally wonky animation, and product placement everywhere but none of it matters. It’s a great story with a weighty game attached, and sure – I can’t understand most of the words, but the voice acting is *kisses fingers*. Will I be playing more Yakuza games? はい、そうです。

Yakuza 4 (PS3): COMPLETED!

Wow. Somehow, the plot just got better and better. So many twists, turns, betrayals, reverse-betrayals, reveals, surprises and revelations. Most of them in the last two hours. Two hours of mainly cutscenes, I noticed.

In the lead up to the finale, Kiryu joins up with Tanimura, Akiyama and Saejima as they all realise they have a common enemy and goal. Of course, they’re not entirely sure who the enemy is, so they set a trap to lure him out. Or them. Spoilers!

The final chapter was all exposition, bar the obligatory boss fight(s), but I didn’t find them too hard. What was helpful, was that I’d stumbled across Naomi’s Place (again – Tanimura goes there in his part of the game), and some weird buy in a clown suit, called Bob, gave me loads of really useful items – weapons, armour, healing drinks, and so on. I went into the endgame well prepared, and soon beat those I needed to, leaving a lengthy set of videos, credits, and more videos.

In all, it took about 22 hours. I’ve obviously not done much in the way of sidequests or activities though, as my stats show my completion rate at just 12.78%. That’s barely started!

Hopefully Yakuza 5 will be out here sooner rather than later now, although that said it took me over three years to get round to Yakuza 4 after Yakuza 3, despite saying I wanted to play 4 right after 3. Maybe when it’s cheap then…

Things I’ve been playing recently

Roundup!

Mega Man 7 (Wii U)

Precious_memoriesIt’s been a few months since I started Mega Man 7. I think, after ploughing through Mega Mans 1-6 I may have had a bit of Mega Man burnout, and I was a bit disappointed with 7 anyway as it didn’t feel right. Anyway, I’m back on it now and have taken down the first lot of four Robot Masters. I’m enjoying it, and it does feel more like the NES games than it did a few months ago. Perhaps I just needed to give it some time?

StreetPass Zombies (3DS)

Nintendo released two more StreetPass games! In this one, your passes equate to weapons that you use to see off the (cute, Nintendofied, egg-headed) zombie hordes. It’s a lot of fun, and actually quite difficult.

StreetPass Fishing (3DS)

And this is the other game. Passes translate as different bait types which you use to catch different fish. There’s a sort of RPG element as you can level up and improve your rod (and get other rods), and a lot of “gotta catch ’em all” with the fish. Really enjoyable.

Pokémon Rumble World (3DS)

tumblr_nmxy9tydoi1svmpf2o1_400Another Free-to-Play Pokeymuns game from Nintendo, this time based on (read: almost exactly the same as) the Pokémon Rumble series, which despite being repetitive, I’ve had fun with in the past. This one has a real money mechanic where you can only attempt so many levels before your hot air balloon mode of transport deflates, and you have to wait or use jewels to re-inflate it. And jewels cost money. I’m open minded though – Pokémon Shuffle had jewels too and gave away so many for free it was unnecessary to buy any.

Yakuza 4 (PS3)

I’ve progressed a little further, moving onto Kiryu’s part of the story. Another incredibly unlikely coincidence occurs (another character washes up on Kiryu’s doorstep) and then another (Kiryu goes to the police station and happens to bump into “Lily”), and then some fighting. I’ll just say this: that head prison officer bloke from Saejima’s prison is pretty much immortal, isn’t he? No mere man can be smashed to pieces that many times and not only survive, but actually come back stronger!

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! (Wii U)

Food_is_where_the_hearts_are_A few more levels finished on this in co-op. It’s a bit shallow, but is essentially Gauntlet, so I’ll let it go. The only real annoyance that I have, is that you can only quit the dungeon and save the game every five levels, meaning you really don’t want to die in that time or you have to do it all again.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

WarioooooooooooooThe new tracks that were available this week are fantastic. Ribbon Road, in particular, goes way above a simple reimagining of the original GBA track by being probably the best looking part of any game ever made ever. Ever. I’ve not unlocked the new 200cc mode yet, so had to put in a bit of work to do that by improving my scores on some of single player mode. Never a chore, mind.

Bernband (Mac)

Screen_Shot_2015-04-12_at_14.51.37Technically, I’ve completed this. I’m not recording it as completed though, as there’s no real goal – you just explore a purposefully low-res alien city, see the sights and hear the sounds, and that’s it. There’s not even all that much to see, and I took the lot in in well under an hour. There’s no interaction, nothing to collect, no items to collect or anything like that. Still, it was funny and absolutely well worth a wander around. Download it for free here.

Yakuza 4 (PS3)

I’d not touched Yakuza 4 for a month or so, because various other games happened, but I’ve been playing it quite a bit in the last week or so and have been making a lot of progress.

Unlike Yakuza 3, you have more than one protagonist. So far, I’ve played as Akiyama – the ethical loan-shark who owns a hostess club – and kicked a lot of people in the face. Akiyama doesn’t go in for punches that much, it seems. Most of his story centres around protecting “Lily”, who he loans a massive sum of money to, and for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, training her up as a hostess. All while trying to track down a guy who murdered another guy outside his office, and collecting locker keys.

After him, I played as Saejima – a prisoner on death row who escapes and tries to find out why his partner didn’t turn up for the murder spree 25 years ago that he got sent down for. As he escapes (plunging into the sea, injured), he’s told to find Kiryu, and in the most ridiculous turn of events ever, somehow literally washes up on Kiryu’s actual doorstep. He heads to Kamurocho to find ex-brother Majima, and along the way he helps two poorly cats, takes part in a  fight to the death (in which neither combatant dies), spends far too much time at a massage parlour, and hangs around with homeless people in the sewers a lot. And goes bowling. And collects locker keys.

Currently, I’m playing a slightly bent cop Tanimura who is also trying to protect “Lily” (who turns out to be Saejima’s sister) because she knows something about why his dad, a detective, was murdered in relation to Saejima’s crimes, while both protecting illegal immigrants and taking “look the other way” money from their employers. While doing his police duties and additional vigilante work. And fighting random people, carrying “Lily”‘s money about in a steel briefcase and smacking a lot of Yakuza in the face with it. And collecting locker keys.

And that’s where I’m up to. I’ve just saved Tanimura’s Asian chums in Homeland from Katsuragi’s goons, and some police chief has turned up and wants a chat.

Basically, it’s quite complicated.

Things I’ve been playing recently

Roundup time!

Yakuza 4 (PS3)

It’s been a while since I played Yakuza 3. I did really enjoy it, but never got round to picking up Yakuza 4, probably because it was a PS3 game and I don’t really like playing PS3 games, however good they are. However, for reasons I won’t explain, I got a PS+ subscription and with it came Yakuza 4.

I’m a few hours in, and have spent most of the game so far watching cut scenes, playing with UFO Catchers, opening lockers, and buying clothes for girls. And a few fights, but not many. It’s good, but so far it seems to just be Yakuza 3 with a new story and no mobile phone camera. The asset reuse is high with this one.

tumblr_nl4ekp2aky1svmpf2o1_4003D Shinobi III (3DS)

When 3D Outrun was released this week, a few older 3D ports were reduced in price. I picked up Altered Beast (I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry) and Shinobi III. I was pretty sure I’d played Shinobi III before, but it appears not. I don’t recognise any of the levels so far, aside from seeing screenshots in magazines. It’s great, and not as hard as I was expecting (Revenge of Shinobi was virtually impossible, I seem to recall). The levels disjointedly follow on from each other with no obvious link, but that’s par for the course for games of this age, I suppose. I’m only a few levels in, but really enjoying it so far.

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS)

Still playing this off and on. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve completed the game, but I do return to have a few goes at the special stages or to try and capture a few missed pokeymens.

tumblr_nkwzzkxtr71svmpf2o1_1280The Swapper (Vita)

I’m not sure if I’m enjoying this. I sort of like the setting, but the way you generate clones and can transfer into them feels slightly too vague to control. Also, some of the puzzles are such that completing them feels like you’ve kludged it or brute forced it rather than actually found a solution. I also don’t like how you have to turn your man around by using the on-screen pointer rather than just pressing the opposite direction like in almost every other game ever. Still, it’s a free PS+ rental so I’m not too bothered if I don’t play it again, although I suspect I will.

How_do_I_get_up_to_the_chains__t_httpt.cobVSTh02HMeCastlevania: Spectral Interlude (Spectrum)

Someone made a Castlevania game for the Spectrum. Oh my. And not only that, but it’s polished to within an inch of its life, it plays flawlessly, looks fantastic, and even – somehow – fits into the normal Castlevania timeline. At least, until Konami rebooted it with Lords of Shadow, anyway. I’ve beaten two bosses, collected the double-jump artifact, and am generally loving it.

Various Crap Games (Spectrum)

Somehow I have become involved in the comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition again. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, as I’m having to play some terrible, terrible games. Intentionally terrible games too. I think they’re driving me a little bit mad. Take a look here.

Yakuza 3 (PS3): COMPLETED!

With just over 30 hours on the clock, and still lots of side missions, exploring, and so on to do, I completed Yakuza 3. It was really quite easy, but most excellent.

I seem to have accumulated a massive pile of, well, stuff. Comfy soles. Platinum Nails. Assorted drinks, tools, bits of junk, and cuddly toys. Also some rare gems and what could be bits of weapons. Have I used any of them? No.

In fact, apart from mission-based items and worms for fishing with, I’ve used just three of the million pieces of tat I’ve scooped up in the time I was playing, and they were all healing drinks. Two of them were used on the end boss. Exactly why do I need all these things? And why did I collect them all so voraciously? Stupid game.

But not stupid really. It was very, very good. It made me want a Shenmue 3 all the more as well, as this is blatantly an evolution of the gameplay found there. Will I go back to it and play more though? I’d like to think so, but with a billion other games needing urgent attention, I suspect I won’t. I will certainly be getting hold of Yakuza 4, however.

Yakuza 3 (PS3)

Forgive me if I was wrong, but I was expecting Yakuza 3 to be a violent look at the Japanese mafia families, and missions would be lots of punching, fighting, and so on. Perhaps with some nasty plot twists involving betrayal and murder. And blood.

In fact, the stories of the first two games (which I haven’t played, but are included in video form in this game) would imply that I would be correct to assume Yakuza 3 would be all of those things.

So why, then, having played 10 hours so far, have I spent most of my time doing the following:

Playing golf. Fishing. Running after cats and dogs. Collecting lost locker keys. Shopping for clothes for a 10 year old boy. Playing baseball. Sifting through items that have washed ashore on the beach. Looking for lost children. Delivering noodles. Buying milk. Playing hide-and-seek. And many more non-Yakuza-centric tasks, a number of which involve the orphanage my character seems to have ended up running, following the events of Yakuza 2. Popular career choice for retired gangsters, perhaps.

I have, of course, punched some faces, and kicked some faces, and stamped on some faces, but somehow even though that makes up some of the story, somehow I’ve been sidetracked into all the other stuff. The billions of side stories which don’t seem to have any bearing on anything. Like finding a matching liondog for a couple reliving their honeymoon. And trying to catch a tuna for a man who wants a big fish but can’t keep the bream he’s been sold as the fishmonger wants it back. Or solving the mystery of a locker which talks. Yes, really.

Most disturbing, was the event where me, as owner of an orphanage remember, had to peruse the shady backstreets of Tokyo looking for a schoolgirl, so I could take pictures of her with my mobile phone, and then upload them to my blog. Kazuma is a massive perv.

In amongst all this nonsense, I’ve actually found a story to follow. A sort of friend has been shot by a guy who should be dead, at the same time the head of the Yakuza clan I used to be head of was also shot by the same dead man, only hundreds of miles away. So I (finally) made it to Tokyo to find out what is going on, where I was nearly shot by a helicopter gunship, then had to run away from the police (who have flashing red lights on their heads) before incomprehensibly bumping into an old friend and then set off to a local “couples” hotel (which I was only allowed entry to by faking I was gay) where I had to kick doors down exposing amorous (and bizarre fetish) couples searching for a Yakuza family patriarch to punch in the face, before finally fighting said fat man in a bathroom while he wore only a towel.

Wow. Just wow.

To sum up: game is UTTER NONSENSE, yet somehow AWESOME.