Fans of Yakuza have many reasons to rejoice. We’re getting absolutely overloaded with new series releases over the next few years thanks to Sega. First on the way is Yakuza 0, then Yakuza Kiwami, and finally Yakuza 6 in 2018. Of course, not everyone has had the pleasure of enjoying the series from the get go. That’s what makes the release of Yakuza 0 later this month such a smart move. Although poised to be another standout title for existing fans, it also appears to be a fantastic way to usher in brand new players due to being a prequel to the very first Yakuza title – which originally launched on PlayStation 2 in 2005.
Series protagonist Kazama Kiryu is still our main man. He’s just in a tremendously different situation in the late 1980’s when Yakuza 0 takes place. Instead of being a known badass with a complicated history, he’s still a fresh faced, low ranking nobody in the Dojima Family. Heck, at this point he barely has his impressive back tattoo outlined. What happened during these formative years? That’s something which both fans and newcomers will discover together. As you might expect, life as a grunt for the yakuza is hardly glamorous – and it’s still just as deadly as can be. Basically, when carrying out a job to seriously threaten (and beat up) a man for a debt collector, Kiryu ends up entangled in a murder case. From there, things only get more complicated. But Kiryu’s not the only one you’ll control. Along the way you’ll also get to take the reigns of Goro Majima who is currently making his way as an obscenely successful club manager.
Anyone with a taste for gangster-style narratives will immediately take to Yakuza 0. The storyline is presented with a dramatic film style and is filled with battles for power amongst high ranking yakuza. Everyone is vying for something, and they’re not the only ones attempting to rule Japan from the shadows. Due to the 1980s timeframe, there’s also the matter of real estate developers raking in serious money. For those who aren’t aware, this era was an absolute real estate boom. Tons of people were flush with new money and drunk off the power it yielded them. However, much like the U.S. housing crisis, Japan too felt the sting of their bubble economy suddenly bursting. It doesn’t appear that the recession will come into play but there’s still a focus on a bit of actual history within the storyline.
The story any Yakuza title presents is always a great time, but there’s also the matter of gameplay. From the very start this series has provided excellent brawler action and a handful of open world fun. Yakuza 0 is no slouch in this department. All you need to do is run around for a bit to find yourself the target of tons of unknown angry dudes. From drunkards to enemy yakuza, everyone is super willing to get beat down. Of course, if you would rather pursue a story mission without distraction, you can always run away from these gangs of violent jerks before they thrust you into a battle.
Fights themselves are pretty similar to what you might have played in other Yakuza games. You can lay down combos, perform special moves, and even pick up ridiculous objects to bash enemies with. There are also a variety of fighting styles to play with. For example, the default style is pretty balanced with attacks and speed. The Beast style, however, is super slow but also incredibly powerful in comparison. Styles can be swapped on the fly during a fight as needed. It’s easy to learn how to fight, and you can always button mash if needed. Only certain key fights really look to require more nuanced fighting. Leveling up and learning new abilities is handled via a mix of buying upgrades and practicing with key NPCs. All in all, both Kiryu and Majima have a lot of training to do.
One thing that Yakuza has always excelled at is location and Yakuza 0 feels like jumping back in time to an earlier decade in Japan. The world is richly decorated, filled with shops, arcades, and other diversions to enjoy. Tools appropriate to the era such as beepers and phone booths also serve their purpose. Although the era is different, it is not so far off to make the story and characters unrelatable. The drama still packs a total punch and makes you want to progress the story in one massive binge gameplay session. With that said, side missions are equally enjoyable, especially when they’re hilariously offbeat. Humor is back with a vengeance in both side missions, activities, and some bits of the main plotline as well.
Yakuza 0 is the prequel we never knew we wanted but now desperately need to see all the way through. The core 3D beat ‘em up gameplay is as fun as it has ever been and even has a variety of smart enhancements. The setting of Japan in the 80s also gives players a look at a familiar but slightly different setting than what they may be used to with previous games in the series. With its dramatic storyline and strange but amusing diversions, there’s also a ton of variety to the Yakuza 0 experience. PS4 fans should keep an eye out for the game when it launches both physically and digitally on January 24.