Previewed By: John Bridgman
The Yakuza games have always been a peculiar mix of gritty crime drama, bombastic martial arts, goofy side stories, and lots of minigames. Yakuza 0 is no exception, blending its cinematic storytelling with an almost overwhelming amount of side content to distract you from the game’s harsher elements.
As the title suggests, the game is a prequel to the long-running franchise, set back in the 80s and showing off the early days of series protagonist Kiryu Kazama and his recurring rival Goro Majima. The two characters operate in different cities, and their gameplay while similar, are stylistically different enough to keep the variety going.
Kiryu, when not partaking of the various diversions offered in Kamurocho, does a lot of muscle work – many of the problems he faces are solved through liberal applications of violence. He does this work both for the Yakuza and later as part of a real estate business. Fortunately, Kiryu is essentially the god of war with devastating combos to chain together into brutal finishers.
Combat is a spectacle with exciting martial arts manoeuvres and styles shown off, and each weighty punch and kick knocking piles of cash out of the recipient. Being able to change styles mid-battle makes for some fun strategizing, enhancing the martial arts movie feel the combat thrives on.
Majima has his own set of styles, which are in general a bit more stylish than Kiryu’s, though no less brutal – indeed, one of his styles, “Slugger”, is focused entirely around baseball bat fighting. To contrast, the similar style that Kiryu learns is “Beast”, which involves improvised weapons ranging from from boxes, furniture, or motorcycles, depending what is handy. A common refrain from defeated foes is “What are you?” which, given the ridiculous violence that can be pulled off, is a reasonable question.
Majima’s chapters take place in Sotenbori, where he manages a popular night club. When he’s not dealing with some very shady dealings and seedy characters that come with his job, the town offers more distractions, though it feels a little less overwhelming than Kamurocho. Oddly, it is here that the crafting system exists. Why there is crafting system I’m not sure, but it includes a system of dispatching agents around the world to find materials and recipes. This is something I’ve always had a soft spot for, so I welcome the opportunity.
Presentation is a strength of the game. It looks great, and features some great sound design. There’s a lot going on that screams 80s, including some familiar sound-alike music, parody characters, and, of course, brick-sized mobile phones. In a curious decision there are multiple styles for cutscenes, with some being simple cinematics, while others are sort of motion-comic styled vignettes.
Yakuza 0 is no exception game that attempts to blend over the top action with some gritty, and often uncomfortable, drama. Inferences and threats made to characters can and do approach some difficult territory – torture, mutilation and sexual violence are brought up, and some people may be understandably turned off from the game because of these, as well as some of the ways women are portrayed.
John Bridgman is a Canadian games journalist who has freelanced for various publications, and a host of the Downloadable Concept podcast (http://dlc.invincible.ink is our URL). He can be found on Twitter @JEBWrench. Yakuza 0’s publisher, SEGA, provided Broken Joysticks with a single download code for Yakuza 0 for our consideration.