For the average gamer, Yakuza is likely one of those series you have occasionally seen but never been pushed into playing. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake this for a lesser man’s Grand Theft Auto, with more Japanese flavouring thrown in. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and this latest iteration of the series is one of the strongest to date.
Serving as a prequel to the main series, Yakuza 0 sees protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima becoming tied up in a “Vacant Lot” power struggle between several shadowy organisations. However, after Kiryu is suspected of murder and Goro refuses to assassinate a seemingly innocent target, each is forced to go on the run from those they once served.
The actual core story to Yakuza 0 proves to be one of its strongest selling points. With excellent voice acting and cutscenes which rival the Metal Gear games in terms of execution and quality, it manages to remain thoroughly engaging despite the inherent goofiness of certain scenes or ideas. This is particularly true with Goro, with an introduction which is dripping with a vast number of overplayed tropes, but manages to pull them off with such a straight faced manner that it becomes endearing. Blocking, suplexing and countering here never gets old, and just as you tire of one move another one will arise for you to have fun with.
However, as great as the storytelling truly is, the core combat is the icing on the cake, playing out like the love-child of Tekken and Sleeping Dogs. Flashy, colourful and obscenely over-the-top it can leave you spin-kicking six people at a time, or pitching a man out of a six story window via a super-move. The sheer variety of weapons and techniques ranges from gritty to insane, as you can end up wielding anything from a switchblade to an honest-to-Conan broadsword or giant fan.
Even if you do become tired of punching people, there are also a multitude of mini-games and secondary quests to keep you entertained. This is arguably what the series is best known for as it helps to bring the world to life, permitting you do to anything from own real estate and protection rackets to bowling and pool. Each has been so well designed they could have stood out as a solo-title without any complaints, but even atop of them you have arcades running a few classic titles. Really, at almost any time you can run into a set of doors beneath the SEGA logo on the street and boot up a game of Space Harrier.
However, there are a few issues which definitely holds this back from perfection. A big one proves to be its surprising restrictive nature. While this seems at first as if it might be an open world experience, the game has many areas blocked off by invisible walls. In addition to this, gameplay sequences can be limited to mere minutes long fights between lengthy cutscenes which, while thoroughly entertaining, have the habit of overwhelming the game itself.
This is only further harmed by an obvious upgrade in terms of graphics, as Yakuza 0 was originally intended for the Playstation 3. So, while the characters themselves are presented in all their high definition glory, they’re often waltzing about low resolution backdrops and cardboard buildings. None of this manages to kill the game, but it makes the experience increasingly tiresome at several crucial points. Plus, and it has to be said, more than a few mini-games enter some rather questionable territory by Western standards at times, especially the phone sex options. Yes, that’s actually in there.
Still, while it is certainly flawed in places and stumbles into a few major personal peeves, Yakuza 0 nevertheless manages to make it all work in the end. Between extremely tight combat, two engaging storylines and excellent voice acting across the board, it’s definitely an outing any Playstation 4 owner should look into. Well, unless you hate subtitles, anyway.
YAKUZA 0 / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: SEGA / PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 3, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW