Played on Windows
Also available on PlayStation 4, (Playstation 3 in Japan Only)
I’ve been very excited to write this review for quite a while. The Yakuza series has been on my radar since I played Yakuza 4 in 2016. I liked the experience but I had some reservations about that game. It was a solid experience, but there were four characters which was a bit much, however, the game itself shined and the gameplay was enjoyable. I just wanted to see another game in that same style. However, time, money, and switching to PC/Steam made it hard to return to the series. So I waited and hoped for another opportunity. Earlier this year Sega finally gave me what I was asking for. Yakuza finally came to PC and Steam with Yakuza 0. I bought it on launch and after having put in 70 hours into the game I’m here to tell you what I thought of it.
The game starts off simply enough. In a game about Yakuza, which is essentially the Japanese word for their organized crime. It starts with what will become our main character beating up another for some money. He then walks down the street and bumps into someone which ends up in the thugs trying to start a fight but quickly realizing he’s not a man to be trifled with.
This is how we get to know Kiryu Kazuma one of our main characters. This scene is simply stunning, everything looks gorgeous and the graphics really shine. Then Kiryu walks up to a car and everything changes. There is a second cutscene done as a slide show, and it has it’s brownish tint on it, and while the character models look good, they don’t move, thus it becomes a slideshow.
Eventually, we get to the third cutscene type. Yes, there’s a third. Where we get in-game engine assets which have a scene with the characters talking, and while this looks good, it doesn’t look nearly as good as the first two, but this is the dominant type for a majority of the game, except….
Yeah again, there’s a fourth, similar to the third, but without the voice acting this time. The characters will make small motions at least, however, it’s just text on the screen of the characters talking. All the sidequests in the game are done in this style.
If you’re thinking that’s a lot, I agree, and honestly, I could even live with it if they stuck with three of these. The first cutscene is damn good looking and luckily the game goes back to that relatively often for major moments. There is an amazing scene early on where you meet the bosses of your Yakuza family. I’ll even attach a picture of my favorite, Kuze here. It looks damn good.
Damn, this game can look good.
The odd man out of the styles for me is the high quality looking slide show. It just doesn’t happen often enough to be worth the time it took to make. If those scenes were done with just the in-game assets, they would be fine, but instead the slide show pops up and it’s just this moment where I always asked, “Why the change?” The in-game engine characters do look really good, though when put side by side with the real cutscenes, there’s no comparison.
Yet they somehow feel they needed that slideshow, and if that feels like an odd decision, well… let me properly welcome you to Yakuza 0. It’s not a bad choice necessarily, it’s just a strange choice, something Yakuza does often.
However I do want to stress, the game does look awesome, it just has some quirks about it and I’m not sure exactly why those choices are made.
So I started to tell the story of Kiryu Kazama, our main character, as he walks down a street. Kiryu starts the game as a low-level Yakuza with a horrible fashion sense. The guy he beats up in the opening turns up dead in the alley and it looks like Kiryu did it. The Yakuza are mad, not just because of killing someone, which they see that as a normal thing, but the location he does it in drives them up the wall. It turns out this is a fabled “empty lot” and that lot has a lot of meaning for the gang, and is the core of our story.
After a couple of hours, we meet Goro Majima, who is one of my favorite characters in the series. In Yakuza 0, Goro is a disgraced Yakuza who is running a cabaret called the “Grand”, and he’s trying to earn enough money to satisfy his old Yakuza family and allow him to return to the family. However, he’s told he must kill a person named Makoto Makimura. Goro has never killed anyone so we follow him on that journey.
Easily my favorite character in the series, Goro Majima!
Both of these stories are really interesting and the main stories of these games are really well developed. However, there’s some oddness with the story as well. You see, when you play a game called Grand Theft Auto, you know you’re going to steal some cars. Mafia is about being a member of the Mafia. Sega doesn’t seem comfortable with Yakuza members as main characters. In fact, Kiryu leaves the Yakuza family he’s a part of very early in the game, Goro isn’t officially a member of the Yakuza either.
It’s odd to me, and I understand that the Yakuza is heavily stigmatized in Japan, but you’re playing a game called Yakuza. In addition, it seems that the Sega as a developer can’t really decide what Yakuza is supposed to mean. It seems to say only the hardcore Yakuzas kill people and yet it shows a lot of people getting shot, stabbed, and even blown up. But only Yakuzas kill…
Except our main character can grab a shotgun and shoot multiple people point blank and that’s not killing apparently. Other characters will also get shot and shoot multiple times as part of the story, and still live unless they’re supposed to die as part of the story. As much as I love the story of Yakuza I have to admit it has this strange relationship with “Yakuza” and killing. Yakuza the game seems uncomfortable to tell a story about organized crime, even while it is in the middle of telling it.
However, through the story, the one thing that really shines is the main characters. Kiryu is such a badass it shows in almost every scene. He just has this charisma that really makes you want to see him succeed and fight against the odds every time.
Goro Majima, on the other hand, is a great character. In this game, he’s a mixed bag. His first appearance is one of the best scenes in the game, but he’s known in the series as the Mad Dog of Shimano and sadly here, he’s not quite mad here.
At the same time, both characters are well crafted, and they have great and different motivations, as well as stories. Both characters felt almost like my friends by the end of the game because I had been through so much with them and wanted them both to succeed.
Though the Yakuza 0’s story does try to make both characters feel like they’re in peril at different times in the game. As this is the first game on Steam, it wouldn’t be such a problem but the name Yakuza 0 is actually because this is a prequel. Kiryu and Goro, as well as many characters here, appear in multiple games in the series. That means they can’t die here, yet the game will keep trying to make you think that they might. They’re threatened multiple times in the story, and it just doesn’t work. I remember that at one point Goro gets knocked out by the butt of someone’s pistol, and it just didn’t have the same impact since I know he’ll be in 6 other games in the series.
However everything is done with such style in this game, even answering a phone.
A bigger problem for me is that you have two amazing characters, that have a long running history, as well as an incredibly well-developed story… and they don’t meet. I don’t want to spoil anything but I have to call this out. In fact, there’s a post credit scene of them seeing each other on the street, and it’s the only time they’re in the same scene in the entire game. It’s a huge problem for me because this story could have had two famous characters having a first meeting that changes the entire series, but there’s nothing here.
The two stories dovetail together but at the same time I feel like they could have told two separate stories and possibly would have done a better job with each rather than having the player constantly switch between them. I like both characters, I just didn’t think the story itself needed to be split.
There is one other problem with the game and story. Sexism. I don’t normally crusade about this, and the fact is, this is 1980s Japan with Yakuza’s running around. However, the game does show women treated pretty poorly in this game. Now there are catfighting, hostess clubs, and even a rather interesting side mission where a female dominatrix needs help pleasing her customer that is hilarious. I’m not going to fault the game for those things, as I’m willing to accept the time period or just the fact that some people will want those things.
However almost every woman in this game’s story is pushed outside of the fighting, but in addition, there are really no positive representations for women. There are a secretary and a hostess you get close to in the game while running two businesses, but most women are treated as prizes, trophies, or just objects in the game, and I have to be honest. It’s a bit much.
Now, I don’t hate this game because of it, and honestly, it won’t affect my score, but I have to bring it up because some of it is bad enough I feel like I do have to mention it.
With that ugly topic out of the way, let’s move on and talk about the gameplay itself.
Yakuza 0 is an open world game, but at the Yakuza 0’s core, it’s a fighting game. Every story mission has a number of mandatory battles, walking around the city will get both characters into fights if they’re not careful, and almost every side story will have at least one fight. So really this game will come down to how good is the fighting engine.
The fighting in the game feels a bit like a 3d brawler. You’re able to move around arena-like areas with pedestrians who are cheering on the fight blocking your way out of a battle. The player can attack the enemy with a variety of moves and the enemies will respond the same. If I’m honest it feels a lot like Tales of Berseria even though they’re completely different games and genres. The player has complete freedom of movement and also can dodge out of the way of attacks as necessary. There are also blocking, combos, and a ton of special moves you’ll learn over time. It is a rather deep system that works well and doesn’t get that old even if you play the game for 70-ish hours.
Though, it does sometimes have outlandish weapons.
Yakuza 0 actually evolved the Yakuza combat system of the series by allowing three different styles of combat to be used per character. Each character gets their own set of three. Kiryu, for instance, gets a brawler style, which is what he starts with, which is good for fighting small groups of enemies with powerful moves, he also will get a rush style, that allows faster dodges and weaves for one-on-one fights, and a breaker style that allows him to grab any nearby weapon and use it to beat down enemies. All three styles have uses and purposes but the ability to switch up your fighting style in the middle of a battle allows for a more tactical game.
Goro Majima starts with a Thug style, similar to Kiryu’s brawler, the Slugger style where he’s using a bat for combat, and finally my personal favorite, the breaker style where Goro uses breakdancing moves to demolish enemies.
The only issue I have with the fighting in Yakuza 0 is that both Kiryu and Goro become very powerful quickly. There’s a point where enemies will become more annoying than challenging to take out, and it’s a shame because the fighting system is really good when it is working. However getting into a fight takes a couple of seconds to show an intro, and the fights sometimes don’t even last that long by the end of the game.
Bosses though are always a challenging but great fight. Most of my game overs were from bosses or very long gauntlet style series of battles, and they all have unique challenges and great style to them. I absolutely enjoy the boss battles due to how well the fighting system works with those battles.
The story is the main focus of the game, along with the fighting, but the one thing that Yakuza does is gives you a true open world experience. You only have a few blocks to explore in two different areas in the game, however, both are chock full of opportunity to get sidetracked. There are 100 side stories in the entire game, each one has a different way to begin and complete them, though as mentioned they almost all have fighting as a part of them.
I mentioned a Dominatrix side story before and it’s really well done and funny. There’s another side story that is about posing as a boyfriend for a girl, and a story about a girl forced to sell underwear and more. Many of these can be classified as surreal, or just “weird-ass shit” but many also have a heavy whiff of “Japanese” cliches. That’s not a negative necessarily, but a few don’t make a ton of sense unless you understand some cultural rules that the Japanese live with.
Yeah I can’t explain this one. You’re on your own. And he appeared at least two other times.
However, there are also some stories that are just bizarre for everyone. There is a reference to a certain famous American star who is shooting a zombie music video with another certain famous American director. Another story is about a guy thinks you’re dating a 10-year-old girl and he ends up calling you out about it. Oddly enough this is a story that doesn’t end up in a fight, but instead, you have to race the guy in a pocket racer format. As mentioned, there are 100 stories in the game, but I have to say a fourth to a half of them are extremely outlandish that I doubt I would have believed them if someone tried to explain them to me.
I found myself constantly sidetracked from the story with all these events and the fact that the game makes you take ultra serious characters who are hardcore “yakuza” having life and death battles and have them taking time from a deadly serious story to play outrun, or get calls at a telephone company is hilarious. It’s fun to get lost in either district in this game, and I adore the freedom to do so, especially when the side stories are so humorous and the main story is deadly serious.
In addition to the side stories, a little less than halfway through the game, both characters get businesses to run. Kiryu has a real estate business, and Goro runs a Cabaret Club (not to be confused with his cabaret). Both of these are huge time sinks, but they also provide the characters with massive sums of money, so they’re worth chasing.
Personally, I really liked Kiryu’s business, as it’s mostly a way to get a huge amount of cash I needed to unlock his abilities. The main part of that business was running around and buying property to make more money, which never felt that old though it was a pain to find the properties that were for sale, it was a solid diversion.
On the other hand, the cabaret club felt weaker. The money there isn’t as good, and the experience is a little too passive in my opinion. Where I spent a lot of time doing Real Estate, I forced myself to do a similar amount with the cabaret club but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much.
And if that wasn’t enough, and it really should be, there are also side activities. There is Karaoke, which is amazing to watch, as well as a ton of side games such as batting cages, shogi, bowling, all sorts of gambling including mahjong (which I suck at), pool, darts, and much much more. There are even completion lists for every side activity and there are 85 different completion events for just the mini-games. That’s a massive list as not many of them are duplicates in that list.
Also can’t explain this one, it’s a cutscene in a karaoke song, but why is Goro there? What’s going on?
Now some of the minigames do suck in my opinion, and a few are very long to play. The Telephone club can be very annoying but is part of the side story arcs, and I couldn’t really enjoy Mahjong as I didn’t understand the rules, or pool as I had trouble making shots. Still, there are so many choices that you’ll find something to enjoy even if you don’t like a couple of them.
Though I’ll also say for completionists, this game is dangerous. It will take over 100 hours of gameplay to complete everything in this one game. The completion list mentioned before has 374 different tasks for you to accomplish, and many will take a decent amount of time. You’ll have to become proficient at many of the games and chase a number of different goals.
I like Yakuza 0 a lot, but the fact is there are still some issues left with this game.
I want to cycle back to the story and mention again that there are two really different stories here, and there is a reason for both of them to be in the same game but I could also make a case for them to make a game with two separate story modes in it as well. I wish they connected more, or at least earlier. Even having the characters meet would have been a huge improvement.
In addition, there is no autosave in the game. If you don’t manually save and you close the game, you’ll lose all your data. You can’t save at any time, so you’ll have to find one of many save points (telephone booths) when walking around the open world. But even when changing between chapters, the game doesn’t give the option to save, you have to remember to manually save every time.
This wouldn’t be as big a problem except there are crash bugs, a significant one happened on a side quest, and it lost almost two hours of progress. I played 84 hours according to Steam, however, at least 10 of those hours were due to crashes and having to replay some part of the game because of the lack of an autosave.
In addition, when my computer goes to sleep mode, the game crashes due to losing the D3D device. That’s an annoying bug, but again, the lack of the autosave makes it so much worse.
About halfway through the game, I had to review a couple of other games, and when I returned to the game, I started to notice some audio clipping bugs. Nothing had changed on my hardware or drivers, but patches had been released. The audio bugs mostly happened around the cabaret club but I could also hear it elsewhere. I hope Sega can figure out what’s going on and patch it but, it’s an annoying addition that shouldn’t be on the customer to fix. (Most fixes have people changing the initialization files that shouldn’t need to be touched).
At the end of the day, I had a lot of frustration from Yakuza 0. I think there are some flaws with the game. But I also put in an astounding amount of time and loved so many of the moments I played it. The story is top notch, the real cutscenes are unbelievably beautiful. I fell in love again with both Kiryu and Goro as characters, and I loved every time I got sidetracked.
It’s a flawed game, but I give Yakuza 0 a
I’m surprised about that, but the thing is that Yakuza 0 deserves a look from almost every gamer. If you like open world games, Yakuza 0 has it. If you like fighting games, Yakuza 0 has you covered. Weird Japanese fetishes like a man dressed only in a diaper? Shockingly, yes it has that too. It’s a weird mixture of bizarre and amazing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I only hope Yakuza Kiwani come out before long because this is a series that needs to come to PC in a major way.
Final Thoughts: One of the best PlayStation exclusive series finally comes to PC. It brings a share of new problems, but it also is an amazing open world fighting game that has a story you need to play through.
Stats: 82.4 hours played 35/55 achievements earned.