Sega continues the somewhat overlooked Yakuza series with Yakuza Zero. Although their story rich open world brawlers have been greatly successful in Japan, until now they haven’t garnered much more than a cult following in the west. Zero takes place in 1988 prior to the rest of the events in the series meaning that players are introduced fresh to the characters without needing knowledge of the preceding Yakuza games. This makes it probably the best place for the uninitiated to start, and Sega’s best chance at mainstream success in the west.
Gameplay hits off by introducing the player to the first of Yakuza’s two main characters, Kazuma Kiryu of the Kantō region, and then proceeds to lock the player into what seems like an endless stream of cut scenes, occasionally broken by repetitive combat. The story is enthralling as Kiryu tries to have himself expelled from the Yakuza, however I found myself cursing aloud multiple times to just let me play the damn game throughout chapters one and two. Eventually however it allows you to explore more of Kiryu’s home city of Kamurocho and indulge in the sights and sounds of the area.
Those sights and sounds are absolutely stunning, drawing you in and making you feel like you’re in Japan. Allowing you to interact with the various inhabitants of the city and be pulled into their lives for short periods of time. Everything from producing an episode of a television show, to assisting a dominatrix with her attitude issues. You’re also left to indulge in the entertainment available, from dance clubs to SEGA arcades with era appropriate arcade machines available to play in those arcades.
Of course all this is going on while you punch, kick, and maim your way through various street gangs, thugs and even drunks, before reaching a hectic and stunning sequence that concludes chapter three.
After this you are thrust across Japan and into the Kansai region controlling the other half of Zero’s dual protagonists, Goro Majima. The story telling for the next three chapters continues to be brilliant, as Majima tries desperately to work his way back into the Yakuza, a stark contrast to Kiryu’s motivations. It is however at this point that combat begins to grow stale. Kiryu and Majima both have multiple fighting styles, three each not including the wide and varied array of weapons you can pick up or acquire. However once you’ve found your fit of style for each character you don’t tend to change out much, and enemy variation is small to none. Between the different enemy skins or aesthetics, they all tend to act an attack in much the same way leading to very short and generally repetitive combats with the exception of Mr Shakedown.
At this point Zero’s side quests, mini games, and arcade parlours mentioned earlier are essential diversions to keep the enjoyment high and stave off the feeling of endless cash grinding. That is not to downplay these features, Sega have done a fantastic job of allowing you to explore and interact in whatever way you choose with the entire city. Whether you want to gamble, enjoy some soothing fishing, watch some soft core porn (yup really), or hit the many arcades for some retro flash backs everything has been woven in and presented beautifully.
Outside of the story-line is online and local multiplayer available from the start menu, allowing you to gamble and test your skill against your friends, enemies, and random internet strangers. Some with the possible pay off of winning cash that saves directly to your story save file for use in the extensive skill upgrade system. The start menu also allows you to replay the rendered cinematics that have been unlocked, and pit yourself against increasingly difficult challenge modes. Overall, anyone that tells you Yakuza 0 is Japans answer to GTA is only half way, at best, to explaining this fantastically eclectic game.
PUNCH FIRST, SIDE QUEST EVERYWHERE!
The absolutely stunning setting that Sega have crafted gives a brilliant platform for in-depth and engrossing storytelling. Available exclusively for Playstation 4, at $79.95 Yakuza 0 is well worth the price of admission.