Yakuza 0 is a neon-saturated timesink you won’t want to miss.
Yakuza 0 is set to release on the PlayStation 4 in less than two weeks. However, we hoodlums here at Hey Poor Player have been tirelessly scouring the seedy underbelly of Kumurocho for some time now, and we’re here to bring you some hands-on impressions of what you can expect when the latest entry in Sega’s long-running underworld RPG series launches later this month. So pour some hot sake, sit back, and join us as we take you on a tour of Yakuza 0’s early hours.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to the game since it was announced, Yakuza 0 is the prequel to the series. The game serves as an origins story detailing both Kazuma Kiryu and “Mad Dog” Goro Majima’s rise in Japan’s criminal underworld. Set in the year 1988 in Kumurocho and Sotenbori, a fictionalized version of Tokyo’s Kabukicho Shinjuku Golden Gai areas and Osaka’s Dotonbori areas, the story begins with Kiryu undertaking what seems like a simple collections job for a local loan shark. However, shortly after roughing up the man he was charged with collecting a debt from in an empty lot in the heart of Kamurocho, Kiryu finds himself framed for the hapless deadbeat’s murder. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems, and this dispute erupts into what becomes known as the “Vacant Lot” incident, as rival factions vie for control of this seemingly inconspicuous plot of land in the heart of the bustling, neon-saturated city, all while Kiryu fights to clear his name for a murder he didn’t commit.
SEGA’s Yakuza series is one that’s always been high on drama and grand – and often violent – storytelling. That said, it should come as no surprise that Yakuza 0 is no exception here. The opening 8 hours of the game move at a breakneck pace as Kiryu becomes entangled in a series of conspiracies and number of shadowy groups, all with their own secretive motivations. However, as engaging as the game’s narrative is, you’ll be hard pressed to stay focused with all of the various side-quests and activities Yakuza 0 manages to throw your way.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time with previous games in the series knows how easy it is to become completely consumed with the various activities peppered throughout the cities you’ll explore, and Kumurocho is simply teeming with ways to throw your yen away. The batting cages return once again, allowing players to test their skills in a virtual home run derby. If smacking the stuffing out of curve balls isn’t your thing, you can always shoot over to one of Kumurocho or Sotenbori’s numerous arcades to try your luck on the crane machines to net yourself a cool prize like a stuffed Mega Drive or one of those adorable winged ships from Fantasy Zone, among other SEGA-themed merchandise. You can even plunk some coins into perfectly emulated versions of the arcade classics Space Harrier and Outrun if you feel so inclined. And you will, because Space Harrier and Outrun, dammit! Of course, Karaoke also returns, and it’s just as addicting as ever, with each song featuring some wonderfully over-the-top costumes and visual effects to accompany the rhythm game action.
Much like previous games in the series, Yakuza 0 is filled with side-quests to complete, and they’re as entertaining as we’ve come to expect, and usually tell a great story, too. One mission tasks the player with breaking up a used panty peddling racket to save a struggling high school romance. While another had Kiryu helping a band of wannabe punk rock greasers with a serious case of stage fright rehearse their lines for a Q&A session before their fans discover their really a bunch of cream puffs. One of the more touching of these quests has Kiryu recovering a stolen game cartridge that at first seems like a comical wild goose chase, only to ultimately teach a touching lesson of family and togetherness. SEGA’s uncanny ability to strike a balance between playful goofiness and some genuinely touching moments during these side stories is just as impressive as ever in Yakuza 0. That said, you’ll be hard pressed not to chat up each passerby to see what happens next. Like I said at the outset, it can be hard to stay focused on the mission at hand in Yakuza 0. But this densely packed adventure is all the better for it, and you’ll savor every minute spent lost in the game’s myriad timesinks.
While Yakuza 0 is filled with fun distractions to keep you busy, you’re never more than a few minutes away from needing to crack some skulls. Thankfully, SEGA has really expanded on the combat system this time around, giving players more options than ever when it comes to tussling with your enemies. Over the course of your journey you’ll unlock three different fighting styles for Kiryu and Majima that can be swapped on the fly, each offering their own repertoire of moves and special abilities. Kiryu begins the game with his brawler style, which offers a balanced blend of heavy and light attacks that work well in any occasion. However, his Rush style trades power for speed, allowing you to unleash machine gun flurries of punches and kicks, which proves great for crowd control or getting the drop on slow but powerful thugs or closing the distance between gun-packing yakuza. Lastly, if you’re looking to go full Incredible Hulk on your foes, Kiryu’s Beast technique will puts him in an enraged state where the hot blooded hoodlum will automatically pick up nearby objects to bludgeon your enemies with, leaving you free to focus on spreading the pain.
Kiryu isn’t the only one with fun tricks up his well-tailored sleeve. Majima also has a trifecta of punk-pummeling techniques that make him a force to be reckoned with. For starters, his Thug style snaps bones like toothpicks with vicious takedowns, while his Slugger style makes use of a trusty bat to send his adversaries into the stands like a streetwise Sammy Sosa. And if you want to put on a show and deliver a B-Boy caliber beat-down, his Breaker technique is quick to spill buckets of blood on the dance floor. Simply put, there’s no shortage of ways to mop the floor with your enemies. Just wait until you see the Heat Moves this time around, which can reduce even the most hardened criminals into bloody stains on the pavement.
Each of these six techniques has its own skill tree which you can dump money into to unlock new abilities. Unlocking each of these new techniques is incredibly satisfying, too. There’s nothing quite like watching your budding thug blossom into a an absolute force of destruction. But, you’ll want to be careful, because it costs a lot of yen to purchase each upgrade, and a certain greedy asshole named Mr. Shakedown is hell-bent on bleeding your pockets dry. Crossing paths with this towering mountain of a man will result in a grueling fight, and if you lose your cash is his. Still, there’s a real element of risk versus reward here, as the amount of cash he has on hand is visible to the player and always changing. Sometimes he’ll be completely flush with cash, and if you manage to bring him down you’ll be rolling in the yen to spend on leveling up your repertoire of attacks, upgrading your gear and supplies, or playing more Space Harrier (let’s be honest, you know exactly where your money is going in this situation).
Yakuza 5 really raised the bar for the series when it released in December of 2015, and the time we’ve spent with Yakuza 0 has been every bit as engrossing. If you’ve been waiting patiently for the latest entry in SEGA’s underworld crime saga to release, hang in there. It seems like this one has absolutely been worth the wait. Stay tuned for our full review of Yakuza 0 when it goes live on January 19.
So, are you looking forward to diving into Yakuza 0 when it releases on January 24? If so, which one of the game’s many distractions do you think you’ll be sinking the most time into? As always, we love to hear what you think. Be sure to sound off in the comments section and let us know!