Yakuza 0 (PS4) Review
Yakuza 0 is my first foray into the Yakuza series. Even though the first game released in the US in 2006, and the latest Yakuza: Like a Dragon releasing last year in 2020. The popularity of the franchise seems to be growing in the US with each release, and I'm sure we’ll probably get a new game announced in the series soon.
It might be daunting to start a franchise that crosses multiple console generations, but lucky for us all the games in the series are available on the PS4, with the Yakuza Kiwami titles which are remastered versions of Yakuza 1 and 2, and Yakuza Remaster Collections that include 3, 4 and 5. Yakuza 6 is the conclusion to the mainline series of games that follow the protagonist of Kiryu Kazuma. Yakuza 0 is still part of the mainline series, but was released after yakuza 5, and is a prequel to the original Yakuza game, so this is a good place to jump in if you haven’t played the previous titles.
After playing Yakuza 0 myself first, I could tell playing the previous games would still be ideal if you have the time since you’ll miss out on some of the tie-ins and connections made at the end of the game that leads into Yakuza 1. But that said, this is still a great place to start, the story is completely stand-alone and doesn’t require you to know anything about the overall story or characters. Especially for those that find the game on sale, which it often does for about $5, or prefer some of the modern changes to the series since the original games were released.
The newest Yakuza: Like a Dragon changed the formula of the combat and went with the direction of turn-based battles like in traditional JRPGs. All the other games, to my knowledge, are brawlers and have the nostalgic feel of old-school beat-em-up arcade games. In Yakuza 0, fights earn you money to upgrade your character’s different fighting stances, and switching between the main characters of Kiryu and Majima, does keep most of the combat from becoming too stale. That being said, by the 2nd half of the game I mainly stuck to one fighting style for each character and the combat became repetitive, as all fights, including bosses, boiled down to performing the same combos and pausing to use healing items whenever my health dropped too low. I grew up playing JRPGs so I probably prefer the turn-based compared to the action brawler combat. And compared to AAA action games like God of War or Devil May Cry, these mechanics feel clunky and can become frustrating on the harder difficulty. You’ll be fighting through waves of generic goons, and I eventually avoided enemies while traveling between areas to begin the next part of the story as the rewards eventually aren’t worth the time. That being said, it was still entertaining to watch the over-the-top heat actions, discovering new ones related to the environments, and watching the fun cutscenes that transition you between scenes, especially during larger boss battles that involve quick-time events.
The highlight of the game is the story, and the unique humor the series has become known for. You’ll be going from one intense spectacularly voice-acted scene with a lot of suspense to silly sidequests involving homeless and perverted Japanese men. You’ll get the most out of this game if you enjoy the humor and weirdness and explore the many side quests and stories you encounter during the main story as well as actively seek the mini-games the game has to offer. Other than using money to unlock moves for your character, you can also use the money to buy real estate or skip it altogether. But there’s always something to do with money, which makes it worth collecting. You’ll encounter many side quests just on your way to story missions, such as where Kiryu had to impersonate a movie director or infiltrate a cult to rescue a stranger’s daughter. The main story is about 30 hours, but you can easily top 100 hours as a completionist.
Without going into spoilers, I would recommend this game to anyone who still hasn’t given it a shot. It's a unique game that combines over-the-top action, a tense crime drama, and lots of strange/funny moments for our main characters. This game has gotten me more interested than ever to get more into the series, but I’m still not sure if I should just jump into Yakuza: Like a Dragon, to slowly catch up on the original games. Let me know in the comments what you think. I appreciate you reading, and hope to play more games and get back to making regular content.