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A dose of melodrama, check. A dose of weird side quests, check. A dose of mini games, check and finally a dose of good old fashioned streets rage of brawling, definitely check. As I load up Yakuza 0 on the PS4, a wave of excitement and nostalgia began to sweep over me. The Yakuza series came into my life when the Great Teacher Onizuka manga was my go to manga when I was down and when being a delinquent in my school means being cool in 2006. However I was more of the bystander student wishing I was the tough guy delinquent that will be able to pummel 10 guys single handily like the great Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza series. So here I was gleefully awaiting to explore Japan seedy underbelly once more after waiting for ages to be localized and it did not disappoint.
For those unfamiliar with the Yakuza series, it’s a game about brawling street thugs and giving you the opportunity to explore the cities of Japan. Along the way you meet eccentric and interesting characters like fan favourite Goro Majima as well as Akiyama to name a few. Obviously there is a strong narrative arc in this really long series. Occasionally it even goes to ludicrous plot twist reveals and some rather oddball side stories but here is where Yakuza series truly shines. It has charm, melodrama, oddball humour and it does not take itself too seriously giving a form of escapism rarely seen in today’s video games. It some ways, it feels like you are in a shonen manga (a comic with mature content which are usually targeted towards young male audiences) with its themes of camaraderie among men, duty and honour.
Yakuza 0 was first release in Japan as a PS3 as well as PS4 exclusive. Now finally brought to the West by huge demand only in the PS4 (and now steam too). Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the Yakuza series telling the tale of Kiryu’s rise to the Dragon of Dojima and how Majima eventually turn into his infamous reputation of being the “mad dog of Shimano”. You will be able to play both characters as the story progress. Now set in the 80’s, the streets of Kamarocho and Sotenbori are littered with plastic bags, neon lights, people offering tissues and loads and loads of cash. It is a pretty neat concept to see the how different the city was back in the day which also includes the citizen’s dress sense highlighting the Japanese economy 80’s boom time and this even extends into its combat. As you pummel enemies with brutal fatalities and combos, money just seem to burst from them like piñatas with loads of candies. Many reviewers have praised this unique detail as emphasizing that time period boom time. This even extends to how you level up your character as well. Unlocking new skills and combos requires quite a bit of cash but eventually you will be flushed with cash once you get into all the mini games and side quests.
As usual, the yakuza games have been adding more and more mini games as the series progress. The same can be said with Yakuza 0. From dancing to 80’s beats, to playing mah jong and old Sega classics, there is just an abundance to do. Mah Jong is quite detail, gambling games like black jack or poker makes an appearance, upgrading pocket racer cars (those Tamiya cars that were remarkably popular in the 80’s and 90s), baseball batting cages and so much more. Although some of the mini games are slightly bland, most are quite entertaining and have their own interesting stories to play due to the new friendship mechanics. This new feature allows you to befriend certain individuals to get certain perks or buy new properties. There are two core mini games that reflect the stories of the two playable characters. Running a real estate agency and a cabaret club, both have their fun factor but they can be a chore at times which makes it slightly stale and repetitive. But the developers add unique stories and npc's to these side quest or activities, that at times I almost forgot about how grindy it was.
Of course the main attraction is still the fighting and appeal of its story. The fighting mechanics has evolved quite a bit from the previous games with each character having three styles of combat. There is also a surprise for fans when it comes to the style but I won’t spoil it. Each having their unique so called fatalities or the famous heat actions as it is called. They all have their own unique purposed to fight group of enemies or single units. Overall the fighting is still pretty solid but it still has its clunky moments. Where the game does take a bit of a negative it’s in graphics. Cut scenes are often gorgeous to look at but some parts of the game looks like a PS3 era game but most importantly it does not stop the fun as many reviewers such as Angry joe and Gamespot to name a few. The story is a big highlight as a longtime fan watching these characters develop and the journey they take. (I want to say so much more but do not want to spoil the story). Side quest are often hilarious and have unique stories and even some heartfelt moments as well.
It’s a fantastic experience to journey with these two main protagonists especially playing as Goro Majima more so than Kiryu. His changed is gradual, believable and somewhat touching as well. This includes the people he meet as well. The side characters and villains are interesting. For long-time fans like me it was a delight to see cameos from the series like Daigo when he was a child or experiencing the close bond Nishiki had with Kiryu giving more meaning to Yakuza 1. The best part of Yakuza 0 is how tight and focus the story is compared to the previous entries which is a breath of fresh air after Yakuza 2. Overall it’s a great game for me and most importantly least Yakuza 0 gives you an opportunity to escape from realism and to roleplay being a true badass melodrama gangster.
(I was unsure what category to put this in, yes it is a fighting rpg game, but it has so many odd and cool mini games, which can be its own game. And I wish I could have put more images to really highlight this game awesomeness)