From afar I’ve always kept an eye on the Yakuza series, but to my knowledge no title in the franchise has caught more media attention than Yakuza 0. Indeed, it’s been hard to escape the critical acclaim plastering every major video game site and many people have marked it as the perfect game for first time players. Yet, are these claims valid? Is Yakuza 0 really the best place for a newcomer such as myself? Whilst I can’t comment on any other entries’ standing when it comes to being a better title for beginners, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Yakuza 0 – even if it wasn’t the game I was expecting it to be.
Billed as an open world action-adventure beat ’em up, Yakuza 0 acts as a prequel to the already-extensive series developed by SEGA since 2005. It follows the footsteps of Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Tojo clan that is also part of the Yakuza. After Kiryu-san collects an overdue debt and beats the subject into submission, he unknowingly finds out that someone murdered his mark and that he is being framed for the murder.
I had many preconceptions before entering Yakuza. Its focus on crime in the Far East conjured up images of ‘Sleeping Dogs’ (another open world crime game), but instead I was met by a completely different experience. I was faced with subtitles, a fun fighting system and a ton of hilarious situations, coupled alongside equally silly dialogue. There are a lot of cutscenes and exposition to sit through, but the good news is that the writing is fantastic and it’s genuinely funny – that is, when there isn’t focus on a bit of serious crime drama.
Outside of the main story there are a variety of other mini games, these include: bowling, baseball, karaoke and popping by the local sushi joint. You can make friends with locals, go on dates and if you feel so inclined, how about watching one of the many live-action videos featuring scantily clad women? If you wanted an insight into Japanese culture, look no further.
Nevertheless, there are a few things which irked me when I started playing. As an open world game it’s certainly on the lower scale of open. You can walk around city streets but the world map is broken into self-contained sections. You also must use a taxi to transport between them and there isn’t any chance to take hold of a vehicle and drive on the open road. So don’t be mislead by thinking this is a Grand Theft Auto clone. Visually the game holds its own style but tends to present a fair few murky textures and stilted animations.