Yakuza 0 (2017)

The Yakuza series was a staple of Playstation for so long, and even with giveaways of some of the games on it’s Playstation Plus subscription, it was just never a game that appealed to me. Especially with it starting on the Playstation 2 and working its way through to the PS4, it seemed like a series I would never get into because of it’s sheer time commitment. When Yakuza 0 showed up, and it was a prequel, set in the 80’s, it felt like the perfect jumping in point for someone like me who had always been curious to see what all the fuss was about.

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I saw the game in action, with it’s fast paced action based melee combat, and it’s stylization with money flying all over the screen as one character beat the ever loving crap out of bad guys with bicycles, sandwich board stands and bats, all while breakdance fighting. It was exactly the kind of game I would be drawn to, and yet, no one ever told me that is what the games were like.

Since it was a PS4 exclusive at the time, and I let my friend borrow my PS4 for a little over a year, I wasn’t able to play it right away. So I did the next best thing, I watched a game coverage website play through the game. While watching it, I was amazed at how many different types of game play elements and styles were crammed into this game that appeared to be fairly unknown. So many similarities to other games were immediately apparent. Games like Shenmue looked to have a major influence, but every element expanded upon. Going to a Club Sega Arcade and playing UFO Catcher games, or pocket car racing could be huge time sinks, but always felt optional

When it came to PC a year later, I jumped at the chance to start my own playthrough of the game, and even though I already knew the story, and already said before to my friend, and I’d probably never play it knowing the full story and the length of the game being around 40 hours, I was just wanting to play it. The combat seemed so fun and interesting that I just had to play it for myself, even if I never finished it.

Starting out as Kiryu Kazama a young Yakuza, he is framed for a murder taking place in a small forgotten empty lot in one of the biggest up and coming areas in Kamurocho Tokyo. The story that follows is split between two protagonists, Kiryu and a eyepatch wearing Goro Majima. Each are younger Yakuza who both have different issues, but the owner of the small empty lot makes their lives intertwined for not just the rest of the game, but throughout the series as well.

That’s why this game being a prequel to the whole series really makes it that much more interesting. You see who these characters are, get the backstory built from the ground up, so you know exactly what you are in for if you decide to go back to the original games, and play through them. And with Sega (the publisher of the series) not just remastering the last few modern games, but giving full ground up remakes of the first two games, playing the entire series on modern consoles and PC is the perfect way to not only make good to faithful fans, but making everything as accessible as possible to people who now want to get in on the action.

The main storyline sees Kiryu framed for a murder in the small empty lot, and is thrown out of the Yakuza because the police start sniffing around, Majima is introduced to the story several hours later in an entirely different part of the city, and while they never really meet up, their fates are intertwined between the two Yakuza families trying to take each other out, and also the empty lot’s owner, who can help either family gain the majority control of the city. It’s all very complicated, but works so well that it’s a defining point of the game. It balances out the two main characters and spins so many plates in the story, all while never feeling over ambitious or boring.

A huge part of the game are the side stories, that give Kiryu and Majima extra activities to do while exploring the decently large parts of the map. They are constantly bumping into people who need some sort of task done, or help in some way. The civilians in need are very interesting, and usually over exaggerated characters, but they all seem genuine and the dialog between the protagonists really draws out the humanity of the characters.