Yakuza 0 Review

Glitz, Glamour, and Intrigue of 1980s Japan wrapped in a Yakuza Package

General Info

Release Date(s):
Japan PS3 & PS4: March 12, 2015
NA PS4: January 24, 2017
PC: August 1, 2018
Xbox One: February 26, 2020
Rating: M 17+
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Publisher: SEGA
Platform I Played On: PC
Platform(s) Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 (JP), Xbox One
Genre(s): Action, Beat ‘em Up
Difficultly I Played On: Normal (except the last final battle because I thought I came prepared and clearly was not and didn’t want to go back and do all the other battles all over again)

Synopsis

Taken from Official Site
Yakuza 0 | SEGA official site

Prologue

December 1988 – Japan

The winter was chilly but electric in Kamurocho, the premier entertainment district in the east. Here, money buys luxury, and luxury is a way of life. With the nation’s economy at the height of a boom, the people of Kamurocho believed that nothing they could wish for was out of reach. But there are some places where money only goes so far.

A vacant lot. A humble square of concrete and weeds, hardly the size of a parking space.

The Kamurocho 21st Century Revitalization Project is underway, and to own the land is to hold the power. Whoever can obtain the final piece in the puzzle, this tiny patch of ground, will have the leverage to change the balance of the city and spearhead a mammoth commercial property known as the Millennium Tower. Two men are flung into a conflict they do not yet comprehend. Those in power have every intent of burying them in this sea of change, unaware that they were setting events into motion that would give birth to legends.

Why You Should Play: The Short Version

>> Highly intricate story, kept me at the edge of my seat!

>> Dynamic and impressionable characters (both good and bad)

>> Detailed world, fun side quests, and MINI GAMES

>> Machismo essence, become a real man!

>> The satisfaction of beating up people 😂

Upon completion of Yakuza 0 I immediately started Yakuza Kiwami. Needless to say, after the elaborate story of Zero and knowing it was a prequel to Kiwami I wanted to see how things changed and were influenced by the game. In doing so the reviews for both Zero and Kiwami will complement one another because I personally think there’s merits to having played both games in close proximity.

Pros

  • Intriguing story with twists and turns
  • 1980s Japan
  • Two protagonists that connect story together
  • Full cast of characters
  • Fun mini games and side quests
  • Detailed scenery
  • Two main areas of game fun to explore
  • Feels like this game was not made as a prequel but simply part of the series

Cons

  • Some localization choices somewhat confusing
  • Do not attempt with keyboard, you will be confused and have regrets 😂

First Impressions

Beware there may be minor spoilers below depending on one’s qualification of a spoiler. Read at your own risk. In my opinion, this review should not spoil any new player’s experience with the game~

Disclaimer: This is my HOBBY blog with my own opinions, please take that into consideration~

Since I have never played the Yakuza games and really liked Judgment it was only a matter of time until I dove into the Yakuza series. I did a bit of research and most people said that playing in the numeric order is a good way to play the series. So I started with Yakuza 0 and honestly went in fairly blind to the whole story and characters. All I knew was that the game would be somewhat similar to Judgment either in the execution of storytelling and in all likelihood containing more ridiculousness.

The story starts off with Kazuma Kiryu and how a simple job turns into an escalation of events. A guy who Kiryu was supposed to simply rough up turns up dead the next day. Kiryu didn’t kill the guy but ends up being accused of a murder he didn’t commit. He then decides he needs to take matters into his own hands to prove his innocence.

The vacant lot is the focal point of the majority of the game. It sounds ridiculous at first that all these various events and people are all tied to one simple vacant lot. With the currently booming economy in 1980s Japan real estate is a big money maker and allows for a considerable amount of power. While playing the story, it is rather crazy that one tiny lot means so much to so many people.

Once we play a few chapters as Kiryu we get introduced to our other protagonist Goro Majima. Majima is the manager of the finest cabaret in Sotenbori as part of his punishment for disobeying orders. His story revolves around him wanting to get back into good graces of the clan and rejoining. In his story he is offered the chance to get back into the clan but it turns out it does come with a cost. He is then thrown into a series of events that leave more questions than answers.

As you progress through the game you play two chapters in Kiryu’s story then another two in Majima’s. The bulk of the story continues with this pattern of the alternating protagonists. As we progress we find out how everything is connected. I won’t spoil too much more story wise because I went in blind and honestly wasn’t expecting the twists and turns! Never a dull moment!

This game contained a story that I wanted to plow through. At the end of every chapter there was a cliff hanger and I wanted to find out how everything and everyone were connected. To some degree as a first time player the story I sometimes wanted to not partake in all the extra content and just zoom through the story because I had no idea how things were going to turn out! I needed to know! I can say that I am so thankful that all the side quests were self-contained and didn’t impact one’s ability to play the story. I am glad the game is not a grinding fest in order to complete the story.

This game at a surface level has all the glitz and glamor of 1980s Japan. After playing Kiwami this game seemed to showcase more of the more ominous, brutal, and tragic elements the yakuza and underbelly of society as to offer. There were some moments where I would think to myself “wow this is not an ideal situation what-so-ever” 😮 I am glad that there was such a stark contrast between the glitz and glamor and the heavier and darker components. The villains seemed to have substance to their evilness and just a general aura of intimidation. The overall darker elements made the game very dimensional and that within the bad there is good.

I thought the ending of this game was quite strong and really showcased how both Kiryu and Majima evolved throughout the game. There were quite a few impactful moments that led up to the end that  wrapped up the whole story in memorable manner. I thought that the ending for Majima’s story and the people around him was bitter sweet but it was appropriate. I think it was the only realistic solution but it still made one think if circumstances had been different how things would turn out. Overall, the ending was appropriate in showcasing all the characters and in some cases implied a decent Yakuza free life for some of the characters.

The game itself has two major areas that we can explore; Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Both areas include similar side activities each having a few unique to the location. The nightlife is vibrant in both areas with the daytime being a bit less hectic. Both locations were fun to explore and have plenty to do! One thing I really like about the series is that there’s a closed map but the area we are confined to feels full of life and allows for majority of the story to be told within that confined area. I really loves the Yakuza franchise’s small but mighty maps!

Kamurocho is Kiryu’s main stomping grounds that is the major entertainment district in Tokyo. This neighborhood is featured in many Yakuza games and the spinoff series Judgment. To me it was really fun to see how the neighborhood looked in the late 80s because I was familiar with the current day looks that were presented in Judgment. There are various districts within the neighborhood and plenty of mini games, side stories, and areas to explore.

Sotenbori is the area that Majima’s story primarily takes place. This area was new for me and I really liked how it looks the Shinsaibashi area of Osaka. They even included the giant signage and statues that are predominant in the real world Shinsaibashi area which I found really fun to see and experience. With the cabaret scene Sotenbori appeared to focus more on the host club aspects of the underworld in comparison to Kamurocho.

There are other areas that we are brought to within the game but there are not many opportunities for exploration. All these areas bring more depth to the story and how interconnected the story, people, and areas are within the game.

There is quite a bit of humor that is a staple of the Yakuza series and in the spinoff Judgment. There are some things that are simply beautifully crazy and I love the game for it. Some of the side quests are humorous or just downright dumb but nonetheless they get you to smile and enjoy the stupid moment. The humor is well paced and does not detract from the core story but is an added element to the other areas of the game.

One minor criticism that bugged me was that for the localization they swap the names of how they are being said in the actual dialogue. Now I do not know every single Japanese surname or given name, so it took me a moment to realize what was going on. In the spoken dialogue we get the format (1) surname (2) given name. In the written text we get the format (1) given name (2) surname.

Another thing that was rather confusing one name is partially localized? The character Akira Nishikiyama has his surname changed to Nishiki. However only certain parts such as Kiryu’s dialogue changes to Nishiki and other characters still call him Nishikiyama. This was a weird choice in my opinion because Nishikiyama really isn’t that hard of a surname to begin with. It just made the flow of dialogue rather weird at certain points in the story.

This game is very popular and the reasons are overwhelmingly clear from the get-go. As a newcomer to the Yakuza series, I was very curious and heavily invested in the story line. I think the overall execution and bombastic nature of this game is enough for many people to have a lot of fun while playing the game. Overall, I had a really fun time while playing this game and am excited to play all the Yakuza games!~

UPDATE: As I played Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2 I realized that this game is my favorite of the three. I liked having two protagonists and how we slowly saw the story revealed to the player. The story is the most fleshed out and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I liked how instead of egos driving the story it had a bit more substance and intrigue. Retrospectively I think this game has something special story-wise and is a strong starting point for those who are interested in the Yakuza series.

Side Quests & Mini Games

Fun Reasonable Side Quests // Cabaret Club // Mini Games

I gotta say most of the side quests were really fun, enjoyable, or just outright ridiculous. There is so much in this game in terms of extra content I think it borders on being too much, especially during one’s first playthrough. I can honestly say in the future when I replay the game, I will take it at a slower speed and actively enjoy more of the side offerings.

Firstly, in this game you can run a cabaret club and be a real estate tycoon. Upon entering this game I wouldn’t have expected that I would actively enjoy running a cabaret club. The cabaret club ended up being one of my favorite mini games/business ventures. I usually choose not to get to involved in the host club scene because it’s just not my thing, so I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did. I spent a good few hours managing and making good money with the cabaret club!

The real estate component wasn’t nearly as fun as the cabaret club. I felt like the story involved with the real estate while similar to the cabaret club didn’t have as fun of mini game or management techniques. I dabbled in it but honestly didn’t progress as far with the story line as the cabaret club. It was a nice idea but comparing the two this one fell a bit more flat.

There are quite a few side quests in the game. I know I didn’t complete all of them upon my first playthrough. I quite liked most of these side quests because they were short, sweet, and each revolved around an individual’s temporary problem. Each individual would ask Majima or Kiryu to help and you have the option to help or decline.

In this game there are also friendship meters that are with various individuals around town. Once you attain maximum friendship the people can help out in either the cabaret club or real estate ventures. Some of the friendships contained side quests alongside general interaction with the individual. These just added a different flavor to the already existing side quest system in the game.

Lastly we have the mini games. My love for the claw game remains and I successfully got all the toys! This game bolsters a HUGE selection of mini games ranging from disco dancing, bowling, cards, pool, karaoke, and more! This game does not lack in the entertainment department one bit! At first, I found the disco dancing to be ridiculously hard. It is probably one of the harder rhythm games I have played in that it was so specific on when you could click the button. Word to the wise, don’t click until the outline is IN the box never before!

The Characters

Well-crafted Characters // Bygones be Bygones // Context for Kiwami

There are quite a few characters in this game that are present within both Kiryu and Majima’s stories. Some of the characters overlap for both stories while others only appear in one of the stories. There are really strong characters throughout the entirety of the game. Some you are meant to love while others to simply hate. I really liked some of the non Yakuza affiliated characters because you simply wanted the best for them.

It was interesting to see all the power dynamics between all the characters. Within the different levels of hierarchy and power dynamics we were able to see many different types of personalities and how power is utilized. Some of the characters in this game were downright creepy and knew how to manipulate power in a way to make others squirm.

I think the villains never felt random and were introduced as the plot progresses. One thing that I found somewhat odd/amusing is at some points the minor villain and either Kiryu or Majima were able let bygones be bygones and were all of a sudden not enemies. This makes sense but also was kind of weird considering the enemy relationship dynamics.

All the characters have a point in the story and nothing ever feels completely random or shoehorned into the story. I think some of the characters in Kiwami were mildly introduced in this game which at first was confusing because I had no clue who they were and why we were focusing on them. After playing Kiwami these characters take a more prominent role and it ended up making sense.

Some of the characters had more backstory in Zero that gave them more substance in Kiwami because we had more of a backstory and context. I cannot imagine playing Kiwami without some of the character’s backstory in Zero because we had less reason to care about them. I would say the character introduction alone is reason enough to play this game before Kiwami.

Our Protagonists: Kazuma Kiryu & Goro Majima

Dual Protagonists Work // Meathead // Main Story

I liked the dual protagonist approach in this game. Only we as the player know the full story and neither Kiryu nor Majima knows the complete story. Having the stories connecting at the end allowed for a complex plot with multiple pieces. I think it was nice to play as two different personalities within the Yakuza setting. Overall, the dual protagonist gave the in-game world depth and how different people are connected to the Yakuza world.

Kazuma Kiryu

I can see why people really like Kiryu because of his deadpan stares and limited reactions to crazy and weird situations. Kiryu is essentially a meathead and I mean it in the most complimentary way. Kiryu is a man of few words with a strong moral code he lives by. I say meathead because he really doesn’t feel the need to ask many questions or reasons and simply goes with the situation at hand and in all likely hood lets his fists do the talking.

I enjoyed Kiryu’s story but I think overall his story takes a back seat in comparison to Majima’s. I think Kiryu’s story supports Majima’s story and the overall ending. The empty lot is related to Kiryu but the bulk of the characters connected to it occur in Majima’s story. Kiryu’s story contains many more aspects of the Yakuza hierarchy and how many people are out to get him for personal reasons.

Goro Majima

Majima has more charisma than Kiryu but still has a stoic element that seems typical to the Yakuza characters throughout the game. He is definitely put through the wringer in both his backstory and the events in the game.

While both stories of Kiryu and Majima eventually  come together Majima’s story felt like it was the core of the main story. From the backstory to the characters he’s involved with Majima’s journey felt significantly more weighted and heavy. I honestly felt his story was more compelling and was more curious about the events with Majima.

I will say not having played the other Yakuza games I was kind of shocked how much his character changes from Zero to Kiwami. Honestly while playing Kiwami all I could think of is “what happened to you?” Upon thinking about this I think this game is kind of showcasing how all the trauma and tragedy in Majima’s life could make anyone snap. Or maybe he always was inherently like this or being in customer service where the “customer is king” finally got to him. All I can say is that I wasn’t fully expecting the new hairstyle and threads coupled with the new personality 😂

Gameplay

Controller Only // Fun Fighting System // Majima a Favorite

Options: Keyboard & Controller

The game right from the get-go states “real yakuza play with a gamepad” and boy are they right. I first started this game way back at the time I didn’t have working controller. The keyboard controls were clunky and I was not enjoying it whatsoever. The controller experience is SIGNIFICANTLY better so just start out with a controller. Save time and varying degrees of frustration and irritation.

The actual fighting is a system of different battle styles each with varying degrees of speed and force. Kiryu and Majima have their own unique fighting techniques each being allocated three special styles. There is a generic fourth style that utilizes weapons you have collected and equipped. Over time you can unlock perks through money to improve upon the techniques. I actually totally forgot this system existed and managed to play the game without doing this until way later in the game (I really need to read instructions thoroughly!). I can honestly say that upon remembering this existed the fighting did get easier (who would have thought haha).

Between Kiryu and Majima I preferred fighting as Majima. Kiryu is essentially a tank of a character and does move considerably slower than Majima. I know I am not a pro at the fighting mechanics of this game by any means but the speediness of Majima is an asset in my opinion.

Your HP can be remedied through medicine or eating at the various restaurants. There are varying degrees of potency for both medicine and meals and as you progress through the game you can afford the good stuff!~ This system is fairly straightforward, and it works.

Graphics & Artistic/Aesthetic Style

Love the Details // Exploring Kamurocho & Sotenbori in 1980s! // Good Visuals

I really like the overall aesthetics. The neon lights in both neighborhoods and some of the additional areas were gorgeous and extremely detailed. I loved how each store front and building had a different façade and it never felt bland or boring. I simply love the neighborhoods and the level of color and detail.

One thing that I noticed when playing is that the NPCs do look quite similar to one another, especially the girls’ nighttime outfits. All were wearing the same exact dress just minor color variations. During the daytime there was more variety.

Sometimes both the playable characters and NPCs appear to be somewhat stiff and limited in movement. It’s nothing game breaking but it was a bit noticeable. The facial animations also felt somewhat stiff but again it was nothing game breaking. The cutscenes were by far the clearest and most fluid but that’s how cutscenes are supposed to look like right? They were a nice change of pace to see a clearer and more subtle movements from the characters.

This game as a whole and considering the relative age of it hold up very well. I enjoyed the visuals and detailing that is present throughout the entirety of the game. Overall being able to go back to the late 80s and experience Kamurocho and Sotenbori was a visual treat!

Would I Recommend?

Yakuza 0 was a great game to introduce me, a Yakuza newcomer, to the series! I really enjoyed Judgment and didn’t have any doubts that I wouldn’t enjoy the Yakuza series. My instincts were correct and I LOVED playing this game. The storytelling, characters, and world were all well executed and made the game my most recent binge playing session. So far, I have clocked around the middle 50s hour wise. I know this might be on the low end of the game because I zoomed through the storyline!

Now I say I zoomed through the storyline but I did partake in many minigames, side quests, and more than a few hours playing the cabaret club game. The cabaret club was an unexpected obsession I had while in game and I loved managing the club, the mini game, and conquering all the neighboring clubs. I really enjoyed the side quests and how they each contained a bite sized story that was amusing yet enjoyable.

There were a few mini games I spent a fair amount of time on and loved every minute of them. The claw game will forever be a favorite in my heart 😍 I really found the disco to be hilarious and challenging and am rather saddened this disappeared in the future games (though disco dancing is limited to distinct decade or two so it makes sense why it’s no longer there). I also got to experience the Bakamitai song in karaoke firsthand, what can I say it’s certainly a classic!

I liked playing Zero and Kiwami sequentially because Zero allowed for more background knowledge that filled in many potential knowledge gaps people could potentially occur if playing Kiwami first. Since Zero was created as a prequel to the original story I think it did a really good job of connecting a new story to the events that occurred in Kiwami. I can say I’m really glad I played Zero first.

I wouldn’t recommend this game if you are not a fan of depictions of underbellies of societies. There are quite a few references to heavier themes such as torture, human trafficking, or general violence and the game definitely doesn’t sugar coat these themes. Many characters have morally grey tendencies. To keep it short, no one is perfect, and the game depicts a different time period and the social constructs of the time. Which I personally think the morally grey aspects are a big asset for the game. However, some might want more of the comedic elements that Yakuza brings instead of the more gruesome plot elements present. Keep in mind this is a story about the Yakuza lifestyle and that comes with certain elements and inherently heavier themes.

I would recommend this game for anyone that wants a really intricate and well executed story, like a humorous game, or simply like exploring a city scene. This game utilizes all its strengths in a solid story and attention to detail in a way that many games cannot compare. The world is not dead and is not an open world and is able to contain the bulk of a story which is simply impressive. The humor is obviously more in line with Japanese sensibilities but if you are used to it, you’ll be fine. All in all, this game is a fully rounded experience with an excellent story with a plethora of optional side activities. If you are a single player story driven gamer like myself, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in Yakuza 0, in fact, I think you’ll have a blast playing this game!

Interested in the Next Game?

Interested in the Spinoff Game of the Yakuza series?