Having spent hours exploring and enjoying Kamurocho and Sotenbori – I am no longer proud to say that it took me this long to play a Yakuza game.
I’m now wondering how I’ve been such an idiot.
I can’t put my finger on one sole reason why I reckon this will be among my favourite games of 2017. It might be the crisp, bare-knuckle combat which sits somewhere between a Ninja Gaiden and Streets of Rage.
It might be the ridiculous charm that the game seems to pull off, time and again, whether you’re singing random Karaoke with a red bandana tied around your head or being awarded actual turkeys for getting three strikes in a row at bowling.
It could be the hilarious situations you find yourself winding up in – like having to dress and act like a producer on a feature film or give tips to an aspiring band who want to add an edge to their personality.
It might just be the 1980’s Japanese culture and exploring that through supermarkets, amusement arcades, and tense, nail-biting cut-scenes.
Whatever it is Yakuza does, it does it so well that it’s both incredibly difficult to put down or forget about. And that’s not only because you can repeatedly smash someone upside the head with a bicycle should you feel so inclined.
There is so much content in here with well-designed mini-games of darts and pool, as well as the hidden extra, well-ported version of SEGA classic Space Harrier. You can quite easily lose yourself wandering around, entertaining yourself in various different ways without following the story.
And it feels all the more gripping based on how alive and interactive the world around you is – both in positive and negative ways. Sometimes you’ll have hoodlums chasing you down the street for money, other times you’ll find yourself inadvertently bumping into dates just trying to get out of the rain.
But the most impressive part of all is just how compelling and enriching the story is. There’s a narrative here that is even capable enough of justifying the ludicrous amount of violence you’re about to be subjected to.
As Kazuma Kiryu, you find yourself become a part of a sequence of unfortunate events that lead to the man you’ve come to know from more recent entries in the series. Kiryu finds himself at the center of a ‘Vacant Lot’ dispute that not only throws his relationship with the Yakuza into disarray, it also attracts the attention of various other powerplay parties that want to seize their own foothold in the territory.
The series has yet to really find a home in the West, but it’s hard to look past Yakuza 0 as the game to finally change all that. It’s a fantastic entry point, it’s technically the first game in the series as it’s an origin story, and it has such a rich heritage to offer with its beautiful marriage of jubilation and fuelled rage.
It does seem that previous Yakuza players may not find much different to leap into that separates it from other entries, but what is here is still faithful to the games they’ve previously loved. It is also a rare open-world game that is filled with soul and heart, unafraid to take jabs at itself, while also keeping you spellbound to the screen.
That’s not even going into detail on the game’s combat. With four very different stances, each with a unique set of moves, you can really mix up the way you tackle each situation, one minute grappling your opponent to the ground, the next ducking and weaving around them, peppering them with blows. The variety and diversity is enough to really make you consider your tactics, but likewise keep it fresh if you want to mix things up a bit.
And when you’re fighting swathes of enemies, all circling around you, hungry for blood, you’ll need to seriously consider your approach. You’ll have to stay patient, and time your strikes effectively. Even more so when you reach the boss battles. Not since Ninja Gaiden have I felt as on edge and invested in the action.
So many Open World games are devoid of feeling and actually making you giving a damn about what’s happening around you or helping out other people. The process of going from A to B feels soulless and demoralizing. Yet I wanted to explore every nook and cranny in Yakuza. I wanted to see what crazy side quest the development team could come up with next. I wanted to know how ludicrous the game would get. Likewise, I wanted to learn more about the world, and how I’m directly influencing it with my actions. It is, easily, one of the best Open World experiences I’ve ever had.
The game is just so beautiful as well. The neon/Blade-Runner esque signposting, the look and feel of the convenience stores, the way faces move when speaking dialogue or engaging in conversation. The compact nature of alleyways and the look of buildings. Yakuza 0 will transport you and situate you in its world so effortlessly and easily that you’ll find it difficult to leave.
Barely 3 weeks into the year and Yakuza 0 is a game I’m going to remember come December 2017. Heck, it’s a game I’ll remember the December after that, and the one following. SEGA have crafted a truly upbeat and entertaining sandbox environment that just keeps delivering time after time.
I’m officially a Yakuza convert and need my next fix of this amazing series. I’ve no doubt that, after playing Yakuza 0, you will be too.
+ Vast, entertaining Open World
+ Tight, dynamic, engaging combat
+ Beautiful look and feel
+ Gripping story
– Some graphical issues with cut-scenes and textures
– Occassional mission repetition
9 out of 10
Platform review on: – PS4