Yakuza 0

This reviewer only recently found out about Sega’s Yakuza series, known as Ryū ga Gotoku (“like a dragon”) in Japan, which has been by many sources classified as a roleplaying game pantheon, and has been around since the PlayStation 2 era. The first and only prequel title to the franchise, Yakuza 0, saw its Japanese release on both the PlayStations 3 and 4 early in 2015, although it would take over a year for the entry to reach North American shores, coincidentally on this player’s thirty-third birthday in 2017, only for the PS4. There are some minor hiccups, but the prequel proves one of the stronger games of the year released in the United States.

Yakuza 0 in parallel follows the stories of Kazuma Kiryu, a fledgling yakuza, and Goro Majima, a cycloptic nightclub owner, in Japan in 1988, with their paths ultimately intertwining late in the game. There’s a surprisingly-high story-to-gameplay ratio, the prequel effectively weaving a story that feels like a Japanese version of The Godfather, dealing with the ins and outs of the country’s organized criminal underworld. There are some narrative gameplay clichés such as unclear direction at one or two points and having to wander around a quarter hour or so, but the plot ends satisfactorily, telling the fates in the middle of the credits of various major characters, and is one of the driving forces to play.

Fortunately for those yearning for solid gameplay to accompany an excellent plotline, Yakuza 0 delivers, with Kiryu and Majima each having three different fighting styles the player can change on the fly during combat with hooligans, mobsters, delinquents, and whatnot that sometimes take notice of them while they’re wandering the streets, not to mention storyline antagonists. The protagonists can string together combos, with standard attacks building up their Heat gauges, both able to consume it to execute more powerful attacks at the right moments.

Subjugating foes earns the player yen, which players can use either to learn new abilities, active, and passive, in any fighting style in circular grid-based setups, or buy consumables such as medicine at shops, the game limiting the number of items the player can carry, although an item box accessible at save point phones allows for storage of excess goods. The battle system works well for the most part, with beating up enemies being a very satisfying experience, difficulty mercifully being adjustable, although one can easily miss split-second opportunities to execute Heat attacks.

Yakuza 0 interfaces well with the player, with easy menus and shopping, but retains the RPG tradition of save points, with this reviewer, for instance, missing out on the first save point and having to wait over half an hour before the next opportunity to record progress, the sole other save opportunities coming between chapters. Furthermore, while some text during cutscenes is skippable, there are many where it is not, which needlessly stretches out playing time for those who would rather read dialogue than listen to it entirely. Interaction could have definitely been better but is by no means a deal-breaker.

Perhaps the weakest part of the prequel is its limited musical presentation, with very few memorable tracks, and no music during many moments such as normal exploration. The localization team left the voicework in Japanese, with voices definitely fitting the characters. The sound effects are realistic, as well, but the developers could have definitely cared more about the music.

The prequel’s visual presentation, however, is very well above average, with a high degree of realism regarding the character models and careful attention to detail when the player sees their faces close-up during cutscenes. Granted, there is an occasional storytelling method where the characters’ lips don’t move at all to the dialogue, and some environmental textures look pixilated when viewed close, but these hardly detract from solid graphics that do the PlayStation 4’s capabilities justice.

The game text is generally free of error except maybe for one misuse of “it’s”, and retains Japanese honorifics, but gamers can easily look them up online to see what they mean.

A straightforward playthrough of the prequel, finally, can take players around one day’s worth of playtime total, with plenty to stretch out playing time such as trophies and a New Game+.

Overall, Yakuza 0 was definitely a good start to 2017 in terms of gaming for North Americans, with satisfying combat, general good control, an excellent narrative, and solid visuals. It does have some issues regarding things such as the unskippable text during many cutscenes and the conservative musical presentation but is very much an excellent diving board into the Yakuza franchise. Given that chronological successors in the franchise will receive upgraded ports to the PlayStation 4, players will most likely be able to enjoy the entire franchise on the system in the near future.

The Good:
+Engrossing combat.
+Easy menus.
+Excellent plotline.
+Solid visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Unskippable text during many cutscenes.
-Limited save opportunities.
-Unmemorable music.

The Bottom Line:
A great diving board into the franchise.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 8.5/10
Story: 9.0/10
Localization: 9.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.0/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: ~1 day

Overall: 9.0/10

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