SERVING up Japanese crime drama for over a decade now, the delightfully weird Yakuza series has produced its first full prequel. It’s an intimidating series to hop into, but with Yakuza 0, the series creates a great entry point for new players to join in with the bizarre yet dead serious antics of Kazuma Kiryu and company.
Set during the Japanese economic boom of the late eighties, Yakuza 0 follows series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and the early days of his Yakuza life. Accused of a murder he did not commit, the game follows Kiryu and his journey around the seedy underground locales of Tokyo. Kiryu isn’t the only playable character on offer, as you also follow Goro Majima in Osaka, a former Yakuza who runs a cabaret club.
The Yakuza games have always been a weird mishmash of super serious, hard-boiled Japanese drama alongside absurd side stories and minigames. It’s what has made the series incredibly charming, and that remains the same here. The game swings from intense scenes with stern-faced, middle-aged Yakuza to side missions where you teach nerdy teenagers how to be cool punks.
“Throwing bikes at a gaggle of thugs has a certain charm to it.”
The main gameplay itself – which involves plenty of fist-fights – remains the same. Although it’s never been the most engaging part of the series (and it can a bit of a slog at times), smashing a guy’s head into a phone booth or throwing bikes at a gaggle of thugs has a certain charm to it.
The main draw here is the story and characters. Between the terrific facial animation and directing during the cut-scenes, the game does a great job of weaving together an engaging mob story. Although the game came out on the PS3 when it was originally released in Japan in 2015, the current version still looks and runs great.
“The game does a standout job of creating a bustling world.”
The visuals are helped greatly by the terrific world design. Boom-time Japan is rarely captured in Western media, but the game does a standout job of creating a bustling world brimming with excess and money.
Alongside running around the city, there’s a host of wide ranging and strange minigames to play. From playing basebal, to going to the arcade, to busting moves in nightclubs, there’s plenty to do. While some of the minigames are the kind of thing you play once and forget about, the deadpan seriousness Kiryu portrays during these activities is just wonderful.
With the series now five games deep (not counting the sixth one already released in Japan) Yakuza 0 presents a great spot for curious first-time players to jump in. There aren’t a lot of unique game series left, so it’s refreshing to see Yakuza still committing to its unique and delightful brand of fun.