As the Yakuza master of n3rdabl3, it’s only natural that Yakuza 0’s PC port would fall to me. How does it hold up compared to the newer (console) release of Yakuza 6? Let’s dive in and find out.
For those of you who didn’t read my Yakuza 6 review (which obviously you did, I’m your favourite writer), Yakuza as a series is a vast, crazy portrayal of Japanese Mob life. It’s zany, over the top and silly in places, but the story is always interesting. Twists and turns are at every corner, with some you forsee and others that come from nowhere. The series follows Kiryu Kazama as a rule but often includes the opportunity to control various other major players in the Yakuza series, as a means to provide some backstory and help you empathise with other characters. It’s one of the most interesting things about Yakuza as a series.
So let’s talk about Yakuza 0 then shall we? Based in the late 80’s, Yakuza 0’s story begins where you’d kind of expect it to begin, at the very beginning. We begin at the very early stages of Kiryus tenure in the Tojo Clan. Naturally, we’re cruising and bruising as Kiryu squeezes some money out of a guy who clearly doesn’t pay his debts. After collecting the money and delivering it to the loan shark, we’re treated to our first look at 80’s Kamarocho.
Arguably, Kamarocho is the most important character in the Yakuza games, so it’s actually super interesting to see an 80’s imagining of the fictitious city. The city changes from game to game. If you’ve not played a Yakuza game, then you may be imagining a morphing city, but that’s not what I mean. Different areas of the city are sometimes closed off or changed due to developments on the city or because of things that have happened pregame. It tends to lead to one of my favourite things about Yakuza, and that’s the feeling of being in a real world (ignoring some of the more outlandish things that happen in the games). The bustling streets and neon signs are a touch that always helps ground the game world. Yakuza 0 is no different in this sense. The world feels familiar but different in very subtle ways. I spent a fair amount of time wandering around, seeing the sights. I was awash with a sense of Deja Vu. Obviously, I’ve seen Kamarocho in other Yakuza games, but Yakuza 0 does, at least for me, create an eerie feeling. The city looks similar to the one I know, but things aren’t where they used to be. The biggest stand out to me was instantly noticing that the Millenium Tower was missing. It felt so weird for it not to be there, but of course, why would it be there? It’s the 80’s!
Back on topic, the premise of Yakuza 0 is, of course, as convoluted as the other games. That guy who you collected money from in the opening cutscene? Well, he died somehow and old Kiryu was the last person to see him. Killing a civilian is a big no-no, and even though Kiryu didn’t actually kill the poor sod, he’s brought heat onto the Tojo clan, and onto his adoptive father. Kiryu’s a pretty honour bound chap, so he takes it on himself to leave the clan, clear his name and prove that his adoptive father didn’t have anything to do with the killing. Confused? Yeah, me too. There’s twists and turns along the way, as well as having Goro Majima being introduced (and you guessed it, he’s being fucked over as well) as the second playable character.
Let’s talk about the gameplay. The Yakuza formula has been fairly set in stone by this point. Like I’ve said in my previous review of the series, Yakuza blends weird real-life sim stuff, with a modern-day beat-em-up ideal. While Yakuza 0 did release before Yakuza 6 did, at least on console, it doesn’t help that it feels really dated. A lot of the combat feels really sluggish, especially when you first enter combat scenarios. There’s an odd feeling to the way Kiryu (and Majima) throw their punches and it’s very hard to describe. While I remember there being some outrage at the way the combat was in Yakuza 6, with it being too simple compared to previous iterations. While I can agree with that point mostly, it at least felt amazingly fluid, which can’t really be said for Yakuza 0. What does go in Yakuza 0’s favour is the stance switching mechanic. This allows whoever you’re playing as to hop between three distinct modes. For Kiryu, it’s Brawler, which is his bread and butter mode, Rush, which allows you to strike quickly and dodge opponents easily and Beast, which is an almost feral attack style, basically giving you super armour on your attacks and also giving you devastating grabs. Majima also gets three styles, but I’ll let you discover those on your own.
Obviously, Yakuza 0 is chock full of extra missions, side jobs and random encounters, just like the rest of the series. These range from your standard Yakuza fair, where you have to beat up some thugs, to the bizarre, where you have to teach a dominatrix how to actually do her job. It’s the bizarre where Yakuza 0 really shines because it’s where it displays its unique charm. Where else will you go out on a date with an escort and try to win a prize from those infuriating grabber machines?
Graphically, Yakuza 0 again feels slightly past it’s prime. Again, I can’t help but draw comparisons to Yakuza 6. When I first launched Yakuza 6, I was blown away by how the game looked. Everything popped, little beads of sweat were present on Kiryu’s almost constantly furrowed brow. It’s sorely missing from Yakuza 0 though. While there are a plethora of PC specific options, none of them come close to bringing it up to the standard of a modern PC game, which is a real shame. Obviously, we’re dealing with a 2015 game that’s been ported, but it’s just disappointing that Yakuza 6 looks as good as it does, with it only releasing a year after (at least, in Japan).
There’s also a strange, almost visual novel quality to certain cutscenes, where Yakuza 0 uses stationary character models with text boxes that scroll across the screen. They’re still voice acted, but they seem off-putting, especially when Kiryu is standing with his mouth agape for no real reason. The stylistic choice is especially odd because there’s also actual in-engine cutscenes. Why SEGA didn’t just use these instead of these random visual novel elements is beyond me. It doesn’t ruin it, by any means, it’s just puzzling.
Overall, Yakuza 0 is another solid entry to an illustrious series of games. While it’s not the most mind-blowing entry, it sets up the whole series. Can you play it without playing the others? Sure, as Yakuza 0 is set before the other games. You might miss a few nods to future storylines, but you could totally start here and you wouldn’t really miss a beat.