Sega’s Yakuza 0 is the latest entry in the long running franchise of action-adventure beat-em-ups.
It’s a balanced fusion of the open world & pseudo-JRPG elements of Shenmue mixed with the high-speed action of a beat-em-up like Streets of Rage. (Both notable Sega franchises of yesteryear.)
Before you get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of titles in the Yakuza franchise (7 mainline games and 5 spin-offs). Do take note that you do not have to play any of them to prepare yourself for Yakuza 0. As it serves as both a prequel to the franchise and an excellent introduction of story elements and gameplay mechanics to newcomers.
Yakuza 0 puts you into the perspective of it’s two main characters. Kazuma Kiryu & Goro Majima.
In the present story arc of the Yakuza series, our series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu is considered to be the greatest and most influential Yakuza that ever lived. Yakuza 0 takes us back to his younger days as a lowly debt collector in 1988 Japan, and his first steps into becoming the legend we know.
Goro Majima, one of the Yakuza’s most violent and sociopathic member, is the other character Yakuza 0 focuses on. Yakuza 0 steps back to his early days as well before his madness sets in and adds a significant amount of background to his story.
Originally considered to be a spiritual successor to the Shenmue franchise, the Yakuza series has since evolved into its own strange beast that, as a whole, can’t be compared to any other major title on the market.
That said, Yakuza, at its core, is a 3rd person beat-em-up series. Not only can Kiryu and Majima use their fist and feet to obliterate their enemies, they can also grab any number of weapons or nearby objects to clobber people as well. As they attack, they gain “HEAT” Energy and can expend it in the form of situational super attacks where the environment itself becomes a weapon. A car might be an obstacle during a fight, but with HEAT Majima can smash someone’s face off the windshield!
Yakuza 0, with only two characters, decides to switch things up when it comes to how its characters fight. In previous games, a single character had a single style and that style could evolve through new abilities and proper training through masters. In Yakuza 0, both Kiryu and Majima possess three different styles that can be switched between to suit your style of play and to exploit the weaknessess of your foes.
But the combat isn’t the bread and butter of the series. That would be the mini-games!
Take a breather from the high-tension world of crime and wander around the cities of Japan. The Yakuza franchise is known for giving players dozens upon dozens of wild experiences to partake in outside of the seedy world of Yakuza crime and fist fighting, and Yakuza Zero is the most jam-packed experience yet. Karaoke! Disco dancing! Mahjong! Retro SEGA arcade games! Casino gambling! Golf! Baseball! Phone sex! Slot car racing! Fishing! Crane games! Bowling! The list goes on! And on! AND ON!
Yakuza fans will definitely enjoy Yakuza 0 more than someone fresh to the franchise, but that doesn’t mean a newbie won’t have fun and what better way to enter the franchise than with Yakuza 0, especially with more Yakuza coming down the pipeline to the Playstation 4. (Yakuza Kiwami, a PS4 exclusive remake of the original Yakuza 1 coming this Summer 2017 and Yakuza 6, the final entry into Kiryu’s story with a brand new engine coming to the PS4 in 2018.
Yakuza 0 proves the franchise still has life and is easily one of the best and most satisfying entries of the series. Come for the story, the characters and the gameplay, but extend your trip and indulge yourself in one of the greatest period of Japan.