By Sam Coles:
In early 2017 the folks at Sega gave me the chance to review Yakuza 0 a full month before the game was released here in the west, I wasn’t expecting much but it blew me away with the excellent storytelling and fun bone crunching action. I had a brief spell with the series in 2015 with the 4th game on the PS3, but I couldn’t get into probably because of the stupid decision of playing the 4th game first. I want to go over a retrospective over the past year with my experience with the series with the lead up to Yakuza Kiwami 2.
As I said before my first experience with Yakuza was the fourth game back in 2015, I couldn’t get into it because stupidly I decided to play the fourth game in a decade long franchise so I left it on my shelf to collect dust. In early 2017 with my position of writing for a popular online local magazine, I was given the opportunity from Sega to play and review Yakuza 0 almost a full month before its release in the west. At first I was a bit indifferent about it as it has a slow start, but I found that was intentional as the game builds tension and it starts off mundane to shirtless punch ups in the second half. It’s an excellent way of building up to the action, while they build context with the excellent voice acting from the Japanese cast.
Why I fell in love with this series was because of the main protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma is such a fantastic character he is really sympathetic and his determination to help those who he loves is wonderful. You would think a hardened gangster would not fit for a sympathetic character, but you would be wrong because most of the time he is trying to escape his blood soaked past and life as he wants to settle down. Throughout the past 13 years of the series we see him go from hardened gangster to a loving father figure to his adopted daughter Haruka.
Kiryu is not the only character that I love in this franchise; you can’t talk about Yakuza without talking about the absolute lunatic the Mad Dog of Shimano aka Goro Majima. He is mostly known for acting like an absolute weirdo who dresses as if he woke up in a locale sex shop, but in Yakuza 0 he is a fairly level headed person who has second thoughts as he is tasked with assassinating a woman so he can get back into the Yakuza. Not to say that he doesn’t gain glee for kicking seven shades of blue out of someone, I mean you just have to look at the introduction of him in the game and he still treats his customer well even when he is being attacked.
It wouldn’t be a video game without the fundamental feature of a game which is gameplay, and Yakuza does not disappoint. It is a mixture of classic brawlers such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight coupled with the open hub exploration of Shenmue. You explore fictional regions of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka; where you can eat food, drink, gamble, disco dance, partake in karaoke, play old Sega arcade games and the list goes on with how much you can do in this game, where it turns into a faffing about simulator. The crippling amount of detail they put into the regions in these games is insane, if you see something nine times out of ten you can interact with it, it’s something we don’t see with most triple A games.
The combat is where the game really shines, like J-RPGs combat is split up from the exploration as it acts like random encounters, where you are pursued then you are transported into the combat zone. This is how you do hand to hand combat with feedback and controls, it is really brutal with blood flying everywhere as you smash someone’s teeth in with an everyday household object from tables, chairs, a box of nails and my favourite bicycles where Kiyru and Majima wield them with impossible finesse. I can never get bored of the combat in these games as it is a great outlet when you have had a stressful day, plus the implausibility of some of heat moves make me laugh, such as Majima balancing a metal pole in his mouth for him to throw it in the air and kick it square into his opponents nose. In most encounters I found myself sprinting in, for me to then do a fly kick and repurposed someone’s nose cartilage as shoe polish.
The Yakuza series is something I would have not touched five years ago; however these days I’m open to try any genre as it comes with the territory. I’m glad I got the opportunity to try the series and I have a new love and it is up there with my favourite franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, The Witcher and The Elder Scrolls. If you haven’t played these games and you’re looking for emotional tales and fun gameplay I can’t recommend these games enough.