Yakuza 0 was the definitive Yakuza experience. It had everything I loved about the series and then some. The cultural touches, the wackiness and the over-the-top violence was all there with a fresh coat of current generation paint. I took a six year hiatus after finish Yakuza 4. I still loved the series but I always felt it was losing a bit of its identity the further it marched forward in the timeline. Yakuza, to me, was and will always be a late 80s to early 90s series. This prequel was right up my alley then.
Tackling a prequel isn’t easy. How can you tack on a meaningful story when you already know the major outcomes? How can you introduce characters that were never referenced before? It turns out there’s a lot to mine and flesh out in the Yakuza series because this was one hell of a drama.
Kiryu Kazama, Goro Majima, Akira Nishikiyama and many others would go onto become bigger players in subsequent games but they all got their start somewhere. There was a time when Nishikiyama and Kiryu were oath brothers and actually loved one another. Kiryu was just an up and coming yakuza member doing small time jobs like debt collections. Nishikiyama was still aspiring for bigger and better things and Goro Majima wasn’t as wacky as he eventually became yet.
The game has its gripping crime drama but it also shares the story of Japan in the late 1980s. Side stories offered insight into various areas including the temperature of the people and taxes, the weird nature of telephone clubs, the influx of big money, and some citizen’s love of American culture. Of course, they are side stories and thus you can ignore the bulk of it but they add a lot of flavor and texture to what makes this franchise great. It’s not unusual to find myself racing slot cars for hours and then find myself running away from murderous yakuza types.
Coming from Yakuza 4 and its four characters down to just two in Yakuza 0 may seem like a downgrade at first glance but I found the focus on two of the series’ mainstays gave the story strong direction. Four characters also offered four different playstyles giving each character slightly different spins on how to dish out brutal punishment. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they shoved four playstyles into Kiryu and Goro giving a total of eight distinct playstyles to toy around with. They’re all viable options for the random throwdowns on the mean streets of Tokyo or Osaka but every so often, it behooved me to switch to a specific style — especially important against the likes of Mr. Shakedown.
Mr. Shakedown? Giant men who roam the streets of Tokyo or Osaka looking for Kiryu or Goro to beat up and steal money from. I wish these giants could be seen shaking down other NPCs. These men were the game’s trickiest opponents. They had the most health and hit the hardest. I eventually discovered It was primarily a test of patience. If I was too bold or too greedy, I was in a world of hurt but since money was so easy to come by, losing to Mr. Shakedown wasn’t the end of the world.
I love the ridiculous side content of this game. They varied in size and scope but they all fed into the atmosphere of the game. Some of it taught life lessons that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. Others were long drawn out games within a game where I’m managing a hostess club or real estate development firm. A lot of it though, were genuinely funny.
I was introduced to host and hostess clubs through this series. I gleaned more and more nuggets of Japanese culture in subsequent games but it’s been a while since I learned something significant. In Yakuza 0, I was introduced to telephone clubs and the precarious dating situations that they present. Some of it is still relevant today and online dating scene.
Yakuza 0 is at its best when it’s imparting knowledge, makes me laugh, fills me with suspense, and entertains me with hard hitting action and drama. This prequel fills in the back story of many of the series characters and lays the groundwork for things to come. At the same time, they’ve opened up the idea of getting into the story of Shintaro Kazama and Masaru Sera and how they built their legacies. I also feel they ended Yakuza 0 with one of the sweetest endings in games let alone the series.
It’s been days since I wrapped up Yakuza 0. It took me a lot longer than I it would but that was because I was delving deeper and deeper into what this game had to offer. I still have a lot of side stories to complete but Nier: Automata was calling and I had to go. However, there were moments when I considered revisiting Kamurocho. I should wait though: the Yakuza: Kiwami is just around the corner.
I loved it