The latest entry into a long running and respected franchise from Sega has turned back the clock and dropped players into a prequel of sorts. It’s a clever move and one that makes the experience more attractive to Yakuza virgins like myself.
That clock in question has been turned back to 1988 and you get to ‘kind of’ free roam about in Kamurocho, something of a Red Light district in Tokyo. So, its time to dust off your knuckles, slip on a sharp suit and experience some exotic Japanese culture.
Starting the game as chisel jawed Kiryu you spend a couple of chapters learning the ropes, generally annoying people with your honourable actions and wondering why nobody drives in this part of Tokyo. Kiryu has fallen foul of a murderous setup and is caught in the middle of crime family shenanigans that rival a Home and Away special.
Once the story kicks in, and there is a lot of story to get through, you will gain valuable insight as to the workings of Yakuza crime families and some of their functions. Almost too much, its in the narrative that I find myself stumble, the cutscenes are wordy and being a notorious scene skipper its not long before I’m mashing the X button to speed things along. There is no denying the quality of the narrative, as the story is deeply woven and offers plenty of twists, but keeping up with the Yakuza names and the honourable notions can be a challenge.
Between scenes the game lets you free(ish) to wander and have fun, often streets will be limited to ensure you achieve a story objective. I like this, it stops me from straying, then other times the district is wide open for you to explore, eating, drinking and brawling your way around.
The district of Kamurocho does have plenty to offer and while its not a scaled down free roaming Los Angeles or Chicago, there is enough room to move and plenty of fun things to do. From visiting Sega Arcades to play classic games like Outrun and Space Harrier, to singing bad karaoke in bars, if you can imagine local resident might do it, then its likely here to enjoy. The area is also peppered with some oddball characters, some are sub stories with friendship missions, fill the bar and something nice might happen etc. Others are story related while the majority are street corner gangs of thugs that are spoiling for a fight.
These fights are pretty straightforward in the beginning, teaching you basic combos, how to defend and make use of the environment for some incredible finishers using the Heat meter to literally explode. Fights earn you cash, fighting with style earns you much more cash and that’s the currency of the game, early on its good to spend it on new moves or techniques before splashing out on expensive Swiss Watches. Being a large chunk of the game the fights can often get tiring, you seem to be mashing the same buttons over and over to wear goons down, when clever moves are available they add some spice, but the goons manage to level up too so it still feels a little on the chore side.
Having a pocket full of cash is also a bad thing if you bump into the monstrously tall Mr.Shakedown, a twisted individual that will beat you up just to steal all your cash. Which he will unless you are skilled up enough to take him on, so if he starts up – run and find a cutscene. Mr Shakedown isn’t even a Boss and there are plenty of those, even the first bout with angry uncle Kuze a very grumpy and outwardly dastardly bad guy feels laboured, but it is sprinkled with some beautiful cutscenes of his tattooed torso.
As the story moves along you get to play a (familiar to Yakuza fans) character on another path, Majima, he opens up a whole new area Sotenbori and the game style changes with his focus on weapons and crafting. The characters swap and change every few chapters to mix things up and I’ll admit to being a way off the finish line, because the mini games are quite distracting and I’m enjoying poking around the districts.
Both characters bring different business games to the table too, Kiryu dabbles in Real Estate, where Majima runs Hostesses in a cabaret club. While related to the story, they are good distractions that can significantly add to the advised 80 Plus hours of playtime.
Overall, Yakuza Zer0 has a lot to offer, some of the content I have yet to even scratch and terrible Darts game aside the distractions are mostly fun, still working out how to unlock the adult cinema. Being generally averse to narrative heavy games, I’m enjoying the tale, but I feel a bit like my granny having to refer to my notes for the plot. If only the brawling combat felt a bit more crisp and effective it would be near flawless, as it stands I’ll carry on enjoying it, but may well run out of steam before the end, because there’s just so much to do.