Reviews January 20, 2017

Yakuza 0

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Reviewed By: Andre Thomas
System: PS4
Genre: Action RPG
Rated: M
Players: 1-2
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 01/24/2016
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA

I have to admit, this is my first time playing a Yakuza title. For whatever reason, I hadn’t been exposed to the franchise before being assigned to reviewing the latest instalment (in the US that is). What’s great about this is the fact that Yakuza 0 just happens to be a great starting point for newer players. Meaning, that while you should take my criticism with a grain of salt, my opinion is still holds water…

Disclosing my “newness” to the series should take the edge off of when I describe my experience with Yakuza’s game mechanics (at least for the diehard fans). Taking a step back, Yakuza 0 follows the story of a young Kazuma Kiryu – the series’ main protagonist – back in 1988. As a newly made Yakuza member eager to prove himself, he accepts a simple collection run for a local loan shark. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned and Kazuma is framed for murder. What follows is narrative full of power struggles and double crosses…at first. After a certain point, the game will switch over to Goro Majima, another prominent Yakuza character. Things get really interesting as Kazuma and Goro’s paths wind back and forth before converging.

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While I won’t go into exactly what happens, I can say that gamers are in for an insane ride. The great voice acting helps to create a serious vibe, adding an emotional pull to the otherwise campy narrative. This is a good thing because the archaic mechanics wears out their welcome over the course of this lengthy game. For one, the beat’em up styled action segments haven’t evolved well enough to live in this era; I’m sure it was great when the first games were released back on the PlayStation 2, but they don’t hold a candle to say Sleeping Dogs. To be fair, you can learn new moves and Heat Actions (special moves/maneuvers that can be used once you fill up a bar) that can lead into extended combos. Some of which are required to break an opponent’s block or to deal with a hard hitting foe. For the most part though, the fighting boils down to mashing an attack button before being prompted to “finish” the maneuver by hitting Triangle. I would have loved for more diversity within these characters’ repertoire, the lack of which made the fighting feel more like a chore.

Now, interacting with the objects around you is pretty entertaining. Just about anything can be picked up and used to bash rival Yakuza. Some offer up brutal takedowns while others feature hilarious finishers; imagine beating someone down with a bicycle until it wraps around their body.  It’s crazy how the player can utterly destroy a foe. That said, it would have been nice if your enemies injuries reflected the violent thrashings. This is especially true with some of the more annoying fights, where acute bruising would have made winning more satisfying.

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Beyond the fist fights are the fun mini-games/twists in gameplay. For instance, Kiryu, in between busting heads throughout the streets of Kamurocho, eventually gets into the real-estate business. Yup, you read that correctly. The idea is to build a portfolio of businesses that he can take collections from. A welcome change – it’s fun because it helps in building this feeling of becoming a Yakuza Boss within your own right and it provided a break from the fighting (except when you had to settle a dispute).
 
The backdrop for these characters and they’re related stories is what made the game worth completing. Both cities, Kamurocho when playing as Kiryu and Sotenbori when playing as Goro, seemed to be more alive than the actual people walking through it. Not only do they provide an interesting environment to wander about, they also came packed with so many things to do; gambling, fishing, karaoke, and a ton of other side activities help to release the heavy emotional burden that comes via the splendid storytelling. It was actually fun to manage Cabarets as Majima. Like with Kiryu, his job broke up the monotony of running around the city and punching the “honor of his adopted father” into people who’d forsaken his name.

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I can’t remember the last time a game’s story and offbeat nature won me over so much so, that I looked passed the main gameplay elements. No matter how annoying and clunky the fighting felt, the game itself remained worth playing just to see how both characters stories panned out; it felt like I was taking part in a drama filled manga. The side missions/activities were also entertaining to say the least. Bottom line, Yakuza 0 is worth checking out even if it feels a little dated!  

Gameplay: 7
Even though the story is great, the fighting is a bit archaic in design.

Graphics: 7
Yakuza 0 looks pretty good. Things improve significantly during cutscenes.

Sound:  9
The voice acting and music in the era fit perfectly with the games backdrop. At least, it was what I expected to hear while traversing a 1988 Tokyo.

Replay Value: 7
The game’s story is intriguing and the mini-games are fun. But once you’ve completed the game, there is little reason to go back (sans a barebones two player mode allowing others to enjoy some of the mini-games).

Final Score:

7.5