Review: Yakuza 0 (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3 (JP)

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title:
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (23.84 GB)
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Western Yakuza fans new and old will now be able to experience the beginnings of Kiryu Kazuma and Majima Gorō in the latest game to be localized in English. Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the first Yakuza that was originally released on the PS2 in 2006, and lets you play as both Kiryu and Majima to experience their beginnings in the Tojo Clan.

Gameplay:
It always amazes me, when I play a new Yakuza game, how many new things that the developers at SEGA can cram into one of these games – and Yakuza 0 is no exception. After playing Yakuza 5, with all of its content, five different playable characters, and spanning five different cities, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this one.

The story is set in 1980’s Tokyo, and revolves around a battle over property in Kamurocho, where the Tojo clan and a shadowy group are trying to acquire an empty lot in the middle of a small market. It just happens that this market, and the empty lot, are in the exact location of the Millennium Tower that appears in the other titles.

Kiryu has been doing side work for a loan shark to collect some of the overdue loans. However, events happen that affect Kiryu personally, and that’s when things go awry, sending him on a chase to clear his name. Then, after several chapters, you’re introduced to Gorō Majima and you take control of him for his part of the story. From there, the game alternates between each character’s story.

Although each of the main Yakuza titles are sort of centered around the fictional area of Kamurocho, a red light district in Tokyo, each adds so many new things and new forms of gameplay to each release. Right off the bat, as you’re first introduced to a very young Kiryu, from the very first fight you can see the major overhaul that has gone into the fighting engine.

The first major difference is that, instead of getting money and/or items after defeating a group of enemies, you now gain money with each time you strike an enemy. The way that earning money is portrayed is absolutely hilarious. With each strike of an enemy, cash – bills and coins – fly everywhere out of the enemy’s clothes.

… similar to some of the fighting styles of the different characters in the series …
The whole game is pretty much centered around money and you sure do get a lot of it compared to the other titles. In fact, the gaining of experience points has now been combined with money, so you use money for both buying things and upgrading Kiryu and Majima’s abilities.

The second major difference is the way Kiryu fights. In prior games, starting with Yakuza 4, you were able to play other specific characters from the Yakuza universe. However, now in Yakuza 0, Kiryu himself gets three different fighting styles that are switchable at any time during a battle.

The different fighting styles that Kiryu uses are sort of similar to some of the fighting styles of the different characters in the series. The three fighting styles that Kiryu has are: Brawler, Rush, and Beast. The Brawler style is Kiryu’s typical normal-paced fighting style focused on using weapons. The Rush style is a fast-paced fighting style that utilizes dodging and super fast punches. While the Beast style is a tank-like fighting style that allows you to absorb hits and use heavy objects as weapons.

The Rush and Beast fighting styles remind me a lot of Akiyama’s fast-paced combat from Yakuza 4, Yakuza 5, and Dead Souls, without the kicks as well as Saejima’s tank-like abilities, brutal punches, and the ability to use scooters and other large objects as weapons from Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5.

For the second time in the franchise, you get to play as Majima who has three fighting styles as well. Majima’s styles are Thug, Slugger, and Breaker. The Thug fighting style seems to emphasize the sadistic and crazy tendencies that Majima is known for. I haven’t unlocked the other two but from the official trailer, it seems that one is focused on baseball bats and the other on acrobatic type moves using kicks.

… the addition of Mr. Shakedown …
The third biggest component to the fighting is the new Shakedown Artist aspect that’s been added. The Mr. Shakedown component of the game, in my opinion, is probably the biggest change that’s really quite revolutionary for the series.

In the previous games, you’d have your regular battles and then the bosses that would only be encountered in specific parts of each chapter. However, the regular battles weren’t very tough or very productive. After you leveled enough and got enough money, the low-level enemy battles would become more of a nuisance than something you’d want to keep experiencing.

In fact, there was always a certain item that you could wear that would lessen or nullify the chances of random thug battles. All of this has changed with the addition of Mr. Shakedown.

Around Chapter Two, or maybe the end of Chapter One, you will happen upon a gigantic man just standing there on the street. As you pass him, he’ll stop you and finally tell you that you need to give him all of your money.

The very first fight with him is just brutal. You can’t block Mr. Shakedown’s attacks, and when he lands a punch on you it takes nearly half of your life bar. After two or three of his punches, it’s over. He won’t kill you, but if you get knocked out, he will take all of your money.

… sneak up on him and siphon some of the money he’s carrying …
The Mr. Shakedown component of the game adds almost a Demon’s Souls-like aspect to the gameplay. If you get robbed by Mr. Shakedown and you want your money back, you’ll have to find him and beat him. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself, however.

There’s an item you can buy that’s a hidden wallet, and if you’ve got it equipped, Mr. Shakedown won’t take nearly all of your money, but he will take at least half of it. Also, later in the game, you’ll have the option to make it easier to find Mr. Shakedown, by making him spawn more often where he’s sleeping in the park.

When you find Mr. Shakedown sleeping on a park bench or on the side of the road, you can sneak up on him and siphon some of the money he’s carrying. When siphoning the money, you have to be ready to get away fast because he’ll start to wake up, which will be signaled by an exclamation point above his head. If you successfully get away before a double exclamation point appears, he’ll doze off again and you’ll be able to come back and keep taking money.

Being robbed by Mr. Shakedown sucks, but the bright side is that he can be beaten, and if you do manage to beat him, you get to take all of his money. After the first encounter with him, he’ll be walking around in random parts of the city at random times or sleeping in parks as mentioned previously.

… randomly come upon groups of enemies beating up a victim …
You’ll be able to see him from quite a distance, because he’s almost double the height of the regular people milling around. Also, he’ll have a huge dollar figure floating above his head that will tell you how much cash he’s got on him. One time I beat him and he was carrying 280,500,000 Yen! The whole Mr. Shakedown component had my heart pounding during each fight and it was truly agonizing to lose to him, but on the other hand, it is exhilarating to beat him and strike a small fortune.

There are a good number of other changes to the battle system, but probably the only other thing worth mentioning briefly is that, unlike Yakuza 5, low-level enemies don’t call friends to help them out and they also no longer flee battles.

Also, unfortunately, acquiring weapons goes back to how it was done in the games previous to Yakuza 5. You can no longer add weapons picked up in battles to your inventory. You’ll also now randomly come upon groups of enemies beating up a victim or harassing a lady. You can choose to intervene and if you save the person and beat up you’ll be rewarded, sometimes greatly.

The other major thing that’s been changed is that instead of collecting locker keys, as you did in almost every other game in the series, you now collect telephone cards. Each telephone card is a set of three cards of different porn stars.

… compete in dance battles with an NPC character …
As you complete the collections, you will then take and show them to a shady man who’s located around Pink Street and he will reward you with five million Yen to let him take a look at the sets. Also, after getting one of the cards, you can go to a new sexy video viewing business and watch a short clip of the different ladies.

Probably the last two major additions to the game that are totally new for the series are the Disco dancing game and the Slot Car Racing. There are now Disco clubs where Kiryu can go to dance and also do dance battles similar to the dance battles in Yakuza 5. These are quite tougher since it’s not just hitting the right button as you see the button icon flash across the screen.

This dancing minigame is portrayed in a grid. When you see the button icon appear on a square in the grid, you have to quickly move the cursor to that square and hit the corresponding button just at the right time. As you play you will also be able to compete in dance battles with an NPC character and it’s extremely challenging.

Mini racing games aren’t entirely new to the series, as there’s been Chicken Racing in Yakuza 5 and Turtle Racing in Yakuza Kenzan!, but it’s the first time we’ve been able to play Slot Cars. Scattered throughout the city are special prize vending machines. The price to play the vending machines varies from ten thousand to one million Yen, and you’ll get various prizes each time you play. Sometimes you’ll get parts for Slot Cars that allow you to tweak the various cars you acquire throughout the game.

… packs in the excessive amounts of content that Yakuza fans have come to expect …
As far as the rest of the game goes, there are tons of things to do that I can’t go into within this review, but the menu system and the side-story system have been completely overhauled. It’s kind of a shame that the save system still has the legacy PS3 save system, where you have to confirm at least twice that you want to save your game. I really wish the game saving could have been streamlined for the PS4, but it is what it is.

With all of the upgrades and additions to the game, the great story, dozens of sometimes hilarious side quests, the minigames, Yakuza 0 packs in the excessive amounts of content that Yakuza fans have come to expect.

Visuals:
Historically, the visuals in the Yakuza series have always been on the borderline of really awesome and slightly mediocre. Going back to Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4, the cutscene graphics were always very well done with detailed textures and smooth lifelike animations of the characters. Then, in the regular gameplay, the graphics were still good, but without a ton of detail in the everyday person’s faces.

Yakuza 5 came along, and we started seeing major changes in the denizens of Kamurocho and the other cities. Regular folks milling around the street now have more facial features, as well as more detail in their clothing and mannerisms.

… it’s not a barren area of the map anymore …
I’m happy to say that Yakuza 0 takes what Yakuza 5 provided in the graphics department and bumps it up a little. Kamurocho, while not doing anything mind-blowing, looks more alive than it ever has in the past. Now there are animals running around, birds flying, dogs and cats around the city, and people actually look more lifelike than ever.

In past games, you’d always hear some bird calls as you walked around in the daytime, but there was never any life except for the people. Now, when you hear caws of crows, you can see them pecking around on garbage cans and piles of garbage bags. When you approach the birds, they fly away. I realize that this is nothing new for other games, but for the Yakuza series, it kind of brings it more into line with other games I’ve played.

The people of Kamurocho now do a lot more than just walk around in circles and in pre-defined paths. Now you can see people waving down taxi cabs, pulling carts up and down the street, handing out pocket tissue packets, purchasing drinks from vending machines, and workers loading crates onto flatbed trucks. When you go to the seedy Hotel District, it’s not a barren area of the map anymore, now actual hookers come and solicit you and get in your face to talk to you.

All of this probably doesn’t sound very extraordinary to first-timers to the series, but if you’re a fan of these games, Yakuza 0 is going to be a treat.

… quite a bit of texture pop-in …
With all that said, the graphics weren’t without any issues. I did notice some screen tearing, particularly at nighttime. If you look up and pan the camera from left to right, the screen tears a bit, at least on my non-Pro PS4. In addition to the occasional screen tearing, there is quite a bit of texture pop-in, particularly on the piles of garbage bags that are against the various buildings.

While theses issues aren’t deal-breakers, it’s kind of disappointing seeing as this game was also released on PS3 in Japan, I’d expect it to run quite a bit better on PS4.

Audio:
Yakuza 0 has great audio and it makes excellent use of surround sound. It’s not a very scientific test, but I know a game has done well with the surround sound when my dogs get freaked out by something that happens on the back speakers.

Almost every time I play, if I have the sound turned up, some person will yell out in the back speakers to either the left or right. Almost every single time, my dogs will be tricked into thinking it’s someone out on the street outside my house and start barking or perk up. So, the game passes my surround sound test as they’ve done an excellent job of making everything sound like you’re immersed in the city.

… it’s all in Japanese with English subtitles …
The soundtrack is also very good as well. There are a few new songs on the karaoke, as well as many new songs in the Disco clubs. There’s also a lot of new music that’s now played during some of the minigames as well. As I was playing mahjong, I noticed that the music that plays when you call Riichi has also changed.

As far as the voicework goes, it’s all in Japanese with English subtitles. This is nothing new, but worth mentioning for newcomers. I don’t speak or understand Japanese, but all the voices sound great.

Online/Multiplayer:
While Yakuza 0 is primarily a single-player game, there is a local and online multiplayer component to the game. Accessed from the main menu, you can go into the Multiplayer menu to play some of the minigames on the couch as well as play different games online.

For local multiplayer, you can play with up to two people and either use two controllers or pass around a single controller for a few of the games. There are four games available to you to play locally: bowling, darts, pool, and disco.

The online component is split between actual online multiplayer and online leaderboards. For the online leaderboards, there’s a special mode called Climax Battle with four different games that you play to compete in online rankings which include Proving Grounds, Melee, Millionaire, and Ultimate. The Melee and Ultimate modes are currently locked for me, so I can’t go into them. However, I played a bit of the Proving Grounds and the Millionaire modes.

… try to defeat Mr. Shakedown and get as much money as possible …
The Proving Grounds have ten different levels, and they basically place you in a room of enemies, with different limitations placed upon your character (i.e., you must use weapons on enemies, etc.). If I were to try to compare this mode to similar modes in other games, I’d say that it’s like the Challenge of the Gods or Titans in the God of War series. Yakuza: Dead Souls had a similar endless dungeon mode, so this type of mode isn’t entirely new to the series, but it’s new nonetheless.

The Millionaire mode, which was the only other mode that I was able to try out, is a battle mode where you can try to defeat Mr. Shakedown and get as much money as possible. This mode has six different levels, and you’re basically taken into a fight with Mr. Shakedown without any health regenerative items. You’ll have to use raw skill to avoid his attacks and knock him out.

The other online component allows you to play three minigames with players online and also records your stats on the national leaderboards. The games available for Online vs. minigame play are: Mahjong, Cee Lo, and Poker. All three of these games allow for one to four players and will fill in the unfilled slots with CPU players. At the time of this review, I was not able to find anyone to play online.

Conclusion:
For longtime fans and newcomers alike, Yakuza 0 has a lot to offer. For those of you, who like me, started the series with Yakuza 3 on the PS3, it’s going to be a real treat to be able to experience this prequel to the original game, and then get to experience a completely rebuilt version of the first game, Yakuza Kawami!, on PS4 later in 2017.

While not having as many play styles as Yakuza 5, the game offers many new features to the series. It spans two cities, has many revamped minigames, and tons of side content to keep you occupied for quite a long time.

For those of you who’ve been interested in the series but have hesitated to get into one of the games, this is the perfect chance. Since Yakuza 0 is a prequel, you’ll get to meet the main characters from their beginnings. While playing the game, the hours just seem to melt away as you get pulled into side-stories and the loads of extra content available.

Even with the two graphical issues I mentioned, Yakuza 0 has been an absolute blast to play for me. I’ve spent dozens of hours doing sidequests, playing minigames, and battling Mr. Shakedown. I can’t recommend this game enough, it’s great to be back in Kamurocho.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • MJC

    I don’t have time for a game like this, but the review has me thinking about it.

    • Renegade Bastard

      Same! LOL

    • Jason Honaker

      You could always pick it up for a rainy day! I think you can pretty much run through the game if you want to. It gives you a clear path to the main story mission if you want to avoid all the extras.

  • Renegade Bastard

    Nice write-up and review, Honaker! I appreciate the good work you do here at the site, forums, and on the podcast. Much love, bro.

    • Jason Honaker

      Thanks for reading & listening 🙂 Greatly appreciated!

  • Ivan Basov

    Nice review, but soooooo many spoilers!

    • Jason Honaker

      Thanks! Had to give newcomers a little taste! There’s so much stuff in the game I didn’t even touch on 😀

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