Sega’s Yakuza series has been through three generations, and if they have their way, the series may last for three more. The sad part about the series is that not many casual gamers know about it; I stumbled upon the series about six years ago by accident, and I am extremely thrilled that I did. The first release to hit our shores this year was Yakuza 0, which came out on January 24 and seemed to be overshadowed by two titles. Resident Evil VII dropped on the same week as Yakuza 0, and since I am such a big fan of Resident Evil, I pre-ordered Yakuza 0 over Resident Evil. I very rarely pre-order games, but I wanted to see how Kiryu becomes the man he is in later games, and I didn’t mind taking a peek at Kabukicho during the late ’80s. The other game that overshadowed Yakuza 0 was Horizon Zero Dawn, which came out a month later. Four weeks after surviving the Baker Mansion people were settling in on watching Aloy grow up, instead of visiting Japan. Despite being only four points behind Horizon on Metacritic, the game just didn’t seem to do well, and that saddens me. Thankfully, Sega is still releasing these titles, like Yakuza: Kiwami, but I don’t think I ever want them to end.
First let’s talk about the graphics in the game, which are phenomenal: everyone now touts graphics for reasons to purchase certain games, and this game meets that criteria in that it’s almost life-like. What’s even more amazing is the fact that it’s actually two years old; in 2015 the people of Japan got to experience it long before we did. So graphically speaking, Yakuza 0 is gorgeous to look at. I doubt that at this point in my life I will get the opportunity to visit Japan, so the Yakuza series is as close as I will get, and the developers at Sega make Kabukicko look, feel, and sound like an actual city. As I ran around looking for missions and exploring the city, I found very few reused skins for NPCs and found myself getting lost in side areas and quests when I should have been working on the main story. The cutscenes are almost lifelike, and the in-game scenes around the world look great too, even if they do drop a little in quality once you get out of the main cutscene. To bring a comparison that may be trolled, this game can stand toe to toe with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End; I’m not kidding.
Once again, the story–penned by Masayoshi Yokoyama–is amazing and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It alternates between Goro Majima and Kazuma Kiryu and how they got through their early 20s while trying to rise up in the yakuza. Kiryu’s tale sees him trying to clear his name of a murder he didn’t commit. This takes him through some of the rougher parts of the neighborhood, but luckily you are a highly skilled martial artist. Majima’s tale follows his desire to be reinstated into the yakuza after being kicked out for some poor decisions. I can’t tell you which story has the goofier quests, both men encounter some really interesting individuals as they reach for their ultimate goal. In one side quest I helped a young boy retrieve his video game that some hoodlum stole from him on release day. Another quest had me teach a dominatrix how to be dominate with some very interesting turns, and these quests have nothing to do with the main story—you just gain money and items along the way. The murder mystery, intrigue, and well-crafted dialogue really pull you into the game, and there were times when I had to pry myself away from helping citizens so that I could finally clear my name.
The controls and mechanics in the game are fun too: the developers changed the leveling up system from the earlier titles, and now you have to buy your upgrades with Yen. As you progress, you unlock and learn different fighting styles, all of them upgraded using Yen. You have to find out which fighting style matches how you play—I’ve found that Majima’s is for me, but I’m still on the fence about Kiryu’s style. Fighting goons is pretty standard: light punch, heavy punch, dodge, and grab. All of these attacks are attached to face buttons. The real fun starts when you combine light and heavy attacks and unleash powerful combos that down your enemies and make you plenty of Yen. The battles can get boring because you encounter so many people that need a beating on the street, but the developers have made some of the story battles very interesting and unique. Many of these story-related battles are intense, so be ready to sit and fight for a good half hour or more. There are more than just battles to enjoy in the game, though. You can bow, play pool, pump money into “Outrun” at the arcade, go out dancing, or even take part in karaoke. These little additions to the world are nice if you are burned out on the story or have no one to go to karaoke with.
Why more people in the States haven’t yet picked up this title is something I will never know. Thankfully the series is a smash hit in Japan; Sega is just nice enough to allow us the opportunity to purchase it. Yakuza 0 has something for everyone: great combat, in depth level-up systems, intriguing storylines, interesting characters, and weird things to do while you visit Japan. Yakuza 0 and the recently released Kiwami are great jumping-off points for those who are new to the series. Rumors of Kiwami 2 are abound, which means it’s a really great time to jump in. Newcomers will be able to play them all in order, which is pretty neat. As an old-timer, I don’t have that luxury, since I’ve played through half of the original on the PS2 and have completely beaten 3. Gamers, both casual and hard core, should give this series a chance. Trust me, you won’t regret it, and you will always clamor for more.