The most interest I’ve had in the Japanese mafia has been related to three things: Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (best in the series, fight me), Black Rain, and Kill Bill. I was inspired again by others to pick up the “prequel” to the proper series that just released on PS4, and boy am I glad I took the chance. This game has so much “style” and so many systems in play you can get lost easily, but luckily the game is more than worth getting lost in.
The fact that the game is set in 1980’s Japan doesn’t hurt in the least, and the combat seems satisfying and outrageous all at once. The first time I picked up a bicycle and beat up a bunch of hoodlums with it, capping it off by taking one of the wheels and smashing it over the head of the last punk I knew this would be a fun ride. And even the open world seems like there’s actually STUFF to do in, with an abundance of odd side stories you can engage with, or random activities like karaoke and even disco dancing (both of which have AMAZING mini-games tied to them).
The story has you playing as *spoiler alert* not one but TWO different members of the titular Yakuza, one a loyal foot soldier who gets embroiled in some shady real estate dealings and the other a disgraced member looking for a way back into the good graces of his family. The tone of the main story is deathly serious, with excellent voice acting and character models as well as being entirely in Japanese (you don’t even get an option to change the spoken dialogue, so be prepared to read subtitles a lot). To counterbalance the often serious tone of the main story, there is an absolute abundance of side stories you can engage with, and covers the absolute gamut of what you can imagine Japanese culture to be and even some things you don’t wanna imagine.
Even though each of the districts you play in is relatively tiny compared to other open world games, the density of things to do is staggering, all of which are well crafted and can have you spending countless hours mastering them. From pool to darts, karaoke to disco dancing, and even slot car racing, everything feels like it belongs in the world and isn’t shoehorned in just to fluff up the content. This became most apparent during one of my recent play sessions, when I was ready to call it a night and save my progress, I heard the siren song of a chime indicating a collectible nearby, which then lead to another 90 minutes of playtime before I ACTUALLY saved and quit. It’s that constant “carrot on a stick” the game offers that keeps me playing, and upon unlocking the real estate portion of the game I have yet another “hobby” to invest my time in along with everything else.
I haven’t talked much about the gameplay itself (aside from minigames) but it keeps an emphasis on hand to hand combat and several “styles” for each character with an upgrade tree for each of them. In most cases it’s fairly simplistic, but the more involved battles with sub-bosses and bosses will have you carefully tapping out combos and paying attention to your surroundings. (Pro tip: have a healthy supply of Staminan X or better potions on hand at all times). To be fair, there have been battles I’ve rolled through unscathed, but there are others with lowly hoodlums that have given me fits, but it’s all a testament to the game’s design that I’ve kept in on Normal difficulty and haven’t “died” yet, but I can see some of the later battles being more unforgiving if the difficulty ramp keeps progressing. It’s mostly reminiscent of classic “beat em ups” like Final Fight where the enemies stay the same, they just get more and more life.
I’d come into this game wondering if it would actually “hook” me as I’ve usually taken a break from a specific genre after finishing a long game in the same genre (Watch Dogs 2 being freshly finished right before this). It’s truly a testament to the craft and sheer abundance of things to do that I’ve already sunk in almost as much time in the first half of Yakuza 0 as I did with the entirety of Watch Dogs 2. It's not just the fact that there is so much to do, but that everything is so densely packed you're never too far from a side activity, which I definitely can't say about Watch Dogs 2 (which had an incomplete quick travel mechanic) and Mafia 3 (which had NO quick travel). This means I spend more time actually engaged with the content than driving/walking/riding to it. If you’ve seen just a few clips of this game and are intrigued, take the chance and dive right in, you won’t be disappointed.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to beat the living crap out of some more lowlifes and cap it off with a raucous night of dancing, singing and eating some ramen. Might even play some Space Harrier at the arcade or even try my luck on the UFO catcher. See you in the neon jungle.