Yakuza 0 is coming to the west, but is our westworld ready for this culture shock of a game, (in every sense of the word) told in such a foreign language. For the first non-comics game on NO SPANDEX SATURDAY, we’re going to the land of the rising sun via the PlayStation 4 to bring you some early impressions of Yakuza 0’s upcoming USA release.
Developed by: SEGA
Published by: SEGA
Platform: PlayStation 4 US
Release Date: January 24, 2017 (North America, Europe)
Players will take control of two characters: Kazuma Kiryu of the Kantō region and Goro Majima of the Kansai Region. Two men finding themselves getting involved in the terrible events, but we’ll save the big story details for the full review. Starting off as the more noble Kiryu, an orphan brought up around the world of Japanese crime, you’ll be introduced to the bright neon of the city and just plain weird stuff I imagine actually goes on in Tokyo.
In fact, chapter one and most of chapter two serve as a tutorial to the gameplay and some of the different things you’ll encounter throughout this sandbox. While there is tons to talk about, there’s no doubt the game’s biggest selling point is the almost absurd level of martial arts combat you’ll do. It’s a level of violence that speaks to people who loved The Raid. Pressing simple button combinations unleashes jaw breaking action with a level of brutality just short of God of War levels. Like any game, your mastery of martial arts badass nets you even more brutal moves through a role-playing game style of character development. It’s not some mystic ruby you collect or essence of your slaughtered enemy; in Yakuza 0, the Yen is the currency used to level up. Like any anti-hero, you’ll get that scratch by beating up thugs, thieves, and just all around shite people. Some of your skills interact with the environment around you. If you’ve built up enough of what the game refers to as “heat”, then you can do some stuff that would make Batman cringe. One instance saw my character pick up a bicycle and crush some goon who dresses like the only TV show to ever exist is Happy Days, while another had me slam a Yakuza enforcer’s head in a car door.
You’ll have different styles of combat which your character learns by just watching other people do it. That’s a strange premise, one best utilized for the weirdness of Japanese storytelling. After all, can you really learn to swim just by watching YouTube? You’ll start out in regular “Brawler Style” which is fancy for –guy who can sort of punch– to “Rush style” which will see you rely on quickness over power while “Beast Style” turns you into an awkwardly moving tank of fury. When you switch characters from Kiryu to Majima, the Japanese cyclops has his own unique combat skill sets that he learns in the same manner. Though there isn’t anything very martial arts feeling about it, there’s a different satisfaction from taking on a group of enforcers while swinging an aluminum softball bat like it was a katana.
Getting bloody knuckles isn’t the only thing the Yakuza 0 has you doing. There’s ton’s of mini-games you’ll uncover as you meet increasingly strange inhabitants of 1980’s Japan. Several of these activities will see Kiryu manage real estate holdings, play classic Sega games in an arcade, dance in clubs, and stereotypically do bombastic karaoke. Majima has his own mini-games such as allowing players to run a club and strategize groups of foot soldiers to collect resources used in the game’s item crafting system. I’ll show you one thing that was truly a WTF moment for me and it involves the innocent game of bowling.
So yeah…a girl with a fetish for bowlers. You might not be shocked to find that isn’t the strangest person you’ll come across in this semi-open world. Grown men in diapers, elder Japanese mob bosses with giant back tattoos, a man who dresses like a business clown; you’ll see all this and much more. Thankfully, the game also has female characters who teach you a thing or two about how to fight.
Yakuza 0 boasts an astounding amount of content you can play through. I myself have only been able to spend about 12hrs with the game and I’m only up to chapter seven. There’s a lot to this game, but much of the time I’ve spent was on side missions. Some of which Yakuza won’t let you progress through the main story until you get around to completing them. Mechanically, Yakuza 0 looks incredible but does things that feel archaic. The save system is a bit annoying since you can only save your progress at phone booths located sparingly around the city.
This is a weird game. While you could draw comparisons to feeling like Grand Theft Auto in a country with more gun control law; there’s a distinct style to Yakuza 0. Fundamentally, there aren’t many problems that can be solved by martial arts especially when guns are involved. So in a way, it’s smart to embellish cultural stereotypes here. If you’re a fan of Manga, Anime, and Japanese cinema; you’re the niche this is speaking to. As Anime Expo’s 100k+ attendance has shown there are a lot of you out there. If you’re an American gaijin, you might be turned off by the lack of regionalization as the slow moving subtitle text jars you at times.
We’ve only given you a sliver of what the full game is and thus far it’s definitely got the makings of a spaghetti western told through the lens of a Japanese mob movie. So far, it’s been right up my alley.