In Yakuza 0, you’re thrown into 1980s Japan playing, well, a Yakuza — a member of an organised crime syndicate in Japan - or in this case, two of them.
Through the game’s 17-odd chapters, you’ll alternate between Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, across the locales of Kamurocho and Sotenbori — two fictional districts in Tokyo and Osaka respectively.
As we discussed in our preview, don’t let the open-world moniker fool you. Yakuza 0 isn’t close to GTA, or Ubisoft’s many attempts at open-world glory.
Instead, you’ll find yourself traversing well-worn streets and crammed alleys, peppered with side-quests. Open-world aficionados might be unhappy that Yakuza 0 doesn’t feature waypoints for fast travel. Luckily, because of the small map size, and taxis to get you around the areas quickly, the action doesn't slow down. Throw in an easy to understand map, and there’s little that gets in the way of the plot.
Speaking of which,Yakuza 0 is an expertly woven tale. Brimming with intrigue, mystery, and a host of memorable characters, the game’s plot is a treat. It is a prequel to 2005's Yakuza, and you don't need to know what happened in the other games to follow the plot. What begins as a simple loan collection job turns into a murder and spirals into a bloody political intrigue that would make George RR Martin proud.
Each chapter ends on a suitable cliff-hanger that will have you starting the next one right away, just to see what happens next. The narrative pay-off is tremendous and that is where the game is strongest. It might be set in the late 80s, but Yakuza 0’s story is as contemporary as it gets. And if you find yourself lost, you can rewatch its many cut-scenes to fill you in. But if you were expecting English voice overs, you won’t be getting them. All of the voices are in Japanese, but there are English subtitles, and there is also a lot of text to read - again in English.
Before you know it, you’re immersed in an enthralling story involving themes such as redevelopment, migration, racism, and a whole lot more. Along the way you’ll rack up a high body count of knocked out foes thanks to its modern combat system.
Both Kiryu and Majima have their own styles of fighting with different reaction times and special moves. Kiryu’s styles are called Brawler, Rush, and Beast, while Majima’s are Thug, Dancer, and Slugger styles.
While they might seem different, they essentially let you combat foes in the same fashion. Using Brawler or Thug styles allow you to take out enemies the same size as you; Rush and Dancer let you stun bigger opponents before going in for a killing blow or simply thinning out swathes of gangsters as a form of crowd control.
Switching between these is crucial because you won’t have access to guns till the very end of the game. The game is set in Japan and steeped in reality, so firearms are a non-starter due to the country’s strict gun laws. This means you are left using run of the mill items like pipes and lanterns as weapons, as well as your fists.
The lack of ballistic weaponry does little to dampen the action. Pull off a successful string of attacks and you’ll gain Heat. Filling up a full bar of it allows you to trigger special moves with the tap of the triangle button. Take a hit and you lose heat.
As you progress, you can unlock abilities that let you use the environment to pummel adversaries such as banging their heads on a brick wall. These require the use of cash which can be earned by beating up one of the random gangsters that you’ll find as you walk around the street simply itching for a fight, or by taking on the game’s many side stories.
Be it protecting geeks from thugs as they show you advances in cellular technology, or learning how to invest money in other businesses, these side missions, coupled with an astonishing amount of detail and density, make Yakuza 0 feel more epic than it should be.
And that isn’t all. There’s a steady number of mini-games. From dancing and karaoke to collecting rent from tenants, there’s a lot to do outside the main story. Our favourite amongst these has to be managing a cabaret club, which could very well pass off as standalone mobile game on its own, forcing you to pay attention to your clients needs as well as the timer which dictates how much cash you earn.
We completed the game in around 30 hours, but it'll take and a whole lot more if you decide to complete everything. Our play through saw us only unlock 14 percent of all the content apart from the main mission. But Yakuza 0 also has a surprising amount of replayability. Finishing the game once unlocks Premium Adventure Mode, which lets you freely roam around side quests without having to worry about the main story - a nice touch.
Barring a few graphical inconsistencies in the way of screen tearing, there’s little that gets in the way of the proceedings. Despite the lack of PS4 Pro support, it looks astounding with a steady frame rate even in its busiest sections. Its backed up by a solid soundtrack that’s a mix of moody instrumental and rock sets that’s always on point for what’s happening on screen.
Combined with a low price of Rs. 2,499 ($60 in the US), Yakuza 0 is an easy recommendation for PS4 and PS4 Pro owners alike. A strong story, activities aplenty, and solid core combat, it’s the perfect start to gaming in 2017. Essential for PS4 owners and for the rest, a perfect reason to get one.
Rating (out of 10) 10
We played a review copy of Yakuza 0 on the PS4 Pro. The game is available for the PS4 and PS4 Pro at Rs. 2,499 in India and $60 in the US