A tale of two fists!

Strutting through the burgeoning neon town, its bustling streets adorned with a crowd of faces reeling before my mere visage either in fear or seeking my blood. But itís nothing spending a good hour getting drunk and trying to win plushies on the toy grabber in the Arcade wonít fix. Welcome everyone, to the wacky underground world of the Yakuza series with Yakuza 0.

A prequel to the currently five main-line Yakuza game titles, Yakuza 0 - which is once again developed in-house by SEGA - begins in 1988 and follows the origins of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and fan favourite Goro Majima.

Whilst Kazumaís story may indeed be coming to an end with the upcoming Yakuza 6 on PlayStation 4, heís currently a far cry within Yakuza 0 from the Dragon of Dojima many have come to fear - and we all love. Peering down at a heavily beaten, middle aged man within a dark alley - tucked away mere yards from the busy city streets - stands a young Kazuma Kiryu, although sans his iconic suit, a wrinkle in sight, nor the million street fights yet to weigh heavily upon his soul - but that all changes now. A mere fledgling in the larger organisation, his current job as muscle for hire involves making a bruising statement on a debtor for a local loan shark.

And all seems to have gone swimmingly, but with the fisticuffs over - whilst drinking with fellow mafioso Nishiki - the nightly news in their local drinking parlor reveals a startling revelation; the man whom Kiryu just assaulted has been found dead, in the exact spot where their altercation took place. Fearing repercussions from the higher ups for his adopted Father, Kiryu seeks to leave the organisation in the hopes of revealing the truth behind the murder which seems to involve his own organisation.

Goro Majima on the other hand is already on the outs from his own clan, relegated to a club owner and treated like a dog from his seniority with the intent to buy his way back into their good graces. But as luck would have it, he has been given the opportunity to rectify his situation with just one simple job - a hit. But as Majima uncovers more about his given target, things are not quite as they seem.

The Yakuza games holds a special place in my heart, mainly due to Dreamcast classic Shenmue being one of, if not my favourite game of all time. Sadly after finishing Shenmue II in 2001 and being left to wander the gaming dark ages for many a year - left wanting upon its cliffhanger conclusion - it was Yakuza which rekindled that feeling within me once again on the PlayStation 2. And whilst the two are very different games - with the subject they attempt to emulate - they truly are brothers in arms in their fighting spirit.

The Yakuza series has undergone a slow transformation of its systems in its transition from its origins on PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3, itís clear to see that Yakuza 0 aims to be far more of a throwback, harkening to the vision and tone of the original - which is also seeing a re-release this year in the form of Yakuza Kiwami - and its successor. The visuals arenít quite up to snuff with the latest and greatest on PlayStation 4 - with the game being a port of the 2015 PlayStation 3 version which only saw a release in Japan - the story still retains its hardboiled, melodramatic trappings set within the open world gameplay of Kamurocho and Sotenbori; fictional depictions of real towns that Yakuza fans know like the back of their hands at this point. For those seeking just an engrossing, intertwining - and sometimes highly humorous - story, then Yakuza 0 caters for that in spades, setting waypoint markers from one mainline story segment to the next.

In addition, the advantages of being a prequel means Yakuza 0 is truly the perfect jumping on point for newcomers to the series, with none of the series usual backstory required; even managing to include plenty surprises for the hardened fans who know full well what becomes of these familiar faces. But Yakuza 0 and the series as a whole is so much more than the surface offerings of two highly entertaining gangster stories.

The true facet of any Yakuza game is getting lost in the world itself, and predictably Yakuza 0 is no different. Whilst the main story only touches upon small bites of whatís available in the greater whole, being able to explore the world crafted within Yakuza 0 is a sheer joy, once again feeling like real, breathing subsections of Japan as you partake in every - sometimes downright weird - thing it has to offer. Most open world games today opt for size - believing that bigger is better - padding your map with a whole litany of fetch quests and collectables for you to invest those precious hours.

Yakuza 0 though takes the exact opposite approach, your map (accessible by using the touchpad) is barren, highlighting only the attractions - be they restaurants or amusements - leaving it completely up to you on how you wish to ingrain yourself in the environment. This has the added benefit of feeling far more organic with situations merely happening before you, and in turn finding yourself dragged along for the ride. Itís a wonder the SEGA team still haven't yet ran out of ideas at this point, with 100 brand new side missions available - or side stories as they are known within the game - as we once again partake in a deluge of the weird subcultures Japan has to offer in rather brief spurts. And whilst most of the side stories may only last you 5-10 minutes, those tied to friendships quests - certain citizens you are able to befriend within each location - will last a good amount longer. The self-contained stories themselves are a joy, and will have you laughing and even surprised at their outcome, but thereís one thing that's a given - there will be fisticuffs.

From roaming street gangs, fellow Yakuza or the gigantic Mr Shakedown himself, for some reason all the shady residents of these cities are seeking your blood - youíd think the hundred bodies left in your wake would put them off, but nope - and entering combat takes you from its standard third-person exploration gameplay to the games full on combat mode. Since its inception the Yakuza games have used SEGAís Virtua Fighter combat engine - that is definitely starting to show its age at this point - and Yakuza 0 is no different as you dish out 3D beatings whilst enclosed in a small free-roaming area. Thankfully the depth of combat more than makes up for it, paired with the three unique fighting styles for each character - signified by a fast yet weak, neutral and heavy but slow style - that you can switch between on the fly with the PlayStation 4 directional pad whilst in combat.

As you punch, kick and grapple your way through opponents your Heat Gauge will rise - indicated by 3 long bars underneath your health indicator - and depending on the style you're using and the positioning of your hapless opponents, a push of Triangle will trigger a fight ending special movie that will cause the camera to trigger a cinematic mode as you sit back and what the cathartic destruction of your opponents in all its splendor.

My personal favourite style is Kazumaís Beast Mode (yellow), that turns him into a literal street gorilla, able to pick up heavy machinery akin to the Hulk and smash your foes into smush - though it is a little startling to see them still alive post-combat for a brief scene of omission after their clearly mortal wounds. The combat is brutal and at times stylish, made all the more odd with every blow you land earning you literal money from their pockets; money that is a much needed commodity within Yakuza 0.

Rather than using traditional experience points like most modern role-playing titles, Yakuza 0 bases all of its upgrades upon money - the more you earn, the more you can unlock. This is most apparent with your combat abilities, being able to unlock further Heat moves, health, damage output and small tunings that turn a basic moveset into something far richer. What you choose to upgrade will largely depend on the cash at your disposal, but what will help keep those funds piling in are the mini-games littered within Yakuza 0. Whilst old staples such as baseball, pool, darts and the classic SEGA Arcade - gotta catch all those plushies - are still readily available, Yakuza 0 adds a few more onto the list in the form of managing Real Estate with Kazuma or a Cabaret Club with Majima.

These arenít the only two new forms of meta-games within Yakuza 0 though, with you now being able to become the Ricky Bobby of Slot Car Racing - with fully customizable cars - or the world's best weapons dealer which also greatly helps in combat situations. Like every Yakuza game before it, I found myself becoming lost in what should be mere side-ventures, making me trail off away from the main story and spending hours upon hours managing my portfolio or searching for parts - Yakuza 0 once again knocks it out of the park in this aspect, and will be sure to delight fans.

Whether it's the dual intertwining story, the litany of mini-games and the new additions or the visceral feeling of smashing street punks into walls whilst enjoying the quirky side quests, the team at SEGA have once again nailed with Yakuza 0 exactly what the series is known for with another great outing and for the first time on a new generation of consoles.

But Yakuza 0 is also the perfect jumping on point for players new to the series, requiring no previous knowledge of its lore or characters and offering a game that can be partook either linearly with just the main story in mind, or truly delving into what makes these games so unique and racking up a hundred hours.

Review copy of Yakuza 0 provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    24th January 2017

  • 4 Out of 5 Stars
  • Showing its age

    More of the same

  • Great story

    Side stories

    Hilarious moments

    World on offer

Game Info

SEGA presents Yakuza 0 - PlayStation 4 Yakuza 0
Rating: 18
Release Date: 24th January
Platform/s: PlayStation 4
Developer: SEGA
Publisher/s: SEGA
(Originally released in 2015 for PlayStation 3 & PlayStation 4)

  • Yakuza (series)
  • Shenmue (series)
  • Sleeping Dogs

No, there's a lot of adult sitations, blood and gore.

The game contains no English voice over, purely Japanese with English subtitle translations.

Japan also saw the release of a free accompanying game application for the PlayStation Vita.

The two real cities Yakuza fictionalizes are Tokyo's Kabukicho and Osaka's Dotonbori.