If you are a PlayStation gamer like I am, or just in tune with the gaming scene, then you know that some of the most popular video game franchises have come to us not from the west, but from Japan. However, not all games that make the jump to western audiences make a big splash like “Final Fantasy” or “Mario” or “Metal Gear.” One franchise in particular did not become very popular worldwide initially but soon gained a cult following: The Yakuza Series. I just finished my first playthrough of “Yakuza 0,” and I am here to tell you readers that you have to pick this game up right now. I should tell you right now is the game does not have English voice acting, so if you don’t like the idea of reading an entire game in subtitles you might want to check out now. But for those of you who want to enjoy something new and fresh, then stay.
The plot of “Yakuza 0” acts as a prequel to the entire series and is set in the year 1988 in Kamurocho and Sotenbori, two fictious districts of Tokyo and Osaka respectively. The player steps into the shoes of the games two main protagonists, Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima, who are both members of the Japanese Yakuza (hence the title). Without getting bogged down in the details, if you can bear with the slow start to the game’s story, you will quickly find yourself in for quite a ride. Part adrenalin-fueled beat-em-up-action one minute, part heart-wrenching drama the next, and part quirky comedy the next, the story of Yakuza 0 is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game in recent memory.
This brings me to the gameplay, graphics, and sound design of my review. Gameplay-wise “Yakuza 0” is part open-sandbox with all of Kamurocho and Sotenbori to for the player to explore with more than a handful of shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, and other establishments for the player to visit. Now, while the Yakuza series might not have the biggest maps for players to run around in, the game world of the Yakuza franchise feels more alive than most open-world games. But while the game is half open-world exploration, it is also half beat-em-up action with the player getting into intense fights with enemies such as rival Yakuza families, thugs, hooligans, bikers, and assassins of all kinds. This is where the gameplay truly shines with the franchise’s well-known combat system that allows for all kinds of moves with weapons for the player to use such as chairs, baseball bats, batons, knives, guns, clubs, bicycles, street signs, swords and most of the time your own two fists. I honestly never found the combat much of a chore because of how cathartic-and hilarious-it is to see two guys wailing on each other with traffic cones. For gameplay, “Yakuza 0” is a ton a fun and you’ll rarely get bored with it.
Lastly, for graphics and sound design, the game is both great and kind of meh. The Japanese voice cast all do an incredible job with the script their given, especially the voice actors of Kiryu and Majima, with moments of quiet drama to loud and emotional yelling between two characters kicking the stuffing out of each other under neon-lit streets, all accompanied by a great soundtrack which really amps up the tension of each scene. Meanwhile the graphics are where the game kind of stumbles. On one hand, the graphical capability of the PlayStation 4 shines with character models so detailed you can see the pores on characters faces. On the other hand, though, the environments of “Yakuza 0” look inconsistent with some areas looking great and others looking decidedly rough and unpolished. Its not a major issue but it can be a little annoying at times.
“Yakuza 0,” does so many things right from a great story with twists and turns, to excellent and fun gameplay, to an incredible voice cast, eye-candy art design, all with a few grievances. If you’re not sure where to jump into the Yakuza series, Yakuza 0 is the right place to get started. Have Fun!
Kelly Baker is a student at West Chester University KB819687@wcupa.edu