Note: I originally wrote this article last year.
In this series, I’ll be talking about games I have finished. I’ll be discussing what I liked/disliked about them, but also what they have done in terms of communication (when relevant). The first game will be Yakuza 0, finished after 31h.
The last Yakuza games I played were Yakuza 1 & 2 on PlayStation 2 – that’s quite a long time ago. However, despite not playing the latest entries in the Ryu Ga Gotoku series, I still followed what they did. Aside from the games, I always had an interest in the Yakuza theme itself (and the Italian Mafia, but that’s another topic). While I know it’s a bit of a taboo to speak about this part of the Japanese culture, it’s still part of it. Playing Yakuza 0 rekindled my interest in the topic, I ended up buying 2 books: Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein (Some say that he never really met Yakuza and his book should be taken as fiction rather than a real story…) and a book about tattoos by Brian Ashcraft.
Yakuza 0 is like the other games in the series: over the top, touching, funny and full of action. Of course, you would also expect a game about this topic to be rather violent; indeed, a lot of the “Heat” finishers are pretty graphic (smashing heads against walls etc.). As someone who spent one week in Kabukicho (Red District of Tokyo), the resemblance between the real-life spots and their in-game depiction in Kamurocho is incredible: several spots are at the exact same place (batting center, restaurants, small alleys etc.).
Regarding the gameplay, the fights are still not fully seamless, meaning that everytime someone wants to engage you, there is a small delay; this can get slightly frustrating and you end up avoiding fights. However, this was offset by the fact that you earned money when fighting. Earning money can be done by fighting, or through completing missions and doing side activities (see below); you can then spend that hard-earned money on your skill tree and enhance one of the three fighting genres for each of your characters.
The whole story is told through the eyes of two main characters: Kazuma Kiryu (main character of the Yakuza series) who is mostly in Kamurocho and Majima Goro who is in Sotenbori in Osaka (inspired from the real Dotonbori in Osaka). While most players remember the first of the two characters as a stubborn, but fair, caring and loyal fella. We get to know Majima Goro’s past in a deeper fashion. I truly liked Majima as he is (still) unpredictable, but loveable, honest, incredibly funny and wacky. On one hand, we have Kiryu who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, on the other hand, we have Majima who tries to get back in the Tojo Clan and get out of his gold cage. The way the story is narrated chapter after chapter is pretty cool. I must admit that I didn’t expect some reveals, nor how deep the Empty Lot plot could go.
Regarding for the NPCs you meet throughout the story, some are truly forgettable and lack of charisma or anything that could make them “important” to my eyes. While some others are real… special in different ways: Nishitani (favourite one, obviously), Tachibana, and Sagawa. Speaking of the characters, one could ask how Makoto Makimura kept going after all the unfortunate events and how unlucky someone can be…
Another thing that I enjoyed: the side-missions and activities. Even though I played only 31 hours, I had time to do some of them. As much as the main story can be serious and heavy, the side-missions are mostly… wacky. From the “fake gangsters” asking Kiryu to teach them how to be a real gangster, Taxing policies, the “Michael Jackson – Thriller” mission, to the Masochist Guy: I had a good time doing it. However, some of these side-missions weren’t necessarily funny and have depicted a very sad aspect of the daily life: kids suffering from their parents’ shattered marriage, young girls having to do illegal things, or people abusing others’ kindness etc.
Regarding the activities, some of them are pure entertainment: crane machines, batting center, erotic phone calls, OutRun & Space Harrier arcades, Karaoke… Some others are a good way to earn plenty of money to spend on skills or re-investing in properties/girls (depending on the character you’re playing)! Kiryu becomes a Real Estate agent and gets to grow his business from his HQ (and recruits people following side missions). On the other hand, Majima does what he does best: manage a cabaret. Taking it from the ground and turning it into a huge business.
As you can expect from me, I’d like to speak about… the music. While I’m not usually into J-Rock or more J-Pop-ish songs; I can say that the soundtrack was cool. It is not an unforgettable piece of art, but it is enjoyable.
To summarize, I truly liked this game. The balance between its wackiness and seriousness is amazing. Yakuza 0 is still a dramatic tale, but they manage to draw you in the story in a splendid way. The YouTube channel “Writing on Games” explains this better than I’ll ever manage to:
2017 was an excellent year for the Japanese gaming industry, and Yakuza 0 contributed to that. In terms of sales numbers, unfortunately, we don’t have exact numbers. However, according to different sources, the game performed pretty well overseas.
In terms of communications, here are the most notable facts (Note: I don’t take into account social media presence & activities):