Yakuza 0 Review - Bubble Economy at its Finest

Going into Yakuza 0, I was unsure of what to expect. My friends and the internet were all I had to get an idea of what I was getting myself into since I had never touched the franchise. I heard everything from "a masterpiece in crime culture" to a "Japanese Grand Theft Auto". After spending dozens of hours discovering some of Japan's darkest secrets, I can tell you that Yakuza 0 is its very own beast. Its refreshing setting, wonderful narrative and thrilling combat system make it one of the best titles I've played this year.

If you happen to a newbie to the series, you're in luck: Yakuza 0 is the perfect entry point. Not only has it been critically acclaimed since release, but it is a prequel to the first game. Set in a fictionalized 1980's version of Tokyo and Okada, it happens to collide with some of Japan's most prosperous days. Bubble economy was at its prime. Everyone was hiring. As a college graduate, you could almost immediately afford a condo and a vehicle. The developers clearly took advantage of the setting, creating a neon filled town with an incredibly bright nightlife that looks gorgeous. It's important to point out that the maps are small open worlds and not the gigantic sandboxes you'll find in recent releases such as Watch Dogs 2 and The Division. That said, Yakuza's playground one-ups them in terms of detail and density. They gloriously capture a specific time and place in equally glorious 60 FPS. The only reminder that this game was simultaneously developed for the PS3 are the slightly stiff character animations, alongside a restricted camera view.

When it comes down to it, a powerful and thrilling narrative is Yakuza 0's heart and soul. The plot finds Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, two of the series' most important characters, caught up in a land war amongst rival clans. What ensues is a story packed with twists and turns, character development and impactful dialogue. It systematically checks every box I search for in a crime plot: betrayal, blackmail, revenge, spine-chilling mob bosses, and explosions. The game's tale is very much worth telling, and it seems Sega understands that. Similarly to the Metal Gear Solid and Max Payne franchises, Yakuza isn't afraid to pause the action in order to deliver lengthy cutscenes that further advance the plot. From beginning to end, the storyline kept me glued to the controller.

One of my favorite things about Yakuza 0 is undoubtedly the way it balances its violent and serious drama roots with a splash of Japanese humor and goofiness. At first glance, combat may seem like a simple beat em up, but it's actually a surprisingly deep MMA inspired system that allows you to level up, switch fighting styles, unlock moves, and earn money. The majority of enemy encounters operate in a JRPG-style: thugs randomly run into you on the streets and it's on. The battles are not as fluent as the ones found in the Arkham series, but they're still extremely brutal and fun.

The same can be said for the almost 100 side-quests. Most of them are straightforward fetch quests, but it's the ridiculous scenarios you are put in that makes them worth your while. I especially enjoyed running a ramen noodle stand and doing Japenese stand up (manzai comedy). Every side story is full of charm and it somehow adds a new level of depth to the world and setting. If none of the previously mentioned activities sound like a blast, you can play classic SEGA games at the local arcade or hit the karaoke to sing some of the weirdest, yet most beautiful, songs you will every hear. In a few words, Yakuza 0 has meaningful content pouring out of its case.

Verdict: Yakuza 0 will please both newcomers and long-time supporters. Its wonderful setting, addictive narrative, and fun combat make up for a winning formula.

The Good
- Unique, Gorgeous Setting
- Dense Open World Map
- Fantastic Narrative
- MMA inspired combat
- Tons of Content

The Bad
- Stiff Animations
- Restricted Camera

Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Format: PS4 (reviewed), PS3
A review copy was provided by SEGA

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