Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Luna, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/20/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Yakuza 0 is the seventh game in the Yakuza series to be released in North America, but as the title suggests, it’s actually the first game chronologically, taking place nearly 20 years prior to the events of the first Yakuza game. It was the first game in the series to release the PlayStation 4, and according to US Gamer, it’s been attributed to the growing success of the series in the West, Yakuza having been a fairly obscure series outside of Japan prior to the release of Zero.
The gameplay is split between two protagonists, Kazuma Kiryu in Kamurocho, Tokyo and Goro Majima in Sotenbori, Osaka, but these two protagonists are caught up in two threads of the same larger event. The Dojima Family, a subsidiary of the mighty Tojo Clan yakuza group, has been gobbling up land in Kamurocho as part of a massive real estate revitalization project, but they found a kink in their plans – a plot of land called the Empty Lot whose owner can’t be located. Without this tiny sliver of land, their plans are kaput and the billions of yen they’ve already sunk into the project wasted. Thus two seemingly unconnected events in two seemingly unconnected cities – Kiryu’s being framed for a murder he didn’t commit in Kamurocho and Majima’s being ordered to perform a hit job on one Makoto Makimura – turn into pieces of a massive conspiracy with the potential to tear the Tojo Clan apart from the inside.
While I own the entire series (at least what’s been released in the West), the only Yakuza game I’d played before 0 was Kiwami, the PS4 remake of the PS2 original game. With that background in mind, the first thing that jumped out to me here was how out of character Majima was acting. Well, it turns out that before he was a batshit crazy lunatic, Goro Majima was a pretty calm and collected guy, and this game shows you what made him the lovable psychopath we all know and love. Kiryu, on the other hand, was the same stoic hero-yet-in-organized-crime protagonist I had come to love in Kiwami, and it was great getting to see him as a young man and the bond that he and Nishikiyama shared before the events of the first game. Prequels can be really hit or miss, and I usually end up thinking they fall on the “miss” side of that, but Yakuza 0 is absolutely an exception; this is probably the most brilliantly executed prequel I’ve ever seen.
Another thing to note about Yakuza 0 is that it’s long as hell. I spent probably three times as long on 0 as I did on Kiwami with my final playtime clocking in at 102 hours. Granted, a LOT of that was mindlessly grinding in minigames I’ll explain in a moment, but it’s just a long game all around; the consensus among my gaming Twitter friends is pretty unanimous that this is the longest game in the series up until Like a Dragon, and if How Long to Beat is to be believed, a completionist run of 0 is still longer. Either way, buckle up and get ready to spend a few weeks on this game. Keeping in mind that I’m a teacher and played this during summer break, I spent ten days on this game, and that’s spending about ten hours per day gaming on average. A solid half of that time was spent on two totally optional storylines – Kiryu’s Real Estate Royale in Kamurocho and Majima’s Cabaret Club Czar in Sotenbori. Not only are both a lot of fun with super interesting stories, but they’re FANTASTIC ways to grind a lot of money really quickly; with Kiryu, I ended up bringing in well over a billion yen every ten minutes.
Yakuza 0 also has the full host of minigames you’d expect – karaoke, dancing, pocket racing, bowling, etc. You’re still swarmed repeatedly by a seemingly endless sea of enemies in the street. There’s very rarely a dull moment in Yakuza 0; despite spending over 100 hours on the game, I was never bored, and I never found myself thinking “Man, I’m so ready for this game to be over.” Sotenbori and Kamurocho are both rich albeit not particularly large areas to explore and are filled to the brim with things to do. There are dozens of little side stories, there are restaurants to try, weapons to collect, fighting abilities to unlock, and completionist tasks to complete.
The game isn’t just stellar at a narrative level; it’s brilliantly made on a technical level as well. Admittedly, I played using the PS5’s backward compatibility, so your exact mileage may vary a bit if you’re using a PS4 or PS4 Pro, but as far as I could tell, the frame rate was a flawless 60 fps. From what I can tell online, it runs at 1080p regardless of what Playstation you’re using, but the amount of detail in that world is amazing. You can see the fibers on Kiryu’s jacket, the lines in Kuze’s face, the tear’s on Makoto’s cheeks; if this is what a game released on Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 looks like, I can’t wait to see what a Yakuza game built specifically for Playstation 5’s hardware generation looks like. The voice acting as well is incredible although that’s pretty par for the course with Yakuza (excluding the Western releases of the two PS2 titles, that is). Truly the only word to describe Yakuza 0 that even begins to do it justice is “cinematic.” This is a game that you don’t just play; this is a game that you truly experience. It’s definitely got me itching to dig deeper into the series.
Yakuza 0 is a masterpiece. The fighting is fluid and fun, the sound design is rich and immersive, the visuals are astoundingly detailed, the story is deep and engrossing, and the world feels alive and lived in. There are very few things I can find in this game that I would improve. Enemies will stun-lock you on occasion. It can be a little annoying having to run from one end of the city to the other and back. Inventory space can feel limited. That’s really about the best I can do when it comes to thinking of complaints; they’re all extremely minor, petty things like that. This is an S-tier action game, an S-tier story, and an S-tier technical showcase of the Playstation 4. Regardless of if you’re playing on Playstation, Xbox, Windows, or (gag) Luna, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you pass on Yakuza 0.