Yakuza 0 is my first experience with a Yakuza game, and it has honestly proven to be a difficult game for me to review. This is a 12-year-old franchise, but thankfully for a newcomer like me Yakuza 0 is a prequel. That means you can jump right in and not be lost due to a backstory built up over several games. If you’ve been on the fence with this franchise, now might be the point where you’d want to jump in.
I say might because this game isn’t for everyone. By this point, most outlets have had their reviews up for a few days and they’ve been pretty glowing. This one won’t be. I can see why there has been a positive reaction to the game; there’s a ton of content here, there’s a definite charm to the world and the characters, and the core fighting gameplay is really smooth and fun.
Despite all the game has going for it, I just can’t get into it. It has been a struggle for me. I wanted to enjoy every minute of playing it; who doesn’t want to run around a Japanese city that’s packed with people and things to do and beat up on thugs? Open world games are my favorite, and Japan is beautiful. It should be a win-win.
There’s a reason it has taken this game almost two years to come to the United States. This is made for a Japanese audience, and that’s fine. If you’re from Japan, or are interested in Japanese culture, AND like story heavy games, then there’s no doubt this would be a fantastic game for you. If you’re like me and you have no interest in Japanese culture (if it’s not New Japan Pro Wrestling then I don’t care) and/or don’t like playing cutscene heavy games, then you’re going to struggle to get into this.
My issue with Yakuza 0 is exactly the same issue I had with another highly rated Japanese game, Metal Gear Solid 4, that I could not get into. When I sit down with a controller in hand, it’s to play a video game. I’m perfectly fine with story and cutscenes, it’s a pretty big part of many of my favorite games, but I feel like I’m watching a Japanese movie (or rather reading since there is no English voice over). In small doses, that’s cool. But there’s just so much dialogue here.
And it’s not just the main story either, the “sub stories” can either be quick or lengthy. In one example, I was on my way to do a mission in the main story when I came upon a wannabe dominatrix. She wanted me to teach her how to be a better dominatrix. Sure, sounds fun and how long could that possibly take? The dialogue just kept going, and through three scene changes. Some 20 minutes later, the only thing I had done was made a few dialogue choices and a little fighting at the beginning. Sure, I could have spammed the X button repeatedly, but given how much text there was this whole ordeal would have probably still taken up 10 or so minutes without even getting to see the story to it. You can watch the whole thing below:
The story seems pretty good if you can get into it, and some of the cutscenes are fantastic (there are like four different styles). But it’s very much in the “put the controller down and sit back” type of cutscene. That’s just not for me, especially when I can’t listen and glance while doing something else. Gaming time is limited, I don’t want to spend most of it reading cutscenes just to follow the story. Sure, some of the cutscenes can be skipped, but what’s the point in that?
I’ve slowly put 15 to 20 hours into this game over a three week period. There’s a lot of stuff to like about the game. I haven’t finished the main story yet, and if I do it’s probably still going to be awhile before I get to it. There’s probably 80+ hours of content here if you get sucked into the mini games and other aspects. The brawling is a lot of fun, and boss fights are a blast as well. There are two protagonists each with three fighting styles, and you can unlock new abilities within those styles as you progress through the game and invest in yourself.
Aside from the brawling and missions, there’s a ton of side content to keep you off track. There are tons of mini games (I really enjoyed the batting cages, bowling, karaoke, and the SEGA arcade games, amongst others) and business ventures to take on. If you get into it and don’t have the issues with the game design that I do, then you are absolutely in for a crazy ride packed with tons and tons of content to keep you occupied for quite some time.
At the end of the day, this is a very niche title. It’s reviewing very well from most outlets, and again I can understand why, but I don’t think this will have mainstream appeal in the United States. Certainly not for the average gamer who has an hour or two at night to get some gaming in, because you’ll spend most of the time reading cutscenes and probably won’t stick around long enough to overcome the game’s very slow start.
I’m glad the game was brought to the United States. The Japanese have a very different culture, and in some ways it was refreshing to play this. I respect the work that went into it and how it doesn’t take itself seriously and has a lot of silly fun stuff. Let’s hope the feminists and the SJW’s don’t get their hands on this, because there’s enough material here that they’d find offensive to flood YouTube with their insufferable rants about misogyny and oppression. I mean you can manag a cabaret club where you can recruit women, level them up, and play dress up with them to say nothing of the softcore porn video parlors.
In this instance I would highly suggest that you head to YouTube and watch the first part or two of a walkthrough or let’s play and see the game in action for yourself. If this were on sale for $20 I’d feel pretty comfortable just going ahead and recommending a purchase. At full price, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re familiar with the Yakuza series (in that you know what to expect going into it) or have seen enough of the game in action to know what to expect.
It’s a niche game designed for a Japanese audience first, it’s extremely story heavy, and it does have some outdated design mechanics/elements and even graphics (it kinda feels like a remastered PS2 game). If you can get into it though, you’re likely to find a very engrossing experience with a lot to offer. If you’re like me though, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting into it as a newcomer to the series. Your mileage may vary significantly with this one.
Yakuza 0 gets a three out of four: SATISFYING.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.