It is time for yet another new rank, this time with the Yakuza series. I usually play them by release date, but this rank is going to be very different. I am playing them by number, and substituting Yakuza 1 and Yakuza 2 with Yakuza Kiwami 1 and Yakuza Kiwami 2. In this order, I will be playing Yakuza 0, Kiwami, Kiwami 2, 3, 4, Dead Souls, 5, and 6, and will not be including Fist of the North Star or Judgment. As always, you can find the rank here. So, let’s get started.
Taking place in 1980s Japan, you play as either Kazuma Kiryu in Tokyo or Goro Majima in Osaka as they both deal with their own stories with the Yakuza. Kiryu leaves the Yakuza after being framed for a murder, but is soon sucked into a crazy world where the Yakuza clashes against others for a small plot of land. Majima is trying to get back into the Yakuza after an assassination, but ends up protecting a girl he was told to kill. Eventually, both plots intertwine, and the craziness of the plot starts to make sense.
This game is probably the hardest game to make a plot summary out of because of how long and intricate the story is. I have never quite experienced a story like this game. Each story twists and turns, and they both keep going on and on like a TV show. Even though it started to wear me down thirty hours in (did I mention this game is long?), I love the story aspects of this game. Stories in other games feel like you are trying to be the savior of humanity or something like that, but this game is about real estate. The plot twists and turns in ways I got into, and the characters are complex because they have to be with the length of the game.
The main story in this game is fun to follow, but the side content isn’t left out of this discussion. Side missions also have unique characters and small plots that are also down-to-Earth. One minute, you could be helping a guy cross the bridge because he is beaten up for wearing a varsity jacket, and the next you could be impersonating a boyfriend so that a girl can show her dad that she is trying to date. I have played many open-world games where the side content is just that, but I found my time both in the main story and in the side missions to be a blast.
The one main issue I had with the story is how it is delivered sometimes through cutscenes. There are four different types of cutscenes in this game, with two of them being okay and the other two being good. Since this is a long game, I can understand why every cutscene isn’t motion-captured, but the ones that aren’t motion-captured are all over the place. Most cutscenes are two people standing next to each other and talking, but sometimes the cutscene won’t have the characters actually speaking, and some of the cutscenes are stills. On top of that, the cutscenes involving dialogue between characters have the characters moving based on the situation, but the move sets sometimes felt out of place and got repetitive by the end. I get that this is a long game and compromises have to be made as a result, but it still is a noticeable downgrade to the storytelling.
When it comes to the gameplay, there is a lot to unpack. There are many different facets to the game, but the beauty of this game is how much detail is in each one. Every part of this game, from the combat to the mini-games, feel well fleshed out. I even talked about the side missions earlier and how they are complex too. I know that this isn’t the first game in the series, and I am guessing that all of the gameplay aspects are a culmination of what was learned from the previous entries.
Combat is by far the thing I interacted with the most during my time. Most of the missions as well as just roaming the streets of Japan or Osaka can be met with punches and kicks. Each of the two characters have three different fighting styles, with Majima’s fighting styles being much more unique and fun compared to Kiryu’s. Each have a ton of different combos and moves to learn, but mashing buttons works well too(thankfully). While you don’t kill anyone in combat, I found some of the combat cutscenes to be pretty brutal. Grabbing a guy and slamming him into the ground head-first sure looks like a killing blow, but what do I know. What is also fun about the combat is how it interacts with the environment. As you fight, you charge up a meter that allows you to do a killing blow, and the killing blow interacts with various objects in the environment, like a wall or a car door. Combat in this game is a blast, and mastering the different fighting techniques shows just how well built it is.
While the combat in this game is strong, it isn’t without flaws. The biggest issue I had when kicking the crap out of dudes is the lock-on mechanic. The lock-on in this game doesn’t feel that strong in this game, as for I found myself plenty of times attacking the air behind the enemy I locked onto instead of the enemy. I never felt completely attached to the enemy I was supposed to be attached to. Speaking of enemies, both you and enemies can have weapons in this game. While the weapons are fun to use, I didn’t find myself using them often. Enemies with guns, however, are the spawn of Satan himself, as each shot knocks you down. They are few and far between, but they suck each and every time. Finally, while I think the boss fights are alright, I got pretty annoyed by the fact that I fought the same boss five times throughout the game. Despite these shortcomings, I had a lot of fun fighting dudes until they got brain damage.
The story in this game is all about real estate, so it only seems fitting that there is a business meta-game as well. A business meta-game in games that aren’t about business (kind of like the earlier Assassin’s Creed games) is my jam. Going around Kamurocho as Kiryu buying up properties and managing them as a good way to make money is a blast in this game, and I am surprised by how much is offered. I need managers and security to run my districts, and each person has a skill level to them. I also need advisers for upgrading my business, and each one has levels and specialties to them as well. The only thing I wish was different was being able to collect revenue outside of your office, but I love Kiryu’s business meta-game.
What I am not so in love with is Majima’s business, however. While Kiryu’s business is about buying up business and letting the profits run its course while doing other things, Majima’s business is around nightclubs. To make money, you have to actually play a mini-game that involves managing customers at a night club. It is a very hands-on business meta-game, which isn’t what I am looking for. On top of that, I am not a huge fan of the mini-game itself, as for I think it’s too long and it doesn’t quite make as much money as it should.
While the two open-world maps of this game are tiny compared to others, they are packed with shops and activities. Mini-games like bowling, bikini catfights, billiards, and other normal activities can be found throughout both maps, and all are a lot of fun to do. One interesting mini-game to note is karaoke, which transforms the background halfway through to a rock concert. There are also side missions, shops, restaurants, collectibles, and more to do, and all of it is logged into a completion list (which is also my jam), offering a nearly bottomless pit of content (but in a good way).
When the end is finally reached, some options open up. The game offers the ability to go back into the city right where you left off and complete tasks, or you can start a new game plus, starting the story over but keeping player upgrades and a few other things. Also, there are some mini-games to play like poker outside of the game, and they can be played locally and online. Finally, there are some challenge rooms to complete known as climax battles. Yakuza has a near-infinite amount of things to do, and I am surprised by how much I enjoyed each part of it.
There is so much more to talk about, but I think I got my point across: Yakuza Zero is a great game and I think a great entry point into the series. The amount of gameplay and detail in this game is staggering, and the story is a blast to go through. The few issues I have don’t come close to the positives I have with this game, and I can’t wait to jump into the next game. This game stands at number one as of now (obviously), and I predict it will stay high up on the list by the end.