That stunned me. I had the impression the Yakuza games were sort of “Japanese GTA,” open world games about criminals where you can do whatever you want. It turns out this is a widespread misconception.
After reading this explanation of Yakuza 0 as a story-driven game with heroic characters and fun side content, set in small districts rather than the open world I imagined, I talked to a friend who had played the games to hear his thoughts on them, and then I bought a copy of Yakuza 0.
I finished Yakuza 0 this past weekend, after about 102 hours of gameplay. It was incredible.
While I’ll admit it’s on the edge of the “RPG” definition, I support the argument for calling it a JRPG. You get into random battles (although there are ways to avoid them), battling gives you yen that you can use to buy things or to upgrade your stats and learn new skills, you can get gear and accessories to equip, and yes, it’s a huge story-driven game.
The main story was intense and serious, with emotional scenes as well as moments that were just awesome. I really got to love the characters and their development, especially the main characters.
Yakuza 0 follows two protagonists, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. After two chapters with one character, you’ll switch to the other, and the writing did a great job of ending one character’s section in such a way that I wanted to get back to him immediately, only for the other character’s story to pull me in just as much.
Both of these characters gets mixed up in a tangled web of yakuza politics: Kiryu when he is falsely accused of murder and leaves the yakuza to learn the truth, and Majima when he’s given a job that proves to be much more complicated than he thought.
Alongside the main story, there are also numerous side quests, called substories. These are often lighter in tone, and they ranged from heartwarming to hilarious (or sometimes both at the same time). Some made me laugh out loud, and seeking out these substories was sometimes more fun than the main story.
There are also mini-games. Lots of mini-games. Even if you don’t like all of them, you’re bound to find some side activity you enjoy. Fishing, slot car racing, disco rhythm games, pool, a few Sega arcade games… these are only some of the mini-games in Yakuza 0.
Finally, each character has an extensive side activity with its own characters and stories. Majima’s in particular felt like it could be a small management game on its own. And many characters you help through substories can be recruited to help out, which I thought was a nice touch.
At the end, a couple story beats felt slightly off due to obvious story setup for the rest of the series (since it’s a prequel), but that’s a small criticism of a fantastic game.
Far from my earlier misconceptions about the series, Yakuza 0 is exactly the sort of game I love. I’m definitely going to continue playing this series, and if you enjoy story-driven games or games with fun side content, I recommend you give Yakuza 0 a try.
Yakuza 0 is now on Steam as well.
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