The Yakuza series has always played by its own rules, excelling at keeping things weird. The open-world crime saga took a cue from Shenmue by setting up a rich slice of Japanese culture and setting you free to run around with such a dizzying array of distractions and side quests, that you could hardly be blamed for never getting around to finish the main storyline. Prequel Yakuza 0 jams even more oddities to see and do. Intent on giving you the feel and mindset of a late-80s Japanese mobster, the game sets up a world you can get happily lost in.
Games: Yakuza 0
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed)
Release Date: January 24
A meandering, self-paced tutorial acclimates you to the sights and sounds of 1988 Tokyo. After learning the rudiments of combat by taking down some street punks, you hook up with a fellow gangster on the rise who escorts you around town, give you advice, grab some food, get wasted and sing karaoke. The nightlong bro’s night subtly immerses you into the culture of the setting in a way a cut scene prologue could never touch. You learn that the two of you were raised as brothers by a kingpin of a powerful family, but have been brought up as outcasts, an arm’s length from the wealth and glory of “made” men. That indignity has landed chips on both your shoulders, as you seek to prove your worth and climb the underworld ranks.
Early on, the perspective starts shifting back and forth between the two main protagonists, allowing you to take over the city from two different angles. Intriguing plot lines come along from every corner, with ample adventures discoverable by breaking up fights, chatting up strangers and immersing yourself in the nightlife scene. As both characters, you’re out to establish and maintain your image as a formidable force. You show power by racking up cash, taking over disputed territories and establishing your reputation with the ladies as a big, powerful spender, turning the heads of the big bosses.
While you are pretty much set free at the outset to do whatever you like, the game pulls you toward certain activities by making them more rewarding. It’s almost always a good idea, for instance, to toss a beatdown at anyone you’re able to fight, because stylish combo and devastating takedowns net you immediate cash you can turn around and infuse into an upgrade system that ups your capabilities and unlocks more pathways to success. While the design amounts to grinding, developers made the system into a fun pastime rather than a chore by allowing you to choose your own branching upgrades as you go along. You shape your characters how you see fit, making you feel as though you have a hand in telling the story.
Even if you’ve found previous Yakuza games tedious and dull, the prequel is worth a look for the way it fulfills the promise that some of the previous games lacked. Unburdened by miserable loading times or lacking visuals from the PS3 era, Sega has finally smoothed out the rough patches in its exploration-heavy gangland sim. While the other games had plenty of richness to appreciate for those who had the patience, the action and forward momentum in Yakuza 0‘s storytelling manages to keep things moving even when you’ve spent an entire night just messing around in downtown Tokyo. Like the bold ambition of its characters, Yakuza 0 makes a daring play at rising to the top.
Yakuza 0 Reviews Around The Web:
“Little things like the marbling on a table, the cracks on a street, the glow of a lightbulb look so much better on the newer hardware.” –PlayStation LifeStyle
“The alluring lights of Japan’s red light districts look as beautiful as ever.” –DualShockers
“The combat system is fluid and easy to learn.” –Sega Nerds
Yakuza 0 Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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