Everyone, I need you to trust me when I say the following statement. Ready? Okay. The Yakuza series is so damn good, and deserves to be given the chance by all types of gamers. It’s a tragedy that the franchise never took off in western territories like it did in Japan, but luckily SEGA still sees promise in releasing the games outside of Japan after a long while of not releasing anything here. The time I spent with Yakuza 0 over the last several weeks has been some of my most memorable gaming experiences in recent memory. Read on for our full review of Yakuza 0.

Title: Yakuza 0

Publisher: SEGA

Developer: SEGA

Available On: PlayStation 4

Reviewed On: PlayStation 4

Release Date: January 24, 2017

Copy provided by the Publisher for the sake of this review

If you are unfamiliar with the Yakuza series in general, you’re in for a real treat. It’s an Action RPG series that is set within the fictional area of Kamurocho, Tokyo’s famous red light district. Interesting note, Kamurocho is based on Kabukichō, which is an actual entertainment district within Tokyo, and the likeness is astounding. Yakuza 0 is a great starting point for newcomers to get involved with the story and the franchise, as it is a prequel to everything that has happened in the first five games, and explains how things originally started. After you play through this release, and if you are hooked (as you should be!), Yakuza Kiwami is set to release here in North America this Summer, and that game is an actual remake of the very first Yakuza game.

From there, you can choose to play through Yakuza 2, 3, 4, and 5 if you wish. Or, you could simply wait for Yakuza 6 to release here in the beginning of 2018. One thing that is great about the mainline Yakuza games is that they always include a story summary of what has happened so far up to that point, and I imagine Yakuza 6 is not going to be any different. So you’ll be able to get caught up without having to play through every single game if you don’t want to. But every single game in this series is great, and is absolutely worth a playthrough if you have the spare time.

Yakuza 0 is set in December of 1988. You play as Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Dojima clan within the Yakuza. During the opening moments of the game, you’re on a collection run, obtaining money from a guy that hasn’t paid up to a loan shark. Something goes terribly wrong though, and the guy you’re collecting the money from winds up dead after you leave the scene, and you have no idea how or why it happened. The Yakuza family ends up pretty upset, and things ultimately get pretty ugly for Kiryu. From that moment on, the story just keeps getting better and better. There are plenty of memorable moments throughout the story that I don’t want to get into, because this game is honestly best explored and experienced by yourself without an outside influence telling you what is going to happen or even giving hints. There are plenty of plot twists thrown about, and even if they can be somewhat predictable at times, the payoff at the end of the game is absolutely worth the journey.

You also play as Goro Majima, spending time learning about his backstory as well, and he’s just as unique and likeable of a character as Kiryu is. The game will jump back and forth every two chapters between the two main characters, and will even offer up a small recap as to what happened when you rejoin each one. His scenes take place in an entirely different setting of Sotenbori, and offer up a somewhat different experience than the one you’re getting from Kiryu’s personal story. I was extremely surprised and pleased at how well Yakuza 0 handled having two main characters that you flipped back and forth between, and how expertly paced the game felt. Everything flowed together perfectly, and just worked.

Prepare and strap in for quite a lengthy journey with these two gentlemen. Especially if you take on the many, many side quests tucked away in each chapter, and spend some time partaking in the mini-games like bowling, the batting cages, pool, darts, RC car racing, karaoke, disco dancing, and arcade games. You can easily get lost in this game for upwards of 80 hours if you try to do everything and take your time exploring the city streets. If you just focus on the main story missions and don’t particularly enjoy doing much of anything else though, you’ll probably get anywhere from 25 to 30 hours out of Yakuza 0, which is still a respectable amount of time for an Action RPG of this size.

Speaking of the mini-games, they are without a doubt worth checking out, as each one offers new and unique ways to interact with Yakuza 0 and experience this epic adventure. Out of all the ones mentioned above, my favorites had to be pool, karaoke, and the disco dancing. Now don’t get me wrong. Every single one of the mini-games is great and I spent hours with each one just screwing around and having a blast. But those three definitely had my attention more so than all the rest, if not just for the amazing sequences when you’re out on the dance floor busting a move or belting out a series of notes at the local karaoke bar.

Kiryu is perhaps one of the most likeable main characters to be featured within a video game. His stoic personality and sense of humor had me smiling the entire time I was playing through the story. He always sets out to do things to the best of his ability, whether it’s catching a thief that stole a video game from a little kid, to stopping a high school bullying ring, to beating up everyday street thugs and gang members. Kiryu always finds a way to surprise you and keep you engaged with the main story and side quests that are littered absolutely everywhere throughout Kamurocho.

The combat and action sequences are one of the main draws to the Yakuza games. The over-the-top fighting system and brawling always makes for memorable beatdowns and enjoyable gameplay. You can string together combos and use items throughout the environment whilst fighting, and if performed and executed correctly, offers up some hilarious scenes where you just absolutely destroy an enemy with a bicycle, road sign, construction cone, table, or anything else that just happens to be lying about. It’s addicting, and you’ll absolutely spend a lot of time engaging with it, as it’s also an easy way to continue earning money. And money is crucial, as it allows you to keep progressing in your fighting styles, unlocking new abilities and skills, increasing your defense and health, and making you a better fighter and better person all around. The better you do and more outlandish you are in combat, the more money you’ll earn as well.

The combat and gameplay stays fresh and exciting even when you spend close to 80 hours with the game, thanks largely in part to the different and varied fighting styles available to both Kiryu and Majima. Each style, which you can easily swap between on the fly during combat, offers different approaches on how to deal with your enemies and put on quite the show for the spectators while doing so. And again, improving your traits and skills with money will only expand these fighting styles further, making them even flashier and more powerful as the story goes on.

Yakuza 0 isn’t particularly a hard or challenging game. A few of the boss events can test your skills as a player to a small degree, but as long as you always have an ample supply of healing drinks in your inventory (which are extremely cheap, and I recommend always having a row or two of them available for use) you’ll basically be invincible. Which works well for this type of game, where the main characters are meant to feel larger than life and like the ultimate action heroes. There are a few times where gauntlet style combat occurs, and while they can sometimes feel like endless battles, they aren’t too bad, and have been toned down to an extent from previous entries in the series.

Yakuza 0 is by far the best looking title in the franchise yet. The character models are gorgeous, the backdrops of Kamurocho and Sotenbori are greatly detailed and brought to life, and the game runs and performs exceptionally well. It’s so easy to get lost in the busy crowds that roam the streets as you take in all of the sights and sounds while exploring. Having this sense of realism definitely adds to the experience, and it’s only going to continue getting better with future installments.

It was an absolute joy going back on a nostalgia trip to 1988, seeing and experiencing Tokyo as it was almost thirty years ago. The sights and sounds of the time period are all out in full force, with throwback logos scattered about, arcades of yesteryear for you to enjoy, and the general happiness of being back in the 80’s. Yakuza 0 is by far my favorite game out of the franchise up to this point, and I think it’ll become an instant fan-favorite among quite a few fans of the franchise. The sheer amount of stuff available for players to do and see is astounding, and will keep the most die-hard and hardcore coming back until Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 6 are released in western markets.

I sincerely hope gamers everyone give Yakuza 0 a chance. The series has never really been as popular over here like it is in Japan, but I truly do feel as if this game could change that and swing the momentum back around for Yakuza as a series and for SEGA. While it isn’t a perfect game, it’s one hundred percent worth diving head first in with and getting lost in this world that was created. It’s a game that lays everything out on the table for you, and doesn’t shy away from being exactly what it set out to be. A silly, serious, fun, and excellent game that explores the roots of the franchise we all have come to know and love. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more dancing and singing to get back to before Yakuza Kiwami releases in the Summer.