Yakuza 0

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Yakuza 0

Post by Sour Puss on Fri Feb 03, 2017 1:37 pm

Let's get this out of the way up front: if you've been on the fence about getting into Yakuza, then Yakuza 0 is absolutely the place to start. It already seems to be one of the best games in the series, and as a prequel story it stands on its own, even if you haven't played the other games. Plus, it leads directly into the original Yakuza, a remake of which is getting an English-language release later this year.
But what's so great about Yakuza? If you've heard the line “it's like a Japanese take on Grand Theft Auto,” you've been done wrong because that isn't it at all. This is a beat-em-up RPG that's a spiritual successor to equal parts of Shenmue and River City Ransom. It's got cutscenes full of melodrama and intense-looking men screaming angrily at each other, while also including an extensive disco-dancing minigame and side missions covering everything from lost game cartridges to underground panty-selling rings.

Yakuza 0 is set in 1988, and follows the early adventures of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu alongside fan-favorite asshole, Goro Majima. Both characters are quite a bit different than the people they'll eventually grow to be—Kiryu is definitely not yet the Dragon, and Majima has a number of pressures that are forcing him to be “consummate businessman” instead of “violent thug.”
Money makes the world go 'round in this late-80s Japan, and the economy powers a lot of systems. Cash flies out of foes as you beat them up, and you get bonuses for varied attacks and special finishers. “Invest in yourself,” says a mysterious old man early in the game, and that's exactly what you do, spending cash to unlock new abilities for your various fighting styles.

Those styles are a new addition for the series. Kiryu can go with his traditional Brawler style, updated with an instant counter ability unleashed by hitting attack right after an incoming strike lands. There's also the Rush style, which allows you to quickly dodge and make quick attacks, stunning enemies with enough successive blows, and the Beast style, which ups your defense and allows you to incorporate weapons and objects from knives to bicycles directly into Kiryu's combos. Majima, too, has his own set of three styles, though I'm not deep enough in yet to unlock all of them.
The combat is just as high-impact and entertaining as it ever was before, but the addition of the new styles ensures that it's also varied, since you can switch between them at any time to fit the situation. Lots of weapons around? Just swing wildly in Beast mode and take everyone down. Lots of incoming attacks? Rush will let you dodge all of them with ease.

In between story beats, you're free to explore the city as you want. Feel like a few rounds of Space Harrier? Go for it. In the mood for karaoke? Totally there for you. You can even head to the red light district to enjoy (live action) videos of pretty ladies in bikinis holding giant, phallic balloons, and make friends with the video store owner along the way.
The side missions are a collection of ever-increasing displays of absurdity. Like, there's this timid dominatrix mission, where Kiryu is roped into teaching confidence to a shy girl working at an S&M club. In the end, she learns not just how to please her customers, but how to take control of her own life, in a moment that's equally silly and poignant.

If it seems that I'm rambling about all the fun little details, that's because I am. Yakuza is all about those details. Finding an especially silly minigame, going fishing in between especially dramatic points of the story—and hey, the actual story here isn't bad, either. After half the series has involved Kiryu as a saintly Superman, running orphanages and saving puppies, it's fun to see the plot return to a harder-edged story of revenge and murder.
All this is to say that Yakuza 0 is good, I want to play more of it, and you should be playing it if you aren't already. It's silly and dramatic and fun all at the same time, and it's a great place to get in if you haven't checked out the series before.
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