By Gabriel Jones 11.01.2017
Picture the late 1980s. Japan is in the midst of the infamous bubble economy. Stock and real estate prices have soared dramatically to heights never thought possible. Businessmen all over the country have become filthy rich, and their pursuit for earthly pleasures has led them to towns like Kamurocho and Sotenbori. It's in these dens of vice that Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima become entangled in the cycle of violence and conspiracy that would define their lives. Yakuza 0 gives gamers everywhere a first-hand look at the rise of the "Dragon of Dojima" and the "Mad Dog of Shimano."
Fans of the Yakuza series are very familiar with Kamurocho, so they'll be pleased to see their favourite fictional Red Light District under a new (old) light. Everything from the billboards to the clothes has an authentic 80s look. The arcades are packed with classics like Space Harrier and Outrun. Discos are still very common, encouraging aspiring dragons to get caught up in the magic of the dance. However, it's still not possible to walk the streets without being harassed by delinquents and low level Yakuza. This is where Kazuma, eager to prove his worth, falls prey to a deadly scheme.
Sotenbori is known for its many shops and restaurants, all tightly packed and crowding into one another. It's almost overwhelming to the senses. Just out of sight lie the back alleys, which is where gamblers seek their fortune. Although biker gangs and other hooligans stalk the streets, they're no match for Majima, whose thuggish fighting style belies his managerial charms. Goro manages The Grand, one of the finest hostess clubs in Tokyo. However, excess wealth and women mean little to the Mad Dog. His eye is set one on goal, reclaiming his honour in the Yakuza.
The Yakuza series is known for its emphasis on city street brawls, vicious one-on-one fights, and brutal "Heat" moves that leave the opposition in a world of hurt. This entry doesn't make any attempt to deviate from that winning combination. It does, however, introduce several unique elements to spice up the action. During fights, exceptional combatants have additional opportunities to receive bonus cash. In other words, it pays to quickly and efficiently dismantle someone, while avoiding damage. Being able to brawl is necessary for survival, but the real money is in doing it with style.
Both Kiryu and Goro can master up to three different fighting styles, switching between them mid-battle to adjust to changing circumstances. Kazuma's brawler style will appeal to series veterans, but that's no reason to overlook his rush and beast styles, either. Rush focuses on flurries of punches and evasive techniques. Beasts are known for shrugging off blows and inflicting maximum pain with any object not nailed down. Majima's go-to thug style will serve him well, although it doesn't hurt to be a slugger or a breaker. Sluggers are known for being exceedingly vicious with weapons, and breakers rely on dazzling moves that leave blood on the dance floor.
Another aspect of the series that's gotten shaken up is how experience is handled. The yen that the main characters earn can be used to advance their skills. Becoming the best fighters in Tokyo gets to be very expensive very quickly. It might be necessary to pursue business ventures, such as managing a hostess club or investing in real estate. In any case, there's many ways to make money, and even lose it. A giant by the name of Mr. Shakedown is especially dangerous. Fighting with him is a good way to lose everything, or collect a fat bonus. In this game, money and experience are one, so invest wisely.
As always, there are a ton of activities to pursue, and Yakuza 0 makes a point of rewarding players who see as much of Kamurocho and Sotenbori as possible. A currency known as "CP" can be used at temples to purchase special bonuses, which make getting around and earning money even easier. Don't just settle for cracking skulls! Make sure to check out a disco, sing karaoke, work on that hi-score in Space Harrier, befriend the locals, fish, and even participate in RC car races. Live the dream life, all in stunning 1080p and at 60 frames per second.
The Yakuza series has been one of SEGA's most consistent in terms of quality. With Yakuza 0, there's every reason to believe that this title will exceed expectations. The changes to the fighting system make bouts more dynamic and interesting than before, and the new mini-games are more involved and creative. Furthermore, and without spoiling anything, the storyline is as enthralling as ever. Seeing a younger Kazuma Kiryu is a treat, although Goro Majima is liable to blow everyone away with his awesomeness. All in all, this entry in the saga is going to be a treat for fans and newcomers alike.