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Immersing me in its captivating setting, Yakuza 0 took hold and never let go.

Available On:  PS4, X1, PC

As a favor, I made a quick stop at the game store while running errands to pick up Yakuza 0 for someone else. I had no intention of playing it, so I placed it on the shelf to gather dust until I could give it to its rightful owner.

Well, somehow I got nearly 200 hours and a Platinum Trophy out of Yakuza 0. All without spending a penny. Whoops! Who’d have thought this game would become my absolute favorite Playstation 4 title? I sure didn’t. It just kind of happened. Thanks, universe!

Yakuza 0 was also my first experience with the series, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I expected immersion into an open-world, some sidequests and minigames, maybe an interesting crime story… But not to this level. This was beyond anything I could have imagined, and then some. I could be laughing during a cutscene one moment, then witness heartbreak the next. I became addicted to Mahjong even though I hated everything about it at first. My wrists got sore while gambling at the hysterically absurd cat fights. I never got tired of watching Kiryu and Majima inflict thorough, unimaginable pain during their heat actions. Yakuza 0 is a game that embraces Japanese culture at the highest level it can, thrusts you into it, and shakes you around for as long as you can handle.

It all starts here.

It is hard to pinpoint my single favorite thing about Yakuza 0, but if I had to pick something it would be the two protagonists. Their stories are told separately in this prequel, and Yakuza 0 does an excellent job of introducing newbies to them while also showing series vets who they were before the events in the other games. Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima are awesome protagonists. Kiryu is headstrong and, ahem, would make a great husband. He gives the bad guys the impression that he’s not all that bright, when really he is just listening and dissecting their words. It results in tense yet amusing scenes, since Kiryu will often respond to some macho Yakuza’s long and threatening monologue with a simple “okay.” Majima is similarly headstrong, but it seems artificial and you can tell he is a man who has trained himself on restraint. It is when Majima lets loose that you really understand who he is—and he is never afraid to show that side when he or someone he cares for is threatened.

Majima is awesome.

It is fascinating to watch these two characters grow and change throughout the circumstances they are thrust into during the main storyline. The plot involves many fascinating characters who all hold some sort of stake in this tragic, crime-ridden sequence of events. It starts out interesting and expands to levels you would have never imagined. Kiryu’s story begins in an Empty Lot in the city of Kamurocho, where he must make a collection from a man who was deceptive towards the Yakuza family Kiryu works for. After he completes the job, things get even uglier very quickly. Apparently this Empty Lot is very important, and Kiryu seemingly has stumbled into the middle of a quarrel within the Yakuza. Majima has recently been exiled from the Yakuza, and wants nothing more than to return to it. However, he must first fulfill the tasks assigned to him by Sagawa, including the management of a popular cabaret in Sotenbori. He is eventually given an assignment to kill someone, which would be the final task to get back into the Yakuza—but once Majima sees who the hit is out on, he may change his mind. While this is probably consistent with the rest of the series, following Kiryu and Majima around really gives a sense of the cruelty and bureaucracy operating behind the Yakuza. Additionally, there is a lot of testosterone and pride. It all makes for some ugly disagreements, usually resulting in Kiryu or Majima wiping the floor with arrogant men who underestimate them.

While their stories and ultimate fates in Yakuza 0 are very different, Kiryu and Majima do have a lot in common. As you encounter the numerous substories, you see a very different side of these two characters. The substories basically show that at the end of the day Kiryu and Majima are good guys who want to help anyone who needs it. And the people they help run the gamut, with stories that range from bizarre to hilarious to tear-jerking. There is not a single dull substory in Yakuza 0, which is something unheard of from my experience. Coming off the heels of Final Fantasy XV’s frequent “go here and get this” subquests, Yakuza 0 has made me wonder how a creative powerhouse like Square won’t do what Sega does and give valued players optional content with actual substance. In Yakuza 0, I trained a new dominatrix, I inspired a legendary pop star, I joined a cult, and I even got tricked into going on an unpleasant date set up through a telephone club! Yakuza 0’s substories never failed to disappoint, and are the furthest thing from “fetch quests.” Both Kiryu and Majima even have their own substantial subquests involving managing real estate and a cabaret club, which are addicting and worth the amount of time.

Kiryu teaches lessons with both his words and his fists

What makes all this even better is how effectively the game wraps the player up into the mesmerizing neon cities of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Even though it was a PS3 game, Yakuza 0 looks great graphically, and with all the ambient noise and music surrounding you as you wander around, you definitely feel immersed in the entire experience. Playing Yakuza 0, you truly get a sense of Japanese culture in the 80’s, from the bustling streets to the dark corners. Playing the main story alone would only be a small taste—the substories are totally optional, but the Yakuza experience wouldn’t be the same without them. What’s even better, Yakuza 0 has loads of minigames—classic Sega arcade games, toy car racing, bowling, mahjong, and much more. The karaoke and disco minigames are absolutely hysterical—it really is something to watch these two tough guys take singing and dancing at bars so seriously! All these minigames are optional as well, and the substories do an excellent job of simply introducing you to them.

Dance-offs are serious business.

All of this means that Yakuza 0 grants players a taste of everything it has to offer—it is then up to the player to decide how much time they want to spend on these offerings. Yakuza 0 is an enormous game, and it gives players the perfect amount of incentive to accomplish as much as they are willing. The various tasks required to earn Completion Points will really test your mettle, and they will be your top priority if you are looking to get the extremely rare Platinum Trophy (less than 0.5% of Yakuza 0 players have gotten it as of this writing [and I’m one of them!]). Other challenges include Legend Mode and the arguably unfair Climax Battles (maybe the worst part of the whole game). As if playing through once doesn’t give you enough content for hours of gameplay, replay value is added immensely with New Game+ and Premium Mode.

While combat in Yakuza 0 is definitely one of its most prominent features, its nuances tend to be overshadowed by everything else the game has. Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t fun or complex, because it is. Both characters get three fighting styles (four if you fulfill certain objectives), and they are all quite different. You can seamlessly switch styles depending on the situation, too. Kiryu’s Beast Mode is one of my favorites, as he can grab an enemy and literally whip him across a row of other enemies for multiple takedowns, and then immediately grab a nearby motorcycle (yes, a motorcycle) to take out anyone still standing. Majima’s Breaker Mode will have him relentlessly spinning on his head with his legs sweeping through masses of opponents—once they get their bearings they fall right back down with another fluid sweep. The Heat Actions are limitless and at times so unpredictable that there truly is never a dull moment during combat. You can even equip weapons such as katana or the wacky marlin cannon. The battles are a blast, they never get old, and they eventually get to be pretty challenging. Enemy variety ranges from boxers with small frames to the towering Mr. Shakedown who can KO you in one fell swoop. You can easily avoid most of the generic random battles, while the story battles can be extremely difficult and require precise strategy, observation and timing. Limited item space can make them even harder… But if you build the characters right then they will be absolute powerhouses. Upgrading the fighting styles and overall strength of the characters will require some serious cash, but if you’re attempting to go the distance then the work will be worth it.

Will these goons ever learn not to mess with Kiryu?

I picked up Yakuza 0 as a favor, and on a whim I tried it out for a few minutes. I liked it but didn’t save my progress and almost never went back to it because I didn’t want to go through the opening scenes again. I am so glad I changed my mind—Yakuza 0 has opened my eyes to a series of videogames that deserves more attention than it receives. It has introduced me to the enormous amount of content Sega offers its players, and I cannot wait to try out another game in the series. Yakuza 0 virtually immersed me in Japanese culture, and has helped me set a goal to visit the fascinating country for real someday. It starts two phenomenal lead characters supported by a powerful cast and intriguing plot. It will have you laughing one moment and crying the next. It lets you get a small sample of everything it offers, and then lets you decide how much you want to take in. My expectations were far exceeded with Yakuza 0. Now, I cannot wait to further explore how its amazing ending sets things in motion for Kiryu and Majima.

10 out of 10

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