Yakuza Zero has been my gaming saviour in these dark, internet-less times in this Sweeney household.
I’d heard of the series before, of course – quirky open-world Japanese crime dramas that had been going since the PS2 era, but had never really taken off outside of Japan. It was a series I’d never had an interest in and had taken nothing but the most cursory glance at in the past.
That all changed once I started watching Giant Bomb’s great Beast in the East series, in which Dan, Alex, and Vinny have been playing through the newly released prequel, Yakuza Zero. Initially starting out as almost a joke, the guys quickly got way into what the game was offering.
So did I.
After a couple of months of watching them play it, I wound up picking the game up myself and delving into the neon-lit underbelly of 1980s Japan. For a game that hadn’t at all been on my radar, it got its hooks in fast.
Following the stories of protagonists Kiryu and Majima, Yakuza Zero weaves a surprisingly complex tale of melodramatic organised crime, the bonds of brotherhood, real estate (really), and ripped motherfuckers in pastel suits and turtlenecks with chains on the outside.
Playing like a small-scale open world game (with two distinct locations alongside the two distinct main characters) with a simple but satisfying combat system that is somewhat similar to the Batman games, the really impressive part of Yak0 is the way it almost flawlessly balances the disparate parts of both its gameplay and, crucially, its tone.
At points, you will fighting your way through hordes of rival gangsters, filled with emotionally charged threats and brutal combat. Yet, when you feel like diverting from the main plot, you’re just as likely to find yourself helping a little girl (who insists on calling you “daddy”) win toys from a claw machine, or running a real estate business, or partaking in some incredibly (incredible) karaoke.
The tone of the game walks the line between serious, melodramatic, humorous, and outright goofy with a deftness I have pretty much never seen in any game, and sometimes manages to hit all four in the same scene. What is truly remarkable is the fact that so much of this is sold by the excellent localisation via subtitles – the Japanese voice-acting seems topnotch, but the translation is fan-fucking-tastic at translating the context and humour, something that other recent Japanese games (looking at you Persona 5) have been a lot more hit or miss about.
I spent 69 hours immersed within Yakuza Zero and it was absolutely worth it. In a year that has already been huge for video game quality, Yakuza Zero is my current front runner for game of the year by a mile. It also has me intensely curious about the upcoming remake of the first game, as well as the upcoming Yakuza 6.
Worth checking out, even if it isn’t the kind of game you would normally play. Don’t believe me? Check out this (spoilery) image:
This is an image of a middle-aged Yakuza riding a motorcycle down a sewer tunnel while dragging a lead pipe against the tunnel wall. He’s very angry with you.
Seriously, this game is fucking awesome.