Back when Xbox reminded people all the Yakuza games were on Game Pass, I decided to finally see what the hype is about. After some research on game order, I decided to start with Yakuza 0. It was a rough start where I almost quit, but I’m so glad I stuck it out.
Loved where the story took me and finished with a bang. The janky fighting became a ton of fun. I’m definitely a fan of the Yakuza series now.
The Start was Not Great
I knew going in, Yakuza 0 is an old game, so I did not have overly high expectations. Throughout the game, there was a weird depth of field thing that made out of focus stuff almost look like a 3D movie does without the glasses on.
In the beginning cutscene the age of the game was very apparent. No lip movement, despite the voice acting. The voice was all Japanese with English subtitles. There’s no English dubbing, which disappointed me, at first.
I’ve gotten into a habit of turning off subtitles in games to avoid constantly reading text. Not having the option was annoying, early on. From what I read, most of the Yakuza games are Japanese only with choices of subtitles. By the end of the game though, I can’t imagine playing without the Japanese voices.
End the Text Only Conversations Please
Some of the scenes do have lip syncing, but there are others where there’s no voice work. It was super annoying to go from Japanese voice work to just text. There was actually quite a bit of that, which was annoying. It was especially the case for side missions.
Side missions I mostly hated partly due to text only. They were also so silly compared to the main story. Some of them actually almost put me to sleep. I typically like playing side missions to upgrade and ease my time through the main story in most games.
In Yakuza 0, I pretty much gave up on the side stuff. I know Yakuza games are now known for some weird stuff, but a lot of the missions just seemed so out of place with the main story. I hate Karaoke, so I avoided that like the plague after the one time the main mission included it.
The controls and janky movement took a lot of getting used to, as well. Yakuza 0 at least warns players right from the title screen that “Real Yakuza Use a Controller”. Thankfully, the actual combat was fun after upgrades and learning the controls. I would have loved to try on my Steam Deck, but I played via PC Game Pass.
Xcloud, the only way to play on the Deck right now, plays the Xbox version of Yakuza 0. Since it’s not a “Play Anywhere” game, my save does not transfer between that and PC. This and the other reasons above, definitely put me off in the early hours.
Not All Yakuza 0 Side Content is Bad
Despite my aversion to most of the side content in Yakuza 0, it’s not all bad. Some of it can be funny and entertaining. There are also plenty of side activities I did like. Those include pool, darts, batting cages and a Sega arcade. I spent the most time at the arcade.
There were classic Sega games available to actually play like Space Harrier and Cruisi’n USA. Great nostalgia in those, but the UFO Catcher is what I really liked. It’s the Yakuza version of skill cranes. I always loved trying to position the claw to fetch a stuffed animal as a kid. It’s a pretty accurate recreation.
I know there are several other mini games I didn’t get around to trying in other locations like Mahjong, some other streets games and I think there was a casino. There’s also several bars, clubs, convenience stores, clothing stores, pawn shops and restaurants.
It’s impressive the amount of content packed into the game, but my backlog is too long to mess with it all.
Stuff for the Creepy Guys Out There
There’s also some creepy, incel type stuff like the video clubs to watch videos with girls in bikinis. As part of the main story, it also introduces the telephone clubs. It’s like a flashback to the late night slutty telephone commercials. I mean it’s just weird to not have a strip club at that point
It’s not a huge deal, because it’s easy to avoid most of that stuff. The fact that those places have a box of tissues and the amount of people that hand out tissues on the street, is a bit disturbing. At one point there was a creepy old guy that always wore nothing, but his underwear.
I thought for sure that would be the point my wife would enter the room and ask what the hell I was playing. Thankfully the creepy stuff is mostly rare, though for people into that stuff, I’m guessing they offer more lol. I won’t judge, let your freak flag fly.
Yakuza 0 Neglected its Side Businesses
There’s also some lost potential later on in the game. The main character, Kiryu, ends up with a real estate job to buy up properties. There’s options to buy more property, invest money, recruit staff, assign management and security. Sometimes rival factions cause problems that require a solution (fighting).
It’s a good way to make money, but there’s no bearing on the story other than the first intro to the process. The game made it seem like I’d be fighting for territory to push the competition out, but everything after the intro mission is optional.
When controlling the other main character, Majima, there’s a similar business management game. In his case, it’s club management. It was equally as deep as the real estate business. I could recruit new hostesses, train them, then assign them to customers.
I could monitor their interactions and offer gifts or encourage them to extend time. Again, Yakuza 0 alluded to this being an important part of the game. Another case of takeover the territory from the competition, but I only ended up going back once.
Both the real estate and club businesses seemed like a missed opportunity to tie deeper into the main story. Once I focused on the main story, I really ignored both other than to collect some money a few times.
Yakuzo 0 is a Fighting Game with a Story
There’s a lot of fighting in Yakuza 0. I’d sometimes get annoyed by how many times I’d get attacked by thugs just walking down the street. The game did offer ways to avoid them like running away and even throwing money in the air, but many times it was too late.
Once locked into battle, I was stuck to fight in a circular area. The few main missions that required me to look for people in the city tested my patience with the frequent fights. What I never tired of was how Kiryu or Majima would scream a taunt in Japanese to start the fight. It was a more satisfying version of “let’s go!”.
Fighting in the game is, thankfully, a lot of fun. Learning new fighting styles and upgrading those styles started my love for the game.
Multiple Yakuza Fighting Styles
As Kiryu, I learned Brawler, Rush and Beast. Throughout the game, I’d switch between styles to see what I liked best. In the end, I learned to switch between them for different situations.
Brawler I’d throw punches, grab enemies and punch them some more. I could eventually pick things up in the environment to beat them with. It was fun, but I used Rush a lot when I unlocked that. Rush was closer to an MMA style with quick jabs and kicks. That was more my speed.
Once I unlocked Beast, I stuck with that for a good while. The sheer strength was fun and it was nice that it automatically picked up huge things like bikes to beat thugs with. Dropping the shoulder to push people out of the way was nice to push through crowds of enemies too.
As Majima, I learned Thug, Slugger and Breaker. Thug I used so little, I hardly remember it, but I think it was similar to Brawler, with different special moves to unlock. Slugger I used for the joy of beating people with the bat, until I unlocked Breaker.
Breaker was my go to for pretty much the whole time I played as Majima. It was a break dancing style with a touch of Michael Jackson. The ridiculous spinning on the head kick like almost like a spinning top was my favorite move. It was fantastic for crowd control since it was a constant 360 degree area of effect.
I actually used it to effectively confuse bosses. It maybe was a little cheap how much I used it, but I don’t care, it was fun.
Upgrades and New Moves
There was a whole upgrade tree for each style with different money levels to unlock. I prioritized anything increasing my health first, but then unlocked special moves. By the game end, there was still a ton I never unlocked.
It was so satisfying to see the new moves I did unlock, in action. The finisher mini cutscenes were the best. I especially loved when my character would slam some large object onto a thug’s head, then jump on top of it. Slamming heads into walls and fun baseball bat finishers were also personal favorites.
Both characters get access to simply use various weapons like guns and melee weapons, but I used those very sparingly. The other fighting styles were just so much fun. Plus, I don’t remember the game telling me how to access them, so I figured it out very late in the game when my style was already set.
The Yakuza 0 Story Made me Fan of the Series
The start was fairly interesting, Kiryu, as a Yakuza member is framed for murder. From there, the entire game revolves around an empty lot owned by someone other than the Yakuza. The rest of the game focuses on finding the owner and the fight to take control of the valuable center piece to the Kamurocho Revitalization Project.
Throughout the story, I loved the character building and how relationships evolved. With Kiryu choosing to quit the Yakuza, it put’s him at odds with his sworn brother, Nishiki. Watching them together, then apart, then together again was a great story of brotherhood.
Kiryu’s story also follows a path where by quitting the Yakuza and going through all the drama around that, he ends up the realest Yakuza of the game. His constant fights with Kuze, one of the Yakuza heads, is especially interesting.
Their relationship starts off as one of hate and disrespect, where I was sure I’d have to kill Kuze by the endgame. By their last fight though, they reach a point of mutual respect and almost admiration. Each of the heads of the families are interesting, but the Kuze arc was great.
When Kiryu meets Tachibana and his right hand man, Oda, the story really starts to pick up steam. From their first meeting to their last, the trifecta’s relationship was a joy to watch build over the game. Tachibana’s fake arm and super cool demeanor was definitely memorable.
Enter Goro Majima
I know the exact point when I was truly hooked in the story, though. That was when Yakuza 0 first introduced Goro Majima. When he came out in the tuxedo, with those fancy shoes, ponytail and eye patch, I knew something special was ahead.
His whole “fight” with an unruly customer at the Cabaret Grand he managed was quite entertaining. It was basically a dance of not hitting him and letting the guy beat himself. I didn’t know there was another playable character, so the whole setup was quite a surprise.
He’s my favorite character in the entire game. It was fun to watch his introduction, the backstory of how he lost his eye and then ending as a flashy Yakuza. His story was the most interesting. Seemed like he had it all, but it was a gilded cage.
His arc took off when he accepted an assassination job that would have seen him harm a blind girl, only to become her protector and maybe even fall in love. Their relationship was maybe the most important in the entire game.
Like Kiryu and Kuze, Majima had his own interesting hate to respect relationship with Tsukasa Sagawa. They start out as a prisoner and warden dynamic, but end with mutual respect after all the drama they share throughout the adventure.
Ending Yakuza 0 With a Long Bang
There are so many great characters in the game I don’t even mention here, but I loved the story and their personalities. Yakuza 0 really rewarded me with a fantastic ending. Both Kiryu and Majima had parallel drawn out fights on their way to the endgame.
Those fights were entertaining and challenging, but in a good way, minus some of the janky controls. Their boss fights were tough, but with plenty of action movie style moments. What really floored me was the ending cutscenes.
It was practically a mini movie with 30 to 40 minutes of ending and epilogue, that’s not counting the credits. I remember actually saying out loud, “that’s how you end a f#cking game!”. By the end, I overlooked all the annoyances I had in the opening hours to emerge a big fan of the series.
I was actually so tempted to move straight onto Yakuza Kiwami (the remake of the Yakuza 1), but I was afraid that rabbit hole would lead me to only playing the series until done. I have zero doubts I’ll play the rest of the series, but I might just wait for a Steam sale so I can play them directly on the Steam Deck.
Now I think I might play Palworld a bit and maybe start Lies of P as my first souls-like.