“…you owe it to yourself to try Yakuza 0, and if you enjoy it, you’ve got like ten other games to play afterwards.”
If you’re reading this, we can pretty much guarantee that you’ve had someone in your life, either close to you or randomly on the internet, try to convince you to play Yakuza 0. That, or you’ve been the person trying to convince everyone else in your life to play it. If you belong in the former category, allow us to try again, while the heroes in the latter category share this article with their friends. Long may the Yakuza 0 supremacy reign.
Given that the series has been around for nearly two decades at this point, newcomers are often confused by which Yakuza game to start with. You can’t really say “start with the beginning,” as the original two Yakuza titles aren’t available on modern platforms, which leads some people to starting with Yakuza Kiwami instead. It’s a mistake I’ve had to correct with a close friend on more than one occasion, but Yakuza 0 makes a great case for itself as the definitive starting point for the franchise.
The earliest game chronologically in the mainline franchise, Yakuza 0 is set in Japan in late 1988, right in the middle of the country’s asset price bubble. The whole region was experiencing massive inflation in both the real estate market and stock market, and would experience a devastating burst just a few years later. Yakuza 0’s whole plot depicts how important real estate was during that time, with the entire game hinging on the fate of just a small back alley square referred to as The Empty Lot.
You might think a plot like that sounds boring, but between the various twists and turns the plot takes, and the characters you meet along the way, there’s never a dull moment. There might be long cutscenes, but it’s never boring, especially when the lead character’s are so compelling. Kiryu’s stubborn and stoic nature makes him a determined hero who could believably face down the entire Tojo Clan and not even blink, while Goro Majima’s internal conflict regarding his loyalties, along with his overall evolution, make for a fascinating story.
On its own, Yakuza 0 is an amazing story filled with memorable moments, but it also does an incredible job of laying the foundation for new players regarding moments and characteristics that are key parts of the franchise. The relationship between Kiryu and Nishikiyama in the original Yakuza 1 wasn’t fleshed out much beyond “10 years in the joint,” so seeing the sworn brothers actually be brothers before fate deals its cruel hand is amazing. Meanwhile, Yakuza 0’s Majima is incredibly different from the usual Mad Dog Majima, but being able to see the human behind the caricature for once helps make Yakuza’s most recognisable side character a highlight for the whole franchise.
This is without getting into the combat, which is fast-paced and gratuitously brutal, the sub-stories that are filled with laugh out loud hilarious moments, or the minigames that often are just as amazing to play as the main game. Yakuza 0 has so much to offer, maybe even too much if you’re not looking for the next 60 hours of free time to be swallowed up by a 10/10 RPG experience. Still, you owe it to yourself to try Yakuza 0, and if you enjoy it, you’ve got like ten other games to play afterwards.
Want more classic gaming? The rest of this very column has you covered with some real gaming greatness.
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