The Yakuza series of video games has long eluded me. It orbits around me as I have heard of the games before but rarely saw any footage or talked to anyone who had a great deal of love for the series until the recent entries. Yakuza finally caught my attention after Yakuza 5 went up for sale on the PSN store two Decembers ago. The slow burn of the being of the game and my lack of time during that month led to put the game down after a few hours. I felt disconnected from the series in a way that would take time for me to break through into the luscious nectar that hid behind a very intricate tutorial that had me driving men on taxi routes and beating up hooligans. Here, I aim to break deep into the Yakuza series and bathe in its irreverent nature.
My first entry in the series will be Yakuza 0. A recent release on the PS4 and something easy for to dive into with modern controls and game design. I am not against playing the older games but I always feel the best way to experience a series is to start at something approachable, something I can easily sink into and chew, rather than to start from the PS2 original, which may have been very good for its time but it is still a PS2 game.
While playing Yakuza 0, the 1980s Japan setting is full of neon lights, bad fashion, and cigarettes. I can almost smell and taste the nasty atmosphere of the game’s fictional district of Tokyo. At the start, the game takes on a series story of murder, yakuza principles, and the real estate market of Japan during a financial boom. This is immediately cut with a wonderful karaoke scene that quickly turns into a music video. The bowling alley will also give you a live chicken if you bowl a turkey. The combat system is rolled out via standard run-ins with street thugs and Yakuza members. However, one aspect does have you beat the drunkenness out two arguing Idol lovers.
The game then dives right back into heavy real estate laden discussions of a small parcel of land coveted by many parties. They want to buy this piece of land to take part in the massive development of Tokyo and its districts. Then a large man grabs you by the head and shakes money out of you. A strange foreign man shows up and tells you to shove money into yourself to level up. This game wonderfully balances the in-game design aspects such as spending money to level up and unlock the Yakuza sphere grid with silly rationalizations for everything. The game does not need this strange man to tell you to spend money on the sphere gird but having in it there is perfect.
The game has set itself up as a wonderful pairing of very heavy aspects of Japan and Yakuza life along with hilarious scenes to lighten the game. If I had to play through the entire game without the lighthearted nature of side stories I might not be as endeared by the process. A long hard look at Yakuza lifestyle and real estate would be entertaining from a historical stand-point but boring from a gameplay perspective. I look forward to my continued time with the series.