Review: Yakuza 0

Switch to: deDeutsch

In the­se parts, the long-estab­lished gaming com­pa­ny named SEGA is first and fore most known for the ambi­tious but unsuc­cess­ful con­so­le “Dream­cast”. And Sonic SEGA’s per­so­nal mas­cot, the hedge­hog. It looks much dif­fe­rent in the coun­try the com­pa­ny ori­gi­na­tes from and we’ll show you why that is. In 2005 Ryû Ga Goto­ku (Engl: “Like a Dra­gon”) hit the Japa­ne­se gaming mar­ket like a bomb and was hea­vi­ly acc­lai­med. The action adven­ture with cine­ma­tic sto­ry tel­ling for the Play­sta­ti­on 2 mana­ged to score 37 out of 40 points in the Japa­ne­se maga­zi­ne Famit­su. It sold over half a mil­li­on copies on the Asi­an mar­ket in only two years. The pas­sio­na­te and loy­al prot­ago­nist Kazu­ma Kiryu takes the world of Asi­an orga­ni­zed crime head on, never for­sa­king his ide­als in the heat of batt­le. While using his fists and legs as his main wea­pon, the pil­lars of the very ela­bo­ra­te batt­le sys­tem, a high­ly dra­ma­tic and emo­tio­nal sto­ry unfolds befo­re his very eyes.

About one year later the Com­pa­ny SEGA deci­des to loca­li­ze Ryû Ga Goto­ku as Yaku­za in the west with very dif­fe­rent results. Not only thanks to their unfit­ting loca­li­za­ti­on of the game. For examp­le none other than Hol­ly­wood actor Mark Hamill as Goro Maji­ma and Micha­el Madsen as Futo­shi Shi­ma­no were hau­led in. Despi­te their voice acting talent the cha­rac­ters in the actu­al game fell flat and remai­ned a laug­hing­stock for most who anti­ci­pa­ted the release. The pro­mo­tio­nal vide­os of tho­se voice acting impres­si­ons are still on your pro­mi­nent media chan­nels to this day.

This marks the start of the long las­ting Yaku­za game series, despi­te the mista­ke SEGA made in terms of sound direc­tion and loca­li­za­ti­on. The lifecy­cle of the Play­sta­ti­on 2 and 3 they deci­ded to push four more games out in the span of one to three years after the ori­gi­nal Japa­ne­se release. Ken­zan and Ishin! which sad­ly remai­ned Japa­ne­se exclu­si­ves to this day, are only avail­ab­le to the extre­me­ly dedi­ca­ted audi­ence; tho­se who are eit­her able to read Japa­ne­se or are wil­ling to put up with trans­la­ti­on sheets/English trans­la­ted vide­os throughout their gaming expe­ri­ence.

Yaku­za 0, released on the 24 of Janu­a­ry 2017 in North Ame­ri­ca and Euro­pe marks the first chap­ter of the ent­i­re series for the Play­Sta­ti­on 4. We’re glad to sta­te here that the series pre­quel, unli­ke Yaku­za 5, mana­ged to go retail as well. SEGA deci­ded that North Ame­ri­ca had the plea­su­re of recei­ving a high­ly limi­ted “Busi­ness Edi­ti­on” inclu­ding not only the game its­elf but a stain­less steel busi­ness card hol­der. The pie­ce of steel not only inclu­des three cards of the prot­ago­nists and hos­tes­ses strai­ght out of the game, it also sports Kazuma’s and Goro’s “Ire­zu­mi” tat­too designs on the front and backsi­de. Koch Media cho­se to be the dis­tri­bu­tor out­si­de of North Ame­ri­ca (NA) and cho­se to lea­ve the spe­cial gim­micks of the busi­ness edi­ti­on exclu­si­ve­ly for them. But this means you can get the game for about half the pri­ce of the NA ver­si­on of the game.


In Yaku­za 0 we are able to see the begin­nings of the Kazu­ma Kiri­yu, the all-time pos­ter child of the series. In over 12 years, Taka­ya Kuro­da lends his edgy and rough voice to our well-built Prot­ago­nist with his usual­ly gel­led and sty­led hair­do. In the age of TV shows and comic book adap­ti­ons it is not unusu­al that even video­ga­mes nowa­days cho­se the bela­ted rou­te to the pre­quels of the series. The ori­gin sto­ry of various alrea­dy estab­lished and detail­ed cha­rac­ters, so to speak. And thus here we find our­sel­ves in the Decem­ber of 1988 whe­re the bare­ly 20-year-old Kiryu not only finds or fights his way through the clans of Tokyo’s under­world and him­s­elf, but also rises up to be the famous Dra­gon of Doji­ma, whom we know.
Kiryu is part of the Tojo Clan who reigns over most of Tokyo in this day. Insi­de this clan the­re are dif­fe­rent fami­lies who fight for power insi­de the orga­ni­za­ti­on its­elf. Here Kiryu is part of the “Doji­ma” Fami­ly, the one who holds the mono­po­ly in terms of power. At the begin­ning of the game our Kiryu fights a man in a suit and it is unclear if he has a hand in his death or which moti­ves the attack hold. He quick­ly gets accu­sed of kil­ling the man and has no other opti­on as to return the pin of the Tojo Clan, look for the con­spi­ra­tors, and find out why the crime sce­ne is sud­den­ly the most wan­ted lot in all of Kamu­ro­cho. The city “Kamu­roucho” in the game is a fic­tio­n­al enter­tain­ment district in Tokyo which is based upon none other than Kabu­ki­cho in Japan.

Our second play­a­ble cha­rac­ter is Goro Maji­ma. He on the other hand is part of the “Shi­ma­no” fami­ly insi­de of the afo­re­men­tio­ned Tojo Clan. After his betra­y­al to Fin­to Shi­ma­no (tho­se who play­ed Yaku­za 4 were able to see this in a flash­back) he’s tor­tu­red for years and last­ly banis­hed to Soten­bo­ri, the equi­va­lent of Kamurocho’s in Osa­ka. Here he owns a Night­club and is known as the famous “Lord of the Night­li­fe”. Not too long after that Maji­ma gets a mis­si­on to snuff out some­bo­dy named “Mako­to Maki­mu­ra” and seems to find a bald hea­ded man who pro­c­laims him­s­elf as the tar­get. But not much later Maji­ma finds out that his actu­al tar­get was none other than a blind young lady and not the bald hea­ded man. Quick­ly the woman takes a cen­ter roll in the sto­ry of Yaku­za 0 and pro­ves to be very rele­vant to the plot and recent hap­pe­nings.
In the Yaku­za series the play­er is usual­ly con­fron­ted with a vast amount of clans, fami­lies and their rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves, which pro­ves very dif­fi­cult to fol­low at first, espe­ci­al­ly when you take the com­plex plot into con­si­de­ra­ti­on. SEGAs sto­ry wri­ters of Yaku­za 0 take a dif­fe­rent approach this time around. Don’t be mista­ken, you will still be able to meet and greet many cha­rac­ters but only a hand­ful of tho­se are actual­ly rele­vant to the sto­ry. This makes it easier for new­co­mers to fol­low ever­ything in the game more easi­ly which much less con­fu­si­on. Tho­se who fol­low the sto­ry com­ple­te­ly will be rewar­ded with many emo­tio­nal moments, twists and turns as well as a satis­fy­ing con­clu­si­on to the ongo­ing plot of the game. Long-las­ting fans of the series can be exci­ted about small homages and allu­si­ons that let them anti­ci­pa­te upco­m­ing events in the fran­chise even more. All in all you can very well say that the sto­ry of Yaku­za 0 is one of the best in recent years thanks to it’s uni­que pre­sen­ta­ti­on, the very well writ­ten dia­lo­gues, pro­found cha­rac­ter buil­ding and the fun­ny moments to ligh­ten up the mood.

Yaku­za 0’s sto­ry­line is dis­play­ed in typi­cal true-to-it’s-core man­ner with the usual­ly very intri­ca­te and ela­bo­ra­te sto­ry sequen­ces that most­ly run on the actu­al engi­ne of the game its­elf. Sce­nes that are extre­me­ly rele­vant to the plot will be dis­play­ed as pre-ren­de­red movies in the game. This time around SEGA cho­se to grant a voice­over to most of the cut-sce­nes and dia­lo­gues; in Japa­ne­se of cour­se, while the “sequels” still had much silent text in-bet­ween. A new addi­ti­on to the series is that some parts are told in moti­on pic­tures, which focus hea­vi­ly on the faci­al expres­si­ons of the cha­rac­ters, while body and lips of the cha­rac­ters remain sta­gnant. At the begin­ning this may be weird and a bit off-put­ting to some but it blends in well with the style of the game. As usu­al all sub­tit­les and texts are in Eng­lish-only, even in Euro­pe.


The Yaku­za series is in Euro­pe most­ly known as the “GTA of Japan” which is not only a bit of a stretch, but also a dis­pa­ra­ge of the series its­elf. It is neit­her a bla­tant copy of Rock­star Games’ actio­ner nor an inspi­ra­ti­on of said fran­chise. If one reminds him­s­elf of SEGAs Dream­cast con­so­le and their big­gest hit on it Shen­mue, it comes as given as to whe­re the games and their game­play actual­ly stem from.

The heart of Yaku­za always is and always will be it’s batt­le sys­tem, this holds true in Zero as well. Both cha­rac­ters are capa­ble of three dif­fe­rent figh­t­ing styles. And while Kiryu may switch bet­ween “Braw­ler”, “Beast”, and “Rush” there’s our future “Mad Dog” Maji­ma who owns the vari­ants “Thug, Slug­ger” and last but not least “Brea­ker. Brawler/Thug will give our prot­ago­nists the edge in a com­bi­na­ti­on of fist-figh­t­ing, thro­wing oppon­ents across the room and hea­vy kicks. The Beast mode makes Kiryu hit much har­der but he loses his agi­li­ty and speed as a result. But Beast makes up with it’s auto-abi­li­ty to pick up items in one go. As soon as there’s fur­ni­tu­re, plants or bikes near­by he can grab tho­se in one fel­low swoop, all in one moti­on while still attacking, just to smash it onto his enemies. Majima’s Slug­ger on the other hand makes him also slo­wer but it sports an inde­st­ruc­tible base­ball bat with it. If you have seen him in later games alrea­dy, then you might be able to guess what exac­t­ly he’s gon­na do to tho­se who oppo­se him. If not, be pre­pa­red for more fun than you bar­gai­ned for.

Even though you’re able to use brea­ka­ble wea­pons like nunch­a­kus, kata­nas, pis­tols or shot­guns, it’s the Slug­ger style that will give you a varie­ty of new attacking pos­si­bi­li­ties. If Kiryu choo­ses the Rush style, he’s then able to dish out the hurt much fas­ter while eva­ding much quicker and more easi­ly than in any other style. The Brea­ker style gives Maji­ma the chan­ce to pro­ve his skills not only in batt­le but also on the dance­floor. Wild twists and tor­na­do kicks with his legs that even Tekken’s very own Chris­tie Mon­tei­ro can only dream of.
This all sounds very com­plex and a bit much if you’re new, but the game unlocks tho­se styles one after ano­t­her, so that it’s much easier to get used to them. Begin­ners can bet their or Kiryu/Majima’s backsi­de on Brawler/Thug to getth em through for a while, this style sports easy but­ton com­bi­na­ti­ons on Squa­re and Tri­ang­le respec­tively for a con­ti­nuous flow of attacks. The so cal­led “Heat” abi­li­ty is one of the pil­lars of the batt­le sys­tem besi­des the three dif­fe­rent figh­t­ing styles. Hit­ting on an oppo­nent (you can see that as taun­ting them as well) will fill the Heat gau­ge (up to three bars) throughout the fights. So you fil­led out one, two or three bars of the gau­ge? Splendid, becau­se that enab­les you to dish out spe­cial “finis­hers” in the game that are much more vio­lent and usual­ly extre­me­ly badass to look at. For examp­le, you can drop that fur­ni­tu­re on an ene­my and jump on it for extra dama­ge; or do a bodys­lam on them to clean up the streets of Kamu­ro­cho or Soten­bo­ri much fas­ter and in style.

Under “Abi­li­ties” in the main menu, you’re able skill tho­se six batt­le styles and learn new com­bos, increa­se your health bar and the Heat rege­ne­ra­ti­on. To do that, you have to spend qui­te a bit of cash and you will need it, even though sto­ry mis­si­ons give you qui­te the hef­ty haul of money for com­ple­ting them. Later in the game attacks and skills will cost qui­te the pen­ny or Yen in that case, ¥50.000 (aprox. 380 Euro) per skill/action. You may get a lot of cash in the game, but don’t take it for gran­ted; Yaku­za 0 doesn’t do that for free, ever­ything in the game has it’s pri­ce. The skill tree allows the play­ers to expand their two figh­ters in dif­fe­rent ways and find their own favo­ri­te tech­ni­ques to keep them moti­va­ted to use them until the end. All that while mis­si­ons, mini games and side-quests fill the emp­tied cof­fers of our prot­ago­nists with new, much nee­ded money, so that they once again can spend it on their moves, to dish out the pain much har­der, bet­ter and fas­ter.

There’s some back­log to do by SEGA regar­ding explana­ti­on and tuto­ri­als to the Mas­ter level. The­re are cer­tain attacks in the game that weren’t unlock­able while we play­ed from finish to the end. Only through web rese­arch we were able to ascer­tain that the­re were cer­tain trai­ners in the game that could have unlo­cked them. For examp­le you can shar­pen up Majima’s wea­pon skills with the most bizar­re clo­se com­bat wea­pons you might have seen or make Kiryu much more agi­le in terms of evas­i­on.

The AI in the game may not be very “intel­li­gent” or dead­ly regar­ding ran­dom encoun­ters in the streets, but it pro­ves much more chal­len­ging in the epic boss fights of the game. You have to use com­bos and the com­bat styles with much more cau­ti­on to be able to exploit the clan leader’s weak­nes­ses.
While Kiryu has his sha­re of pro­blems and fun in Kamu­ro­cho, there’s Maji­ma ever­y­whe­re in Soten­bu­ri. Both loca­li­ties have in com­mon that they have their fair sha­re of simi­lar super­mar­kets and temp­les but they sport a dif­fe­rent flair than in Kamu­ro­cho than in Soten­bu­ri. Kamu­ro­cho is – as said befo­re – the Enter­tain­ment district of Tokyo in which every neon sign is more vibrant and more extra­va­gant than the other, has the abi­li­ty to draw out the night life like no other. At day drunkards, stu­dents and your run of the mill busi­ness men hang out in the rela­tively dir­ty and gray streets. Tho­se who fol­lo­wed the games up to this point alrea­dy know its lay­out like the back of their hand. But sin­ce the game actual­ly takes place around 20 years befo­re the first Yaku­za game, much of the alrea­dy estab­lished busi­nes­ses are still under con­struc­tion. Arca­des are all the rage in the 1988 ver­si­on of the cities and ins­tead of see­ing “CLUB SEGA” gree­ting us as usu­al the “SEGA Hi-Tech Land” takes its place. Both arca­de chains are based on their actu­al real life coun­ter­part in Japan, com­ple­te­ly wit­hout fun­ny fan­ta­sy names that hold their own in Rockstar’s GTA series. You will find much to do in the cities under the term “mini games” like play­ing old SEGA clas­sics that go by the name of Out Run, Super Hang-On, Space Har­ri­er and Fan­ta­sy Zone for examp­le. You may even buy into real esta­te and mana­ge them, do pocket racer tour­na­ments, karao­ke or even base­ball.

Maji­ma in Soten­bo­ri on the other hand has intri­guing quests as well. He adver­ti­ses his Caba­ret Club “Grand” on the streets, fun­ny dia­lo­gues, slo­gans and all, to attract new hos­tes­ses for his estab­lish­ment. You’re able to tweak and cus­to­mi­ze the look of tho­se who work for you or rather him and mana­ge the dif­fe­rent sec­tions of the club as well. Here you have to look out for the pre­fe­ren­ces and likings of the custo­mers and natu­ral­ly to keep wrang­lers eit­her at bay or throw them out. Who would be a bet­ter boun­cer than the Maji­ma him­s­elf? Ladies Wrest­ling is ano­t­her mini game in Yaku­za 0, the play­er can’t influ­ence the fights direc­t­ly but they are cer­tain­ly a sight to behold. If you want to lay a hand on an oppo­nent yours­elf then you have to go to the Under­ground Colos­se­um, to test your mett­le against over a dozen of indi­vi­du­al figh­ters. Also darts and pool are still the­re, oh play­ers of old.
Yaku­za 0 not only gives play­ers a vast varie­ty of mini games, they are not only a fun and enter­tai­ning way to lose money, no. Tho­se litt­le games are so intri­ca­te and well made, SEGA could very well release them as a spin-off series of their own. A small selec­tion of them is also avail­ab­le for online coope­ra­ti­ve play, so tho­se who are inte­rested in giving the game a chan­ce can even play against others in mah­jong and poker. Sad­ly there’s no invi­ta­ti­on sys­tem in place, so you can’t spe­ci­fi­cal­ly choo­se your fri­ends but for all who are in it to win, the­re are online lea­der­boards in place.

To top this ent­i­re ama­zing packa­ge of con­tent off the­re are a lot of sub-sto­ries as well. Side­quests, some shorter, some lon­ger than others, tell a sto­ry out of character’s lives. Tho­se go from extre­me­ly bizar­re to extre­me­ly ques­tion­ab­le at times in a fun way. For examp­le Maji­ma has to take on the role of the gallant boy­fri­end of a com­ple­te stran­ger infront of their father for one din­ner. Or he has to escort a living sta­tue in it’s despe­ra­ti­on to the rest room, help a boy to retrie­ve a Super Nin­ten­do like car­tridge or even help a teen to his first dir­ty maga­zi­ne, even though Maji­ma nor­mal­ly does not enter­tain such actions.

Visual Design and Execution

SEGA con­stant­ly impro­ves their designs and their engi­ne to crea­te a more believ­a­ble look for the series. Yaku­za 0 yet again mana­ges to impress with its visu­al style and pre­sen­ta­ti­on, giving the play­ers the pos­si­b­ly most impres­si­ve look the Yaku­za fran­chise has had to this day. Kamu­ro­cho is live­lier than ever espe­ci­al­ly when you con­si­der the PS2 and PS3 games. Lots of pede­stri­ans to walk up or into, neon signs are ligh­t­ing the streets ever so color­ful while the back­streets pile up with trash and small food stands exu­de steam in the cold win­ter days. Even the ingame models are much more detail­ed than befo­re; anti­alia­sing takes care of need­less fli­cke­ring and the games enhan­ced field of view con­tri­bu­tes to the por­tra­y­al of a living city whe­re the­re is much going on.

Loa­ding times pro­ve to be much shorter than in the pre­vious con­so­le genera­ti­ons and diving strai­ght into an encoun­ter on the streets only takes a few seconds. Be that as it may, even the cur­rent game still suf­fers under the limi­ta­ti­ons of it’s tech­ni­cal foun­da­ti­on. Invi­si­ble walls, goons vanish into thin air after pum­meling them into sub­mis­si­on and drop wea­pons whe­re you can’t get to them (clip­ping errors hur­ray).

Yakuza 0 in our Let’s Play from start to finish


Yaku­za 0 is the ide­al ent­ry point to the long las­ting 12 year-old series. The game builds upon the strong point of its pre­de­ces­sors with ease so that the com­bat sys­tem, the emo­tio­nal­ly-grip­ping, intri­guing sto­ry and the myri­ad of side mis­si­ons and mini games shi­ne even more bril­li­ant­ly than befo­re. But there’s still room for impro­ve­ment on the tech­ni­cal side of the game that could make the expe­ri­ence all the more plea­sant. Sel­dom has a video­ga­me mana­ged to be more enter­tai­ning and at the same time infor­ma­ti­ve about the Japa­ne­se cul­tu­re and its histo­ry than Yaku­za 0. No mat­ter if you are a fan of the long estab­lished series or com­ple­te­ly new to it, we at XTga­mer can only recom­mend the series and espe­ci­al­ly Yaku­za 0 as an ent­ry point to you, just in case you own a Play­Sta­ti­on 4 and are in need of some­thing new and dif­fe­rent.

We took the screen­shots using the PS4 ver­si­on.

Twitch Live Stream is ONLINE
Twitch Live Stream is OFFLINE