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‘Yakuza 0’ Review & Gameplay, Explained: What Makes ‘Yakuza 0’ Worth Playing?

We reviewed “Yakuza Kiwami” and “Yakuza Kiwami 2” a while back on our website, and with them, the history of this franchise, from its humble beginnings to where it stands now. While “Yakuza Kiwami” is the remake of the first game in the series, it is technically the game that started this franchise. “Yakuza 0” is canonically the first game in the series, and let me tell you, it’s the best one. I have played every “Yakuza” game except “Yakuza 3,” the plot of which I know, and while each game in this series is a masterpiece on its own, nothing comes close to the story, the setting, the number of things you can do, and the character developments you see here in “Yakuza 0.”

“Yakuza 0” came out in 2015 and finally, after a decade, took the series to the stratosphere and made its name outside Japan and especially in the West. Fans were drooling over this game, and the critics unanimously loved it. Sure, it had a bunch of problems, but everything it did was so charismatic, bold, and awe-inspiring that all its blemishes just got swept under the rug. “Yakuza 0” showed gamers, especially Western audiences, the power this franchise holds with a brilliant and cinematic story, which was in complete contrast to the plethora of side content you could engage with, and trust me, there is a ton of it. The tonal dissonance between the game’s story and the general gameplay couldn’t be any more jarring, but that’s the weird part, it just works. The combat, the story, the activities, and the explorations, when combined, make “Yakuza 0” an experience that you won’t find anywhere else, and with that out of the way, let’s take a look at what makes “Yakuza 0” worth playing. 

‘Yakuza 0’ Characters

Before we jump into the plot of this game, let’s take a quick look at some of the characters you’ll be meeting across the first few chapters. There are so many characters here, and each one of them is handled incredibly, and as you play the game, you’ll get to know them better and start to like a lot of them while hating the rest. There is a long list of characters to know here, so I’ll only be talking about the ones you’ll meet during the first few chapters with minimal descriptions; the rest you can interact with on your own. A lot of them you’d already know if you had played the previous game, as this is a prequel that came out much later. Here we go.

Kazuma Kiryu: The protagonist of this entire series, we see a much younger version of Kiryu here who has very recently joined the Yakuza. Kiryu is as you’d expect: a stoic man with a heart of gold who doesn’t use his words as often as he uses his fists to do the talking.

Goro Majima: Another mainstay of the series and our second playable character, we see a much younger version of Majima here as well, who is very contained and hasn’t become the “Mad Dog” we know. Majima here is very different from what you’d have come to expect of him and has a calm and collected demeanor backing him up.

Akira Nishikiyama: Sworn brother to Kiryu, Nishikiyama returns and is his old self and not the cold and power-hungry Yakuza we met in “Yakuza Kiwami.” Nishiki is enjoying his Yakuza life and is in it for the money and the glam. He is a loveable character here, and you’ll see how strong Kiryu and his bond are.

Tetsu Tachibana: The most mysterious character you’ll meet in this story, Tachibana is a real estate agent and the owner of Tachibana Enterprises. He is calm, calculated, and very shady at times. I won’t say anything more about him, as he is a mystery you should unravel on your own.

Osamu Kashiwagi: We see a much younger version of Kashiwagi san here as well, and he is just like his older self but more hot-headed. Kashiwagi san watches over Kiryu and Nishiki while Kazama san is in prison and usually keeps his mouth shut, only opening it to stuff food in it.

Sohei Dojima: Patriarch of the Dojima family, the strongest family in the Tojo Clan, Sohei Dojima is a power-hungry Yakuza who is simply not a good dude. We got more character development for him here, but somehow it still wasn’t enough, and he is just a character I hate and is very forgettable, all things considered.

Daisaku Kuze: Lieutenant to Sohei Dojima and patriarch of the Kenno Clan, Daisaku Kuze is an ex-boxer and believes in the old Yakuza ways. He and his clan act as the muscle of the Dojima Family, and he is a hardass and very hot-headed, making him one of the best villains this series has ever seen, right next to Ryuji Goda from “Yakuza Kiwami 2” if you ask me. 

Hiroki Awano: The second lieutenant to Soehi Dojima and patriarch of the Taihei Association, Awano is the extortion specialist of the Dojima Family. He is in the Yakuza business only for the money and women. He is usually much calmer than Kuze and is another good addition to this game’s roster of villains.

Keiji Shibusawa: The third and final lieutenant to Sohei Dojima and the patriarch of the Shibusawa Family, Shibusawa is the brains of the organization and gets the job done no matter how extreme his ways may get. Shibusawa is much colder than the other lieutenants, and this man is obsessed with powers.

Tsukasa Sagawa: The patriarch of the Sagawa family, Omi Alliance, Sagawa is the sworn brother of Futoshi Shimano from the Tojo Clan and is the owner of the Cabaret Grand in Sotenbori. He also serves as Majima’s jailer, and as bad a person as he is, he is a charismatic and memorable addition to the roster.

There are tons of characters already, and we haven’t even gotten to the plot yet, but that’s “Yakuza.” All of these characters and more that weren’t mentioned are very well written and developed, and you’ll learn more about them as you play through the game. With this out of the way, let’s take a look at the plot.

‘Yakuza 0’ Premise

This game is a prequel to the entire Yakuza series and gives us a glimpse of Kamurocho and Sotenbori in 1988, during the bubble era of Japan. There is a lot to the plot here with all its twists and turns and revelations that come along the way, and it is perhaps the longest story in any “Yakuza” game that is divided into 17 chapters between the two playable characters. I won’t be going into every single detail here as it is very long, and you should see it with your own eyes, so I’ll quickly give you a brief of Kiryu and Majima’s story here. I won’t be talking about anything after Chapter 4, as that’s when the game truly opens up.

Kiryu’s Plot: The game opens with Kiryu beating a man to get his collections into an Empty Lot. After his collections run, he delivers the money and spends a night in the town with Nishiki. They find out through the news that the guy Kiryu was beating up wound up dead, and Kiryu is asked to go to prison by his family for a civilian’s murder. Kiryu didn’t kill the man, so he came up with a plan and left the family to find the truth on his own. He meets Tachibana along the way and joins forces with him, learning that “The Empty Lot” is worth a lot of money and all of the Yakuza are after that small piece of land, so he is framed. Thus begins Kiryu’s story to unravel this murder mystery. 

Majima’s Plot: Majima’s plot, on the other hand, starts with him being the manager of The Cabaret Grand in Sotenbori. We learn that the city is his prison, and he is tasked with making a billion yen as the manager of The Cabaret Grand to get released from his shackles and rejoin the Tojo Clan. Majima is being watched everywhere he goes and is handled by Sagawa, who is the owner of the Grand. After making a billion yen, Sagawa backs out of the deal and refuses to let go of Majima. He asks him to perform a hit on one Makato Makimura, which will be enough to get him released. Majima has never killed anyone but is desperate to join the Tojo Clan as a free Yakuza, so he accepts his plot, which is a rollercoaster, to say the least.

These are the two stories “Yakuza 0” tells, and trust me when I say this: it’s a brilliant tale that doesn’t make much sense at points but is very interesting throughout. Both of these stories intertwine with each other, and the revelations you’ll come across during the later stages are just fantastic. That’d be all for the plot of “Yakuza 0.” I know it’s vague, but it’s better that way, trust me.

‘Yakuza 0’ Gameplay

“Yakuza 0” is a beat ’em up that features eight different fighting styles divided between the two characters. You’ll be beating the crap out of people throughout the story and the streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, and you’ll also fight a ton of crazy boss battles along your journey. If you have played “Yakuza Kiwami,” then you’ll be familiar with Kiryu’s four fighting styles: Brawler, Rush, Beast, and The Dragon of Dojima Style, simply called “Legend” here. You’ll start with Brawler and unlock Rush and Beast pretty quickly, but for the Legend style, you’ll have to put in a lot of work and finish The Real Estate Royale storyline. When it comes to Majima, he also has four different fighting styles, all of which are extremely unique. You’ll start with the Thug style and quickly unlock the Slugger style, where he wields a baseball bat. Then you’ll unlock the Breaker style, where Majima literally turns into a break dancer, and finally, the Mad Dog of Shimano style, simply titled “Legend”. Just like Kiryu, the Legend style here is unlocked after putting in a lot of work and completing the Cabaret Club storyline for Majima.

One quick thing to add here is that, just like in previous games, all of your styles and abilities can be upgraded here as well, but you don’t earn any skill points in this game. You upgrade all your abilities using the money you earn, and as backward and stupid as that sounds, it just works. Since this game takes place during the bubble era of Japan, money is everywhere, and earning it is a joke. You’ll be raking up billions—yes, billions—of yen in no time and spending it all upgrading your characters. As a whole, this system is pretty well implemented and fits perfectly with the era and tone the game went for. You’ll also be earning CP (completion points) for completing tasks on your completion list, which you can trade at the shrine for perks and permanent unlocks, like unlimited stamina, among other things.

So, we have two playable characters with eight different fighting styles. That’s cool and varied, isn’t it? The series’ signature heat moves are also here, and they are as brutal and varied as ever. This game’s implementation of the heat bar and how generously it’s built are by far my favorites across this series. If you have played “Yakuza” games, then you know what to expect on the gameplay front, as mostly you’ll be fighting a ton of people, and this game gives you the biggest toolset the series has ever seen to date. You may also be aware of the minigames this series is known for, and they are all here, but there’s a lot more here as well, so we decided to give the minigames their own section. Let’s take a look at those now.

The Minigames

“Yakuza” games are known for their stories and worldbuilding, sure, but the minigames on offer in these games are a cornerstone for this series and a driving force behind people’s love for this franchise. If you are a “Yakuza” fan, then you know what I am talking about here, but if not, you are in for a ride. The reason I separated this section and didn’t include it in the gameplay section is because of how many minigames are present here. They went overboard with this game, and let me tell you, most, if not all, of those games are just awesome.

You have the standard stuff that’s present in every other game, like the casino, which features blackjack, roulette, poker, and baccarat. Then you have Japanese gambling games like oicho-kabu, cee-lo, cho-han, and koi-koi (my personal favorite among them). Karaoke also returns, and you should definitely sing Baka Mitai as Kiryu and 24 Hour Cinderella as Majima. Since the game takes place in the 1980s, you have a disco minigame, which works much like Karaoke but on the dance floor. It features five incredible songs and three difficulties for each song and is very fun to play. You also have fished here, alongside classics like the UFO Catcher and arcade games like Outrun and Space Harrier. There is pocket circuit racing here as well, where you build tiny cars and race them, which is very period-appropriate and fun. Catfights, where you bet money on two women fighting, take the form of “rock, paper, scissors,” and it’s terrible. Baseball, pool, darts, and bowling also make an appearance. Phone dating is another era-appropriate minigame where you talk to women on the phone and select the right answers to get invited on a date with them. Full-fledged versions of mahjong and shogi also make their way for you to play; how can’t they? They are every Yakuza player’s worst nightmare. There are more here, I am sure, so I am sorry if I missed any, but as you can see, there are tons of activities for you to take part in here.

There are two massive character-specific minigames here as well, as mentioned before. Specific to Kiryu is the Royal Estate Royale game, where you buy a ton of properties across Kamurocho and sell them to make a profit. There’s a very forgettable and unnecessary storyline tied to it, and while this is a bit grindy, the rewards are worth it. You’ll be making billions of yen in no time, and once you complete the storyline here, you’ll unlock the Legend fighting style. The Dragon of Dojima. On the other hand, specific to Majima is the Cabaret Club minigame, which also features a very forgettable storyline but is incredibly fun. Here you run and manage your own Cabaret club, all the while making billions of yen and unlocking Majima’s Legend fighting style, The Mad Dog of Shimano. The grind behind unlocking these two fighting styles that truly change how you play the game is a very odd choice if you ask me, but the games themselves are so much fun that I didn’t mind going through them. As you can see, there are a ton of things to do here, and most of them are incredibly fun to engage with. It gets annoying when you have to complete every item on the completion list; if you are a completionist, that is, but I digress. Fun activities all around.

The World

We have covered the world of “Yakuza” in a separate article that you can check out on our website, and there’s not much to say here. You’ll visit Kamurocho and Sotenbori as always, but the draw this time is that the game is set in the 1980s, and it shows. The vibe here is unmatched, and it feels like we were transported back in time, all thanks to RGG’s commitment to making these worlds as alive and lived in as possible. Another big change is the absence of the Millennium Tower, as it wasn’t built yet, and “The Empty Lot,” around which the story revolves, sits right where the Millennium Tower is in the other games. A beautiful and highly detailed world, as always, awaits you in “Yakuza 0,” all packed with the glam of the ’80s.

The Technical Stuff

Not much to say here either. The visuals are a bit dated but still good. The sound is amazing, and the voice acting is just plain fantastic. The cutscene direction is as cinematic as it can be, and each cutscene is just gorgeous. The world is rich in detail, and I have had no framerate issues at all. I played this game on my Xbox Series X, and it runs at 1440p at 60 fps, and my experience was rock solid all around. A good game technically from RGG, as always.

The Verdict

I said this in the opening of this article, and I’ll say it again here. “Yakuza 0” is the best “Yakuza ” game that has been made to date. Almost everything about this game is fantastic. The story here is one of the best, and yes, it gets convoluted at times, but that doesn’t take away from the experience. We see the beginnings of almost every character we have known across the series, and it was a breath of fresh air to see younger versions of these legends we have known for so long. The combat system is one of the best in the series, with multiple styles and a lot of variability and options. The activities to do are abundant, and each of them is incredibly well crafted. The 80’s version of Kamurocho and Sotenbori is eye-catching, and they nailed it when it comes to the vibe and ambiance of that era. Look, you get it. I can sit here and praise “Yakuza 0” all day if I can, but this article has already gotten incredibly long. I can’t help it; “Yakuza 0” is a big game, and almost all of it is worth exploring and experiencing. I am sure I missed a ton of things in this review, so I apologize if I didn’t talk about your favorite feature here, like the sub-stories; there are one hundred of them, and most of them are hilarious. This game is something else. It’s one of the best games I have ever played in my life, and the amount of work and heart RGG put into it brings a tear to my eye. Go and play “Yakuza 0” and fall in love with this incredible series. The studio and the franchise deserve all the love they can get, and this is the one video game franchise that you shouldn’t skip.

See more: ‘Chorus’ Review & Gameplay, Explained: What Makes ‘Chorus’ Worth Playing?

Kartik Sharma
Kartik Sharma
Kartik is sometimes a freelance content writer and an actor. He loves spending his time reading books, playing videogames, dabbling in music, exploring different cultures and languages, etc. loves everything that is art and loves to explore new horizons.