Yakuza 0 – Visceral, Fast Storytelling
My first exposure to Yakuza 0 was talking to a friend who was rather excited that the series was being remade for current-gen consoles. Specifically, about the Majima Everywhere mode coming to August’s release of Yakuza Kiwami. Who was Majima? Why was he everywhere? And why did that one feature make me want a game that wasn’t to come out for months?
My second exposure was through a let’s play. Specifically, Beast in the East from Giant Bomb. Not only did it introduce me to two great protagonists, but it showed off a lot of the goofy side quests that juxtaposed the main story.
In April, I was able to play Yakuza on my own for the first time. Unlike a few of my friends, I came in late to the video game scene. The PS4 is my first major console, so I didn’t have those PS3-era Yakuza memories to draw from.
As someone who appreciates a serious, gritty game, I loved Yakuza 0 as soon as things really started getting interesting. It told a story that, even when displaying its darkest deeds, was enjoyable in a way that most other games haven’t, at least for me.
Yakuza 0 spoilers start here. If you haven’t played the game, this is a personal plea for you to go do that before reading further. It’s worth it, and I hold its main storyline in high regard.
No Punches Held
Immediately, I was thrown into an already deep story of how the Tojo Clan is having troubles completing the Kamurocho Revitalization Project, hindered by a small pocket of land known as the Empty Lot. Its owner remains unknown; therefore, unlike every other property in Kamurocho, it is unquantifiable.
I was stunned by the fact that a character had been framed for murdering someone. He also had the guts to walk into the Dojima Family office and demand that he be expelled from the family so that he can prove his innocence.
The ride didn’t stop there, as this character, Kazuma Kiryu, teams up with a rogue real estate company, Tachibana Real Estate, to further his goals. The final scene of Kiryu’s first chapters is watching a man, little older than he is himself, shutting down power to an entire city block by waving his hand over it.And then, the game introduces Goro Majima. Manager of the The Grand, a cabaret in Sotenbori, he is vying to buy his way back into the Shimano Family. He comes close, and then the custodian of his punishment raises the bar: either kill a target, Makoto Makimura, or pay 500 million yen instead.
As Majima goes to complete the job, he winds up finding them in a chiropractor’s office: not only is the target not who Majima thought it would be, but it is a blind young woman. Instead of finishing the job, he protects her, and with Lee’s, her caretaker’s, help, hides her to save her life.
The Story Doesn’t Stop
These events take place over the course of just about six hours of playtime. And even then, Yakuza 0 does not stop revealing things about characters. Everything that the game reveals is drawn from a complex web of relationships between the characters in its story.
Among different plot twists, the one that shocked me the most: Tachibana’s reason for getting to the owner of the Empty Lot. The revelation of this, given his backstory, is heartbreaking.
Knowing that many of the characters in Yakuza 0, given the fact that it is a prequel to a six-plus game series, don’t make it into the rest of the games is just a touch too unsettling. Sega did an incredible job of making even the most temporary characters leave a lasting impression.
A Writer’s Perspective
Playing through Yakuza 0 for the first time, I was entirely caught up in what was going to happen next. What does the bat tattoo have to do with Makoto? Why was she having girls who worked at telephone clubs ask the men who called about them? How did Oda end up working under Tachibana, who was clearly younger than him? Why don’t the police just arrest Kiryu, since he was suspected of murder?
Every single one of my questions was answered. Every single one. Yakuza 0 did something in its storytelling that I admire as a writer myself: it tied up every loose end it had plucked from the Afghan rug that is its plot. Naturally, some things are better left to the other games in the series, but Yakuza 0 is very self-contained.
I’m fairly disappointed that its release this year was overshadowed by so many others. I don’t think Yakuza 0 received much of the attention it deserved. It’s not terribly long: much of its play time lies in side missions. Its subject matter isn’t up everyone’s alley, and I realize that. I do think that it did the “open world” concept better than a handful of other games. On top of that it had a compelling reason to finish it. That’s a discussion for game of the year, though.
Featured image via Gadgets360.