Yakuza 0

For those new to the series, here’s how Yakuza 0 works: you take control of two young gangsters, one in Tokyo, the other in Osaka.The game is set in exquisite little dioramas of both city’s.

Bruising, bonkers and frequently brilliant, Yakuza 0 is Sega's cult favourite at its very best.

Yakuza and the 1980s: it always looked an ideal fit, and so it proves. The series that never does anything by halves enters the decade of excess in a pulverising bombardment of bone-shuddering violence, overwrought melodrama, sentimentality and silliness, where just about everything is dialled up to 11. The bonkers and frequently brilliant result is the best Yakuza to date and one of the finest Sega games in years.

Yakuza 0

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Platform: Reviewed on PS4
  • Availability: Out January 24th on PS4

It might take a step back in time, but Yakuza 0 is a stride forward in every other sense. Take the storytelling, for starters. For all its ambition and variety, Yakuza 5's multi-stranded plot sagged in places and felt rushed in others. Zero, unburdened by the need to accommodate the expanded cast of more recent entries, focuses on just two playable characters - stoic series regular Kazuma Kiryu and loose cannon Goro Majima - and two narrative threads, which begin some distance apart before inexorably drawing together and eventually becoming intertwined. This affords the individual strands room to breathe, leaving space for character development without slackening the pace.

Kiryu's tale - set, as ever, in the pleasure district of Kamurocho, rendered here in rich, bustling detail - centres on a tiny plot of land known simply as the Empty Lot, the ownership of which is set to prove crucial to a forthcoming regeneration project. Factions within the ruling Tojo clan find themselves competing against a new player, Tachibana Real Estate, headed up by a mysterious outsider with good reasons for laying claim to the land. Kiryu finds himself dragged into the mess when a debt collecting gig goes bad and he's framed for murder on the same patch, forcing him to operate outside the clan's jurisdiction as he investigates who wants him out of the picture. Majima, meanwhile, is in Sotenbori, Osaka - and in hock to the unbearably smug Omi Alliance chairman Sagawa, whose comeuppance you'll be anticipating from his very first scene. Having been excommunicated from the yakuza, he's trying to work his way back into favour as manager of a cabaret club, until he reluctantly agrees to pull off a hit, the fallout from which sets him on a collision course with some very dangerous people.

The narrative is entirely self-contained, but it's likely to mean more to anyone who played the original Yakuza because the two threads essentially double as origin stories. As the de facto lead, Kiryu's journey to becoming the dragon of Dojima initially seems like the biggest draw. Yet it's Majima who steals the show, this charismatic wildcard demonstrating heretofore unexplored depths. His introduction is a classic: an extended cutscene-cum-tutorial that distils the essence of Yakuza into a single, glorious set-piece, as it patiently builds to a masterful reveal and a piece of showmanship (involving the humiliation of a lecherous punter) that will make you want to applaud. Later, he silently conveys the frustration of a man forced to keep a lid on his simmering rage and acquiesce to the mob bosses who left him with one eye, and we also get to see a much softer side to him, culminating in a moment of heart-rending selflessness. It recontextualises everything we thought we knew about the self-styled 'mad dog of Shimano' to the point where you might even experience a mild twinge of disappointment whenever the story swings back toward Kiryu.

Five go mad in Kamurocho

As with Yakuza 5's taxi missions and hunting quests, there are more substantial asides for each of the two leads. In Kiryu's case, it's building a real estate empire to compete with a series of ruthless property tycoons - the Five Billionaires - who've divvied up Kamurocho into districts. To break their dominance, you'll need to make cash offers for the businesses within each area, from restaurants to pachinko parlours. You'll employ a manager and someone to run security for each district, while advisers - each with their own particular business interests - can invest in developing individual properties to maximise profits, which accrue over time as you play. The magnates won't take kindly to you impinging on their profits, sending the heavies round to interrupt collections, forcing you to find and fight them so the money can keep rolling in. In truth, it's mostly busywork, but it's a useful way of earning money while you're getting on with other things - and unless you're on a lucky streak at the casino, it's key to earning the big bucks you need to unlock the costly abilities at the tips of your skill tree.

Majima's alternative is more entertaining and challenging, though it might leave you feeling slightly unclean. Here you're asked to revive the fortunes of a failing cabaret club, by winning over punters from five rivals. You'll scout attractive women on Sotenbori's streets, offering expensive gifts as incentives to work for you as hostesses, before coaching them in social etiquette and picking out new dresses and accessories to boost their appeal in one of four categories (cute, sexy, beautiful, funny). So far, so icky. But what follows is an absorbing - and moderately stressful - time management sim reminiscent of games like Cake Mania or Diner Dash. Punters enter the club and you'll quickly need to supply them with a girl to suit their needs before they grow impatient. Your employees' stamina, meanwhile, will dwindle the longer they have to talk to these men (just like real life!) and they'll eventually shout for the bill when they can take no more. In the middle of a conversation, a hostess may call you over and gesture for a refill, some more ice or a towel, and if you can read their hand movements before their whispered explanation, they'll be able to endure their guest for longer. It's straightforward enough with one or two tables, but when you've got a full house, it becomes a delicate plate-spinning act as you try to prioritise alerts at speed and gauge the mood of the room before unleashing Party mode to loosen the wallets of your patrons. Any dissatisfied customers can be placated by an apology, while the short-term expense of a parting gift can result in a long-term gain through the positive word-of-mouth from a happy punter.

It's brought to life by the series' finest localisation effort so far, a reminder of the value of its publisher's investment in Atlus. One or two of the more colourful colloquialisms feel a little anachronistic, but otherwise it's incisive and witty, with some wonderfully creative profanity. The script is aided by excellent voice acting and performance capture: Naughty Dog might have the edge in verisimilitude but in the unnervingly pore-perfect detail of the faces and the expressiveness of the animations - some remarkably subtle, some purposefully exaggerated - this is best-in-class stuff.

The rhythms of the game are broadly the same as before. You're mostly free to explore Kamurocho and Sotenbori at your own pace, outside a few occasions where the narrative dictates you stick to a linear path. As you wander, you'll sometimes be approached by a variety of street thugs and gangsters, who'll pick a fight for some imagined slight. After you beat them, you'll head to your destination where a lengthy conversation or confrontation - or both - awaits. Or you can tackle one of an even broader range of side activities, including slot car racing and a quite fabulous rhythm-action disco dancing minigame.

Combat, too, benefits from some thoughtful refinements. Both fighters can switch between three different fighting styles on the fly: one's a fairly standard brawler, another lets you launch flurries of quick attacks while a third sacrifices pace for power. In keeping with the 'greed is good' mantra of the time, you'll accrue money instead of experience from every street fight, which you'll invest - along with the cash you've gained from side activities - in extra moves, extensions to combo strings and boosts to your health and Heat gauges. The latter, if you're new to the series, builds when you land successive attacks, letting you pull off an array of spectacularly vicious finishers. Though Kiryu's Beast style is fun, as he hunches his shoulders and curls his arms like an angry gorilla protecting its territory, two of Majima's options are even better: Slugger sees him wielding a baseball bat like nunchaku, while Breaker lets you chain a series of violent street dance moves from windmills to backspins, as you send groups of goons sprawling in a blur of kicks before grabbing some extra Heat with a stylish freeze pose. There's a lingering stiffness at times - which the forthcoming Yakuza 6 looks to have resolved - but this is the most satisfying Yakuza's combat has ever been.

Fighting is a defining characteristic of the Yakuza experience, yet Zero is anything but an empty-headed brawler. Violence here is about so much more than just shallow empowerment. Even as it celebrates the primal appeal of confronting abusive goons and smashing their faces in, it doesn't shy away from examining the consequences - sometimes to shattering effect. It acknowledges that violence almost always begets more violence, and that the yakuza life often involves personal sacrifice. Is there not, it suggests, a certain nobility in allowing oneself to becoming a monster to prevent others from succumbing to darkness? Sure, you could reasonably argue that it glamorises brutality by the way it indulges in the act - particularly in its more elaborate, showy Heat moves. But there's always a justification, a purpose; something or someone to fight for. Crucially, you never start a fight - though you'll usually finish it.

Sega's clearly aware that you will, on occasion, need a break from all the back-breaking and bloodletting. As such, several recreational activities have been folded into story missions, from karaoke competitions to dance-offs and impromptu visits to takoyaki stands. More side quests are set along the critical path, increasing the likelihood of getting distracted from the story - though it's hard to refuse either way when you're greeted by someone needing urgent help. Where the main plot plays things with a pretty straight bat, it's here that Yakuza explores its sillier side: in one case a shy dominatrix asks you for lessons in assertiveness; in another, you'll coach a boy band on how to appeal to a more mature audience. And in one preposterous set-piece, you'll protect Michael Jackson - sorry, Miracle Johnson - from actors dressed as zombies as he moonwalks from one end of Tenkaichi Street to the other. Later, after winning his friendship, you can recruit him as an adviser to Kiryu's burgeoning real estate empire (see sidebar), albeit for an eye-watering fee. If all this sounds a little puerile - an entirely reasonable observation - then most of it can be happily ignored.

How RPG's greatest survivors kept the lights on.

The same can't always be said of the game's treatment of its female cast, most of whom fall into one of two categories: eye candy or victim. Though Kiryu and Majima make a point of encouraging others to respect women, it can seem hypocritical in a game which invites you to watch softcore videos while relaxing in the gentleman's way (though it's relatively tame in what's shown: the video, ahem, climaxes with a close-up of a box of tissues, as Kiryu lets out a satisfied sigh). Elsewhere, you can attend catfights where two barely-clad wrestlers with ludicrous, pendulous breasts grapple one another as you play rock-paper-scissors to influence their next move. True, Yakuza has explored the seedier side of its pleasure districts before, and Zero makes efforts to introduce stronger female characters: one, central to the plot, displays remarkable fortitude, while an ass-kicking debt collector teaches Kiryu how to better unleash his inner beast. But if the case for the defence is that it's a representation of a particular culture at a particular time - one notably unafraid to paint men as drooling perverts - there's an easy counter to arguments about authenticity: Michael Jackson, real estate mogul.

Yakuza's greatest asset is its heart. Its tough side is counterbalanced by a disarming tenderness: its side quests are almost exclusively about helping others in need, and its narrative focuses on the honour of fighting for the people you love and the causes you believe in. And when action rather than compassion is required, it provides the context to let you break faces without feeling too guilty about it - pitting you against a bunch of hateful bastards, piling on even more reasons to hate them, and then letting you enjoy delivering justice in cathartically brutal fashion.

By the note-perfect ending, which brings one chapter to a close as another begins, the old guard has made way for the new. Setting aside the upcoming Yakuza Kiwami (a ground-up remake of the original, with Majima's role wisely expanded), that's true of the series, too, with Yakuza 6 promising an improved game engine, smoother combat and a more seamless open world. Though a return to Kamurocho isn't far away, Yakuza 0 is, in many respects, the end of an era - and a heck of a finish it is, too.

Yakuza 0 takes the series back to its roots, and oh boy what a wise decision that was. For anyone new to the series, it provides the perfect opportunity to jump right in without having to catch up on all the other games, and a wonderful origins story for those that have.If you were thinking of dipping your toe into the wonderful world of Japanese gangster life, there has never been a better time, and I’m here to offer a guiding hand with some Yakuza 0 tips. Just because Yakuza 0 is an origin story doesn’t mean it comes without baggage both of the cultural sort – the Yakuza games are made principally for a Japanese audience after all – and of a gaming heritage that stretches back to 2005. I’ve thrown together some handy Yakuza 0 tips to see you through some of the sterner challenges you’ll face along the way. Don't expect GTA: TokyoWhile Yakuza 0 shares similar themes and an open-world setting, this is where its comparison with Grand Theft Auto ends.

There’s no driving, very little shooting and while Kamurocho and Sotenbori are well-realised open world environments, they are only city prefectures as opposed to the state-sized land masses. That said, both areas in Yakuza 0 are brilliantly realised and well worth getting lost in, especially if you’ve ever fancied a trip to Tokyo yourself.

From the hot coffee vending machines, the pokey Don Quiote corner shops (complete with incessant instore jingles) to the neon-bathed pachinko parlours and wavey-armed street hawkers desperate for you to come and sample their ‘world famous’ ramen soup.Yakuza 0’s DNA has more to do with the Shenmue games than Grand Theft Auto, both having been developed by Sega. While some may be disappointed that Yakuza 0 is not a true open-world adventure, that shouldn’t put you off. Yakuza 0 has a brooding storyline concerning rival factions locked in a brutal power struggle and is told from two perspectives, long-running protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and wild card cabaret club owner, not to mention borderline psychopath, Goro Maijima.

Murder, embezzlement, intrigue, curb stomps and a decent helping of heart, Yakuza 0 has carved its own niche in the action game landscape, so don’t ruin the experience by expecting it to be something it’s not. Know your YakuzaIf you’ve never heard of the Yakuza before, think Goodfellas with samurai swords and you’re almost there. Japan’s organised crime syndicates began life in Edo period Japan formed from the members of two distinct social classes, the tekiya, who made a brisk trade in flogging dodgy merchandise at markets, and the bakuto, who ran illegal gambling dens and operated as load sharks. Through the years both groups grew and modernised, but the traditions of both are still evident in modern day yakuza culture seen in their intricate tattoos and hierarchical structure.Modern day Yakuza follow a strict code of practice (generally not bothering people unaffiliated with yakuza activities), and steering clear of theft, armed robbery and other violent crime.

Since the turn of the millennium, many yakuza families have evolved into semi-legitimate organisations, taking part in local festivals and even helping provide relief following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Yakuza 0 is, however, set in 1988, when the whole operation had a bit more bite to it.

You may find that, while diplomacy may not be entirely out of the window, more arguments get settled with street furniture and the pavement than a frank discussion over a glass of single malt. Sidequests are essential (and mad)For some, the side quests in Yakuza 0 are the main attraction. While the main story thread is compelling and beautifully scripted, it’s all rather serious. The side quests, and there’s over 100 of them in total, are Yakuza 0’s comic relief. Be it organising an illicit rendezvous with a potential suitor on a toilet stall door (which ends in a brawl), winning a doll for a little girl from a grab machine (which ends in a brawl) or rescuing a mushroom dealer from a gang of thugs (you guessed it, brawl), Yakuza 0’s side quests offer a sideways view of Kamurocho and Sotenbori and the wacky people who live there.

Before letting you fight them.Perhaps more importantly, these side quests are a great source of money, which not only lets you buy stuff (duh) but is also used to progress your character and build your stats. And, seeing as most quests end with you not so delicately planting your heel in some fool’s forehead, taking the opportunity to test your mettle will serve you well in future fights.

Own the city (literally)Hostess bars are a bit of a Japanese phenomenon, and have featured proudly in Yakuza games since the first entry in the series. At its core, a hostess bar provides a little female company for its patrons, although there are also host bars where the genders of host and patron are reversed.

The patron pays for the hostess’ time and drinks (which are usually watered down and staggeringly over-priced) while the hostess laughs at jokes, listens to woes, light cigarettes and generally encourages him to buy more booze and keep coming back. Hostesses are generally considered a descendant of geisha and, while most bars employ a strict no touching policy, there are far less salubrious versions to be found in the darker corners of Japan’s major cities.In past iterations the Yakuza games have only let you frequent hostess bars as patron, but Yakuza 0 lets you become the owner and operator of one such den of iniquity, the demurely titled Sunshine Cabaret Club. The hostess mini game becomes available once you reach chapter 7, and is a great way to pocket wads of Yen on the side. You are tasked with finding new hostesses on the street by completing tasks or offering them a gift. New hostess are rated between bronze and platinum (gross, I know) and once signed up to the club, it’s up to you as manager to train and choose appropriate outfits for them. It’s a far more in-depth experience than in previous games, but harbours greater reward. If your morals can withstand such a prolonged onslaught, it’s certainly worth checking out.

Share your stuff between charactersIt’s not overtly obvious, but there is a way to transfer money and items between the two playable characters. This becomes useful later in the game if one character has raked in more than his fair share, and you feel it’s time to spread the wealth.The ability to swap out items between Kiryu and Majima cannot be unlocked until chapter 6, which is when the real-estate mini game becomes available.

During this chapter you’ll be instructed to head to the empty lot, where you’ll meet a man in a lime green suit. This less than dapper individual has a handful of optional interactions, one of which sends you to the Vincent Bar to speak to Fukushima, who will teach you how to make the exchanges. In the beginning you can only exchange certain things, but this broadens out the more you play. It’s only a small feature, but a lifeline if you find your characters are becoming unbalanced. Make friends and obliterate peopleKamurocho and Sotenbori are filled with all sorts of miscreants, wierdos and oddballs, many of whom you’ll end up throwing through plate-glass windows or slam their heads in taxi car doors.

There are some, however, that can offer more than just a place to warm your knuckle duster. Yakuza 0 has a friend system, a collection of city dwellers you can meet up with, run errands for, and generally repent for all the harm you’ve caused during your reign of thuggery.

There’s plenty of people to befriend, and they are well worth your time and effort, as the rewards they offer are some of the best in the game.A personal favourite of mine is Mr Libido, a semi-nude thrusting bundle of testosterone, usually found wherever there’s an image of a semi-clad woman. Keep meeting him and your friendship will blossom resulting in prizes galore. You don’t have to fight EVERYBODYSmashing fools in the face with bus signs can get you down. While it’s advisable in the early parts of the game to do as much fighting as possible (those stats aren’t going to rise on their own you know), towards the back end of the plot it can grow wearisome, especially if you’ve got a hot date with someone who’s being paid to hang out with you. Street thugs will approach you endlessly in Yakuza 0 (you must just have one of those faces) and there are multiple ways to avoid the confrontation.

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And before anyone asks, it’s pacifism – not spinelessness!Once you’ve hit chapter 6 you’ll meet a character who teaches you the scatter money technique, whereby you’ll literally throw money at your problems. This is all fair and good if you’ve got the dosh to burn, but another good method of conflict avoidance is by taking taxis everywhere.

While there is no fast travel in Yakuza 0, this is about as close as you can get and cuts out a huge amount of humping it past thugs. Lastly, and it’s not exactly the yakuza way, you can just sprint past any potential troublemakers. They’ll chase you for a bit but eventually give up.

It seems obvious in hindsight, but it took me some time before I realised cowardly retreating was even an option. Don't forget to use holds and throwsIf pacifism isn’t really your thing (you’ve bought a Yakuza game, so it’s a safe bet that you’re not against the idea of caving in someone’s skull with a traffic cone) then you’ll need a few fighting tips.

Seeing as Yakuza 0 very rarely offers you a fair fight, 10 on 1 is a common occurrence, you should know that grabbing someone means you’re pretty much impossible to be knocked down. When the goons are getting too close for comfort, grab onto one, wait for the right moment and then throw them as hard as possible into their buddies. Going down is a sure-fire way for the pain to multiply, so keeping on your toes is a handy defence, especially as the fights get tougher in the second half of the game. Drink your troubles awayYeah. Not sure what kind of message this passes out, but drinking in Yakuza 0 – as in life – unlocks hidden abilities when it’s time to throw down. There are bars dotted all around the maps, each stocked to the rafters with every kind of whiskey you could imagine (complete with handy tasting notes).

Tynon Gameplay Forum If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed. Tynon is an artfully designed browser game where players role play to build their kingdom, engage in the turn-based battles, deploy heroes in party formations, join social groups and ultimately. If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed. To start viewing messages, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below. Tynon forum. Tynon has you help Rosaline and a band of heroes to rescue the king and save the 13 kingdoms from the dark wizard's magic.

Smash a few of these and your heat meter will fill sooner and certain skills will become unlocked, which are apparently impossible to do while sober. So yeah, go nuts.On the topic of drinking, it’s also worth keeping a fair stock of energy drinks (such as Stamina X etc.) in your inventory at all times, but especially when you’re about to head into a story mission. These can lead into protracted fights with multiple enemies set over numerous encounters, so the last thing you want to do is run out of sugary rocket fuel to help finish off those last remaining gangsters, which leads us nicely to 10.

Save like it’s 1998Yakuza 0 doesn’t have an auto-save function, you need to do it manually from a phone booth. This is one of those things you’re only ever going to do once, but losing a couple of hours because you didn’t know is infuriating. Now you don’t need to go through such anguish, because you read ahead, well done you.