Yakuza 0

Kazuma Kiryu finds life more than ac­cept­able in the ’80s



Ten min­utes in, we fi­nally get to press a but­ton, and it’s to skip a line of di­a­logue. Soon af­ter­ward, we’re strolling through the streets of ’80s Ka­muro­cho, with red no-en­try signs for­bid­ding us from ex­plor­ing any side al­leys. As we push through a group of pedes­tri­ans, one glides side­ways out of Kazuma Kiryu’s path. Mo­ments later, we re­tire to a bar for some whisky and all-night karaoke. Ven­tur­ing out into the Tokyo sun, half-cut, we walk to­wards a pink ob­jec­tive marker and an­other cutscene last­ing sev­eral min­utes. If you were ex­pect­ing Yakuza 0 to shed two gen­er­a­tions of bag­gage, you’re in for a dis­ap­point­ment.

Not that those who pe­ti­tioned hard for a be­lated PS3 lo­cal­i­sa­tion for Yakuza 5 – or who greeted with ex­cite­ment Gio Corsi’s an­nounce­ment at De­cem­ber’s PlaySta­tion Ex­pe­ri­ence that 0, too, was west­ward bound – will mind. Ex­pect­ing a whole­sale over­haul of a se­ries that con­tin­ues to be a sil­ver lin­ing for Sega’s ac­coun­tants is fool­hardy. And to be­moan its lin­ger­ing bad habits would be to ig­nore the many sub­tle re­fine­ments that cu­mu­la­tively en­sure that Yakuza 0 feels like a step for­ward from its pre­de­ces­sors.

For starters, this is a more re­ac­tive, an­i­mated world, one that draws clear in­flu­ence from western open-world games, which tend to have a stronger sense of phys­i­cal­ity than their Ja­panese coun­ter­parts. It turns out that our sliding friend ear­lier was the ex­cep­tion: ven­dors and rev­ellers re­spond to Kiryu’s pres­ence in more tan­gi­ble, var­ied ways, with drunken salary­men paw­ing at his lapels should they stum­ble into him, and au­di­bly flus­tered young cou­ples quickly sidestep­ping this im­pos­ing fig­ure as he strides by.

Mean­while, Yakuza 5’ s most glar­ing pre­sen­ta­tional weak­nesses have been ad­dressed, if not en­tirely erad­i­cated: a far su­pe­rior draw dis­tance and sub­tle depth-offield ef­fects mean in­stances of pop-in are mi­nor and in­fre­quent, and even in crowded ar­eas the fram­er­ate re­mains solid. Segues into ran­dom bat­tles with bray­ing thugs have been stream­lined, and the com­bat ben­e­fits from a host of re­fine­ments, with a su­pe­rior soft-lock making straf­ing and dodg­ing eas­ier. Charge at­tacks can be worked into com­bos, throws feel a shade more re­spon­sive, and Kiryu can now launch counter-at­tacks by press­ing a but­ton as soon as he’s struck.

There’s some­thing else that’s hard to miss. We’re ac­cus­tomed to num­bers fly­ing out of en­e­mies in JRPG com­bat, but here it’s money, with notes cas­cad­ing from suit jack­ets and jeans pock­ets with ev­ery punch and kick Kiryu lands. You’ll spend plenty of it on gear, weapons and Stam­i­nan Royale, but it’s also in­vested in de­vel­op­ing three dis­tinct fight­ing styles, which you can switch be­tween by tap­ping the D-pad. The thug style you first learn of­fers fairly con­ven­tional moves, but the rush style is soon un­locked, al­low­ing Kiryu to re­peat­edly dash to evade blows and mash the square but­ton to stun op­po­nents.

Ka­muro­cho is dif­fer­ent, too. Sure, the lay­out hasn’t changed much in al­most three decades, but se­ries veter­ans can’t fail to spot the dif­fer­ences. There’s rich pe­riod de­tail, from the out­landish fash­ions to the bags of rub­bish lit­ter­ing the streets, and the markedly dif­fer­ent build­ing ex­te­ri­ors. One of our first ports of call when we’re fi­nally given free rein is Club Sega, and we’re per­turbed to wit­ness the rather grotty sign for Sega Hi-Tech Land. Oth­er­wise, it’s a re­turn to a time that feels like Ka­muro­cho’s hey­day. In truth, it’s al­ways been some­thing of a throw­back to a by­gone era: not ex­actly lawless, but bound to a dif­fer­ent set of rules and val­ues from the rest of con­tem­po­rary Tokyo. It’s a place away from the rat race, a place to in­dulge. And Yakuza is, and has al­ways been, in­dul­gent: it’s rarely a se­ries that does any­thing by halves.

The ’80s, in other words, are a par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able fit for the se­ries’ sil­lier el­e­ments – like the mo­ment when Kiryu reaches the cho­rus of his first karaoke song and we segue into a fan­tasy se­quence where he’s dressed as a rock star, re­plete with red head­band, leather jacket and jet-black gui­tar, grab­bing the air as he sings “break­ing the law… break­ing the world” in clumsy English. That’s just in the first hour or so. Later, we’ve got the plea­sure of spend­ing half the cam­paign with one-man wreck­ing ball Goro Ma­jima, the chance to build our­selves a property em­pire, and the op­por­tu­nity to play an ar­cade-per­fect version of OutRun. And this time we’re not go­ing to be three years late to the party.

Yakuza 5’s most glar­ing pre­sen­ta­tional weak­nesses have been ad­dressed

In-game ac­com­plish­ments award points that can be spent on per­ma­nent perks, from up­grades to sprint­ing speed to richer re­wards for de­feat­ing ex­tor­tion­ists

ABOVE CEN­TRE Ma­jima gets a sub­stan­tial side ac­tiv­ity of his own, pur­chas­ing a run­down host­ess bar that he must spruce up to tempt pun­ters from the lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion.

ABOVE The se­ries has al­ways done faces well, but the de­tail is ex­treme here, re­veal­ing ev­ery blem­ish, pock mark and scar

ABOVE You won’t get ac­cess to the Su­perHang-On ma­chine un­til you’ve played enough OutRun. But with fights earn­ing you hun­dreds of thou­sands of yen, you’re not go­ing to run short of cred­its any time soon

TOP LEFT Kiryu starts out in a plain black suit, be­fore Nishiki rec­om­mends that he get some­thing smarter – though it’s un­clear why we should lis­ten to fash­ion ad­vice from some­one wear­ing a shirt even Randy Pitch­ford might balk at.

LEFT Tra­di­tional cutscenes are the main method of sto­ry­telling, but some take the form of vis­ual-nov­el­style vi­gnettes, with fully voiced di­a­logue over static im­ages en­livened by sub­tle back­ground an­i­ma­tion

Kiryu can strut his stuff at the disco in rhythm-ac­tion se­quences that re­ward you not just for press­ing but­tons at the right time, but mov­ing around the dance floor be­tween the mark­ers

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