Yakuza 0

EDGE - - STUDIO PROFILE - De­vel­oper Yakuza Stu­dio Pub­lisher Sega For­mat PS3, PS4 (tested) Re­lease Out now

PS3, PS4

Hon­estly, Kazuma Kiryu has never seemed the sort. Strong willed, kind hearted and def­er­en­tial, this is a man who treats oth­ers as he would like to be treated him­self – but, as we dis­cover in a seedy down­town build­ing, some­times he re­ally likes to treat him­self. Here, in a se­ries first, you can watch what the in-game text de­scribes as ‘erotic videos’. As a CRT screen fades to black af­ter a minute-long, live-ac­tion video of a bikini-clad model sim­per­ing on a bed while sur­rounded by bal­loon an­i­mals, we hear a re­lieved sigh from Kiryu, and the cam­era pans away from the TV, lin­ger­ing on the box of tis­sues next to it. The Yakuza se­ries has long had woman trou­ble, with its damsels and sex ob­jects, but never has it been so overtly mucky.

There are sim­i­larly embarrassing thrills to be had else­where. At TelTel Boys Club, you make flir­ta­tious di­a­logue choices to grad­u­ally bring into fo­cus a blurry CG girl writhing las­civ­i­ously in her un­der­wear, cul­mi­nat­ing in you ask­ing her out on a date. At the un­der­ground club Vin­cent, you can bet on fights be­tween girls whose pro­por­tions and state of un­dress would make even Team Ninja blush. Over in Osaka, sec­ondary pro­tag­o­nist Goro Ma­jima can re­cruit girls off the street, dress­ing and mak­ing them over as he sees fit be­fore putting them to work in his cabaret club.

If we’re be­ing kind, per­haps there’s a nar­ra­tive jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for all this. Yakuza 0 is, as its name im­plies, a pre­quel; Kiryu is barely 20, Ma­jima just four years his se­nior. No doubt the fires in their loins burned a lit­tle brighter back in the late ’80s, and thwack­ing a nearend­less stream of bad guys wasn’t quite enough to work through all that sur­plus testos­terone. Ei­ther way, Yakuza

0’ s seamier el­e­ments are, at least, avoid­able, and there are plenty of other dis­trac­tions off the crit­i­cal path.

That’s putting it mildly, in fact. A sub­tle tweak to se­ries con­ven­tions sees side-sto­ries and ac­tiv­i­ties brought into the fore­ground some­what; you’ll turn a cor­ner on your way to your next ob­jec­tive and be stopped by a pedes­trian in need of help, rather than need­ing to seek them out. When, as Kiryu, we’re told by a group of home­less men that they’ll only give us the in­for­ma­tion we need if we buy them a spe­cific round of drinks – each hobo want­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent, re­quir­ing trips to sev­eral shops – our jour­ney sees us strike up a sur­prise friend­ship with a con­ve­nience-store clerk, help a boy who’s just been mugged for his copy of a hot new videogame, fill in as a pro­ducer on a TV shoot in a restau­rant, then stop off for an ar­cade-per­fect game of Out­Run on the way back. As Ma­jima, we’re told we have two days to carry out a hit or we’ll be­come the tar­get. Min­utes later we’re in­fil­trat­ing a cult to res­cue the daugh­ter of a nice lady we just met in the park.

You can al­ways say no, but you never will – and this time it’s not just be­cause you’re role­play­ing, as Kiryu, one of the nicest men in videogames (and as Ma­jima be­fore he be­came the punch­able bas­ket case of other games in the se­ries). Now, reach­ing cer­tain pro­gres­sion mile­stones awards you Com­ple­tion Points, which can be ex­changed at a city shrine for buffs, moves, items and abil­i­ties. As ever, com­plet­ing these like­ably bonkers side-sto­ries is re­ward enough in it­self, but now there’s a me­chan­i­cal re­ward for help­ing out the trou­bled denizens of Ka­muro­cho and Soten­bori. There are tweaks else­where, too, but none is so trans­for­ma­tive as the over­haul of the com­bat sys­tem. Yakuza 0’ s dual-pro­tag­o­nist setup seems, on pa­per, like a step back­wards, given the se­ries’ re­cent habit of stuff­ing the game with mul­ti­ple playable char­ac­ters, each with a dif­fer­ent fight­ing style. The so­lu­tion is to give Kiryu and Ma­jima three styles each, switch­able in re­al­time us­ing the D-pad. Kiryu has his clas­sic Brawler style, but can also use Rush, which sees his at­tack speed build with suc­ces­sive hits, and grants him a suc­ces­sion of flighty dashes, or Beast, in which he picks up nearby weapons and can ab­sorb most of the dam­age from in­com­ing blows. Ma­jima has his de­fault Thug style, but Slug­ger gives him ac­cess to a base­ball bat, while Breaker lets him de­ploy strings of blows us­ing moves taught to him by a lo­cal break­danc­ing crew. It’s an un­prece­dented level of flex­i­bil­ity for the se­ries, and means com­bat is of­ten as much about find­ing the right tool for the job as it is about mash­ing but­tons. Key com­bat en­coun­ters have been de­signed around it – bosses in mul­ti­ple phases, for in­stance, prompt­ing a switch in style – build­ing to a cli­max where Kiryu must fight three foes at once, each us­ing one of his own movesets against him.

Such steps for­ward may seem at odds with the time pe­riod, but that late-’80s set­ting is put to bril­liant use in the story. Within min­utes, young Kiryu is framed for a mur­der and quits the yakuza to clear his name; when we meet Ma­jima, who is run­ning a cabaret to re­pay his bosses for a scan­dal that saw him ex­pelled from the clan, he’s quickly told to carry out a hit. At the cen­tre of it all is a girl and a tiny scrap of land, both be­ing sought ur­gently by con­flict­ing fac­tions in a good old­fash­ioned gang­land power strug­gle. But ev­ery face you meet is new, a blank slate even if you recog­nise them from other games. This is a re­boot in the truest sense.

Cast­ing off five games’ worth of back­story – re­cent Yakuza games have be­gun with the op­tion to re­cap the story so far in lengthy, new­comer-baf­fling cin­e­mat­ics – means this is a tale free of the bloat and bag­gage that has made each new in­stal­ment in this won­der­ful but com­plex se­ries hard to rec­om­mend to anyone but es­tab­lished fans. Well, no longer. With Yakuza Ki­wami, a hith­erto Ja­pan-only re­make of Kiryu’s first PS2 out­ing, fi­nally com­ing to the west this sum­mer, there’s never been a bet­ter time to jump into a se­ries that’s quite un­like any­thing else around.

Such steps for­ward may seem at odds with the time pe­riod, but that late-’80s set­ting is put to bril­liant use in the story

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