Yakuza 0

The weird and won­der­ful Yakuza 0 fi­nally ar­rives on PC.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Phil Savage

The first thing you do is beat up a gang of street thugs. The sec­ond thing? Be­fore the crime drama un­folds, be­fore a real es­tate turf war earns you hun­dreds of mil­lions of yen, be­fore you bat­tle your way through the Ja­panese un­der­world, you sing karaoke. You tap your way through a rhythm action minigame; the dingy bar trans­form­ing into a con­cert stage as se­ries lead Kiryu imag­ines him­self rock­ing out to an ’80s power bal­lad. Wel­come to Yakuza 0, os­ten­si­bly an open world action game, but one that blends ar­cade-style brawl­ing with a vis­ual novel’s lan­guid con­ver­sa­tions, throws in a se­lec­tion of weird and won­der­ful minigames, and wraps it all up in a world where the sub­lime meets the ridicu­lous and the ridicu­lous is sub­lime. Where one minute you’re fight­ing for your life, and the next you’re teach­ing a rookie dom­i­na­trix how to hu­mil­i­ate per­verts. Where, when you tire of try­ing to foil the cal­lous plots of the rich and pow­er­ful, you can pop over to the ar­cade for a game of OutRun. Where you’ll sit at a bar and wax po­etic about what it means to live out­side of so­ci­ety, only to leave and run into a man wear­ing noth­ing but his un­der­pants gy­rat­ing his hips.

This is the sixth game in the Yakuza se­ries, which pri­mar­ily tells the story of the Dragon of Do­jima, Kazuma Kiryu, a man for whom be­ing good at punch­ing peo­ple is both the cause and so­lu­tion to all of life’s prob­lems. It’s also a pre­quel, mak­ing it the per­fect en­try point for new play­ers—handy, as this is the first game in the se­ries to be ported to PC. Yakuza 0 is set in the ’80s, mak­ing it the start of Kiryu’s long story, and, other than a few veiled ref­er­ences to the fu­ture events of pre­vi­ous games, it does a great job of in­tro­duc­ing the char­ac­ters and the world.

And what a world it is. The dual set­tings of Ka­muro­cho (based on Tokyo’s Kabu­ki­cho district), and Soten­bori (based on Osaka’s Do­ton­bori district) feel vi­brant and real—a fas­ci­nat­ing con­trast of neon and grime that feels more true to life than many of the vir­tual cities I’ve vis­ited. While there are some low-res tex­tures and no­tice­able alias­ing, the scale and den­sity of these spa­ces is re­mark­able. The way the build­ings tower over you, and rub­bish and de­bris spills out over the nar­row streets, re­in­forces the im­mer­sion, creat­ing a pow­er­ful sense of place.

You’re free to ex­plore; to visit stores and restau­rants, to stum­ble into the strange en­coun­ters (called ‘Sub­sto­ries’) scat­tered lib­er­ally through­out, or to beat up the thugs and drunk­ards that pick fights with you. But you’ll rarely in­ter­act with the civil­ians swarm­ing the streets. If any­thing, that height­ens the im­mer­sion of the space. Where other open world games let you go on a mur­der ram­page in your down­time, Yakuza 0’ s open world is more re­strained. It ex­ists so you can play a few rounds of mahjong be­tween mis­sions, visit the con­ve­nience store to stock up on health re­plen­ish­ing drinks, or siphon your money into one of the vend­ing machines in the hope of ac­quir­ing a new mo­tor for your pocket cir­cuit rac­ing car.

Street smarts

In one mis­sion, I’m asked to buy al­co­hol to loosen the tongues of a group of home­less in­for­mants. I run be­tween shops, pick­ing up Carls­berg from the Poppo on Tenkaichi Street, and cham­pagne from the Don Qui­jote on Showa Street—lodg­ing the store’s ear­worm of a jin­gle firmly in my head for the next half an hour. Later, I visit Osaka’s Shot Bar STIJL, and strike up a friend­ship with the bar­tender as he ex­plains the love-it-or-hate-it charms of a ten-year-old bot­tle of Laphroaig. It’s rare to in­ter­act with an en­vi­ron­ment in such a grounded, low-key way.

Else­where, the game leans into the dra­matic, never more so than dur­ing its main story. In Tokyo, Kiryu, here a low level mem­ber of the Do­jima crime fam­ily, is framed for

It’s a pre­quel, mak­ing it the per­fect en­try point for new play­ers

What­ever you’re do­ing at any mo­ment, you’re never far from a fight

mur­der. He soon dis­cov­ers that he’s been set up by one of his fam­ily’s lieu­tenants as part of a con­vo­luted plot to ac­quire a small plot of un­de­vel­oped land. In Osaka, Goro Ma­jima, a former yakuza mem­ber, is trapped, forced to work off his debts as man­ager of a cabaret club. The action switches be­tween Kiryu and Ma­jima ev­ery cou­ple of chap­ters, let­ting each char­ac­ter’s story build to an in­trigu­ing cli­max, be­fore shift­ing gear, giv­ing you time to ponder how the two threads will in­ter­twine.

The fi­nal part of Yakuza’s tonal tri­fecta is its Sub­sto­ries, which are ar­guably the high­light. In most, you’ll be pre­sented with an ab­surd sit­u­a­tion, make a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tion choices, and punch some­one un­til they stop. It’s a sim­ple enough struc­ture, but one that en­ter­tains through­out thanks largely to how silly it all is. You’ll help def­i­nitely-not-Michael Jack­son shoot a mu­sic video by bat­tling zom­bies as he dances down the street. You’ll ad­vise a mild-man­nered punk group on the best way to fit in with their fans. You’ll go on an elab­o­rate quest just to use a guy’s bag phone.

This clash of re­al­ism, drama, and com­edy might sound like a dis­parate grab bag of styles, but Sub­sto­ries are a key part of why Yakuza 0 works so well. They help hu­man­ize Kiryu and Ma­jima, let­ting their per­son­al­i­ties shine through. Both are warm-hearted, naive, and a lit­tle bit goofy. Even when Kiryu’s sam­pling the more risque en­ter­tain­ment of Tokyo’s red-light district, he does so with such in­no­cence that it sel­dom feels sleazy. These are lik­able char­ac­ters, which makes you care more when things do get se­ri­ous. The localization also does a great job of teas­ing out the per­son­al­i­ties of these char­ac­ters. I can’t speak to the ac­cu­racy of the trans­la­tion—I have no idea what the voice ac­tors are ac­tu­ally say­ing—but, other than some anachro­nis­tic phrases clearly out of place in the set­ting, each char­ac­ter comes across as dis­tinct.

What­ever you’re do­ing at any mo­ment, you’re never far from a fight. Yakuza 0’ s com­bat sys­tem is sim­ple on the sur­face—on nor­mal dif­fi­culty you can go a long way with just a ba­sic combo. But scratch be­neath that sur­face, and there’s a lot go­ing on. Each char­ac­ter has three dif­fer­ent at­tack styles. When Kiryu is in Beast stance, for in­stance, he’ll au­to­mat­i­cally pick up ob­jects to use as weapons as he at­tacks. Ma­jima’s Slug­ger stance, mean­while, can un­leash dev­as­tat­ing com­bos with a base­ball bat. Each style has its own quirks and spe­cial ‘Heat’ moves— specials that can be de­ployed at op­por­tune mo­ments to deal mas­sive, of­ten bru­tal-look­ing dam­age. And each can be up­graded, not only by spend­ing cash, but by com­plet­ing the train­ing of the char­ac­ters who teach you each style.

It’s ar­cadey, snappy and a lit­tle bit stiff, but I’ve played over a hun­dred hours of Yakuza 0, and I still en­joy whal­ing on which­ever un­for­tu­nate trio of punks have stepped to me. And it al­lows the game to revel in the ridicu­lous. Be­cause this is the ’80s, money flies out of en­e­mies when you knock them down, which is handy be­cause the cost of up­grad­ing com­bat skills gets into the mil­lions of yen.

Not that all of Yakuza 0’ s quirks are so charm­ing. You have to visit a phone booth to save your game, which is fine in the­ory, but, in 2018, it’s too easy to take au­tosave sys­tems as granted. At least if you die in a fight there’s the op­tion to try again.

Key­board War­rior

As for the PC port, it’s mostly solid. There’s plenty of scope to tweak graph­ics op­tions, with 4K res­o­lu­tion sup­port, su­per­sam­pling, and a hand­ful of more gran­u­lar op­tions. And while a gamepad is rec­om­mended, I found key­board and mouse an ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive— although I did miss ana­logue 360-de­gree move­ment dur­ing fights. Both key­board and gamepad are remap­pable, too, although the de­fault key­board bind­ings seem sen­si­ble.

Per­for­mance-wise, I’ve tested on both a GTX 1070 us­ing a 165Hz, 1440p mon­i­tor, and on an R9 Fury X us­ing a 3440x1440 ul­tra­w­ide mon­i­tor (with let­ter­box­ing). Both ran over 60fps on the high­est graph­ics set­tings. Weirdly, I did ex­pe­ri­ence some light stut­ter on my GTX 1070 ma­chine, but only when play­ing in bor­der­less win­dowed mode, and only when us­ing key­board and mouse. Oth­er­wise, it’s been per­fectly smooth. Per­haps the most no­table is­sue is how Yakuza 0 scales to higher res­o­lu­tions. There’s no­table alias­ing on the sub­ti­tles of cutscenes and on the map. It’s not a ma­jor fault, but it’s not ideal when you’re meant to be pay­ing at­ten­tion to the con­tent of the sub­ti­tles, not the pre­sen­ta­tion.

Putting up with a mi­nor an­noy­ance is worth it, be­cause Yakuza 0 is one of the most ec­cen­tric, idio­syn­cratic, and charm­ing games around. It deftly moves be­tween drama and hu­mor, be­tween story and action, be­tween ar­cade dis­trac­tions and lengthy, well-writ­ten pulp di­a­logue about a man who is in­cred­i­bly good at punch­ing. There’s sim­ply noth­ing else quite like it, and it’s well worth your time.

ver­dict

The best and fun­ni­est game about a bat­tle over real es­tate, now avail­able on PC as a good port at a gen­er­ous price. 90

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