This is an ongoing list, where I, your very handsome host, attempts to play through and rank every video game ever created. For previous entries check the previous blog postings.
Wow, we did it.. its the magical 20th episode spectacular! I have a surprise for all you at the bottom of this article, but don't skip ahead yet and spoil the surprise. Let's talk about Yakuza 0.
I, like a lot of Americans, always knew the Yakuza series existed in theory. I mean I had an ebay copy of the first PS2 game sitting on my shelf (unplayed) for years at this point. However, I never took it seriously, or even sought it out until this game. Yakuza 0 was my first Yakuza game, and skipping ahead, because of that I now have all 7 games sitting on my shelf as I wait to play them one by one.
For those that don't know, or want to come in blind, Yakuza 0 is an "open" city game where you take the role of two protagonists as they try to unravel a mystery about real estate. Now I don't want to lose you yet, I will talk on the story in a little bit, but first more setup. In the city there are roving gangs of yakuza, thugs, etc. who if spotted will challenge you to a street fight, that you have to win before you move on. It then becomes a regular 3rd person action game, light attacks, heavy attacks, can pick up weapons, etc. Back on the streets, you can go in shops, engage in some side quests, partake in minigames, etc. Think open world, but on a smaller scale, hence the open city tag I just gave it. Hopefully, now you get the picture.
Its tough to talk story, when I don't want to spoil any surprises or the enjoyment in finding stuff out. To be vague, your two heroes are investigating the dark world of real estate. A bunch of competing Yakuza families are looking to acquire some land that would allow them to control an area and become super rich, however after someone winds up dead on the property, then some of their plans go out the window and they are left to adapt. My wife sat through the whole game with me and summed it up best; "This is a soap opera for dudes." Honestly, she is not wrong, and I think it is an apt comparison. This game deals with loyalty, friendship, righteousness, life, death, and plenty of violence. Just two guys who want to do the right thing to protect the people they care about. All in all, I was hooked about 5 hours in and then couldn't put it down. Some of the twists you see coming, some are shocking, and some strictly confusing, but I think its worth playing to see the story through to the end. In the grand scheme of things, this story does not involve saving the world, its not even about saving the city, its so much smaller than that, but done well.
Most of this game involves you fighting, whether that is for a story beat, or just on the streets because you went the wrong way. At the end of this game, you will have been in as many fights as some RPGs. If you truly make an effort, you can avoid most of the street fights, by looking at your map and avoiding enemies, or by running if spotted, but you would be missing out on what I feel is one of the sticking points of this game. For the most part, combat plays like other 3rd person action games with your light and heavy attacks, do them in a specific order and unleash combo moves or flashier moves. Each hero can learn up to 3 different fighting styles, that you can switch on the fly in battle that range from: Being a pro wrestler, a break-dancer, wielding an unbreakable baseball bat, etc. Now obviously these styles help you in certain circumstances (break-dancer is better for dealing with crowds), but it also allows you to approach battles without getting bored of fighting. Since each fighting style has its own move set, you can opt to switch it up to breakup the monotony of finding the one combo that you really like. The main draw of combat are things called "heat actions". These are moves triggered by building up combos, knocking out baddies, and avoiding taking damage. Once you have enough of your bar filled, you can unleash these depending on a whole mess of factors. These play out like little cut scenes and can be absolutely brutal to watch, but they don't come close to Mortal Kombat moves, so no worry. Some of my particular favorite examples are: Pick up a box of nails, shove it in your opponents mouth and then hit him in the stomach. Or perhaps you would like, sticking a mans head in a car door, slamming it repeatedly and then kicking it closed with his head still in there. So many of these moves would actually kill someone, but Yakuza 0 makes sure that you know that no one dies from these. Its like when Batman throws someone off a building. Part of the joy I had in combat is going around trying to do different heat moves just to see them, and while it is inevitable that a game with this much combat will eventually get repetitive, the heat moves kept me engaged longer then I would have been normally.
When not progressing the story, there are so many things to get engrossed in. There are countless minigames from bowling, and baseball, to more obscure stuff like Pocketcar racing and being a chat line host (I don't know how else to describe it). You can play in arcades, gamble, and watch M rated dirty movies. There are collectables to gather, two different businesses to run (one of them is actually good) and side quests that range from serious to weird to humorous and sometimes all three. You can eat at dozens of different restaurants, get drunk at bars, sing karaoke, play darts. There is an abundance of stuff to do, that completing it all can be daunting, and while not all the minigames and side quests are hits, I found more to like then I didn't like. At one time during the playthrough, me and my wife stopped the story, to play DAYS of the hostess club business. To the point where we looked up to see if there was a full game of just that (there isn't). You could fly through this game in roughly 15 hours, but to do so would be missing so many of the little touches this game has put in.
All of that seems pretty glowing of a review, but this game is not without fault. Most of the fights you get into can be beaten with relative ease by mashing a few combos you know. For some of the bosses, they expect you to have a strategy and mastery of the combat that you haven't needed for the whole game. When playing through it with my wife, it was just a wake up call for me to practice more, but having just played through it again with my buddy for our very successful youtube channel (kidding, its not successful) it can become a real sticking point if you aren't prepared. There are some people who are are turned off by the wild swings of mood this game goes through. The story is played very serious, but most of the side quests and minigames have a goofy or light-hearted tone. Your hero, can within the span of one hour go from an epic fight against a Yakuza boss, to helping a human statue run to the toilet. These swings did not bother me, but I am including it, because I have heard it in multiple discussions about this game.
When all is said and done, I really liked Yakuza 0. It set me on a path to seek out and play the other games. Sometimes that has lead me to disappointment (keep in mind yakuza 0 came out well after earlier games in the series), but I still think it is a fantastic jumping off point. There has not been a game, in my memory, that has gotten me so amped up, like Yakuza 0. There are cutscenes before epic fights, that I could feel the excitement in my body well before the fight started. That won't happen to everyone, but damn it worked on me. (Majima V Lao Gui) (Kiryu v Kuze pt 2)
Is it the Greatest game of all time: Yes, it currently is!
Where does it rank: It is the new #1 game on the list. It knocks both Mario games down a spot. I have yet to find a world where I want to engage in all of the side stuff more than Yakuza 0. Unlike most open world games, I only got burnt out on the Pocket car and Real estate minigames, everything else was a blast to spend time with. I also feel the story while small scale, is perfect movie fodder.
Up Next: a two indie game set: "Mad Age & this Guy" & "Timberman Vs"
Ok... so I told you I had a surprise for anyone reading and here it is. I have started a google doc for all to see. I will be updating it every-time I write a blog (which I hope to do more than once a week, going forward). On this google doc you will be able to see the list as it stands, what games I am currently playing/thinking of a review for, what games I have in my collection that will end up on future episodes, and little notes I write myself to help me remember things. I eventually want to start incorporating polls on there, to see if people want to vote for what review they want to see next, but in order to do that, I probably have to first get regular readers. Anyway, feedback appreciated, tell me what you think. (also im new to google docs.. let me know if like I left permissions open, or anything crazy, appreciate it)
Thanks for listening,