I remember vividly my excitement when I first played Yakuza 3. I had heard that it was a surprisingly off-beat fighting game but nothing had prepared me for just how quirky and engrossing this game turned out to be. I totally fell in love with the whole Japan-simulator side and all the strange side missions that sprung up. The main story was a bit overly dramatic but in a soap-opera kinda way that was hit or miss. Yakuza 4 was more of the same but it felt even more polished and the different playable characters mixed things up nicely. When Yakuza 5 hit the PS3 it felt like a real swansong for the series and for the system as a whole.
Cue Yakuza 0. I had held off buying a PS4 for a long time but a week ago I finaly picked up a Pro. Yakuza 0 was one of the main reasons I decided to get one. I managed to avoid too many spoilers so I went in as "blind" as I could. I am about 20 to 30 hours deep in the game at the moment and I am both delighted but also a bit disappointed by some aspects of the game.
The whole late eighties vibe is really great. I'm spending way more time on the Outrun machine then I probably should and seeing a modern city were not everyone is walking around staring at their phone conjures up all kinds off idealized memories from my childhood. The side missions are also fun for the most part, I really like the whole real estate management part for instance. The fighting mechanics are as good as they have ever been and it can get pretty challenging in boss battles. So far I also like the writing. Yakuza games can get REALLY talky and melodramatic but there are some brilliantly written twists and turns that help to keep you engaged. It is pulp but I love it.
But after a while the feeling sunk in that I was playing in the same environments as the previous titles but now clad in 80's garb. I was hoping for a completely new environment but it seems like Kamarucho and Sotenbori are the only 2 neighborhoods in the game. It all feels a bit too familiar. That also goes for many other aspects of the game. The stores are stocked with the same energy drinks and bento-sets as in the previous games and you will find loads of reused assets all over the place. It's nice to see these things at a fluid frame rate and in higher resolution though.
In some ways this is the best Yakuza has ever been. On a technical level they have delivered a solid experience. If you have played the PS3 games you will suffer from moments of strong deja vu however. I'm sure I will be putting many more hours in this game though if not only to beat my Outrun high score.