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SummaryOf Mice and Majima
The Good+ A seriously immersive world + Great combat in some fairly large open worlds + Characters are fun (and dark) + Lots of content and plenty of hours to sink into
The Bad- Seriously slow pacing with cutscenes and story - Occassionally questionable translation - Story can be rather cliche and anime-like - Difficulty can be cheap
The Bottom LineI've been eyeing Yakuza 0 since Sega announced a Western release here for a bit now. 0 was sung with praise from my circle of friends, and despite procrastination and struggling to build up the courage to try it out I finally got the game last month. Now, most of us westerners like a good crime story, especially in video games. When the first Yakuza game was first released here in the west, it was seen as a Japanese GTA. Oddly enough, it's more like Mafia than it is GTA, in terms of story and tone. Yakuza is a bonafide hit in Japan and a cult classic here in the West. Personally, the only Yakuza game I played, beat and somewhat liked was Dead Souls, even if it's considered the black sheep of the Yakuza family. 0, on the other hand, introduced me to the main stray of the series. I was enthralled, confused...and dissapointed.
Yakuza 0 is set in December 1988, taking place at a time where Japan had a bubble economy going on. 0 has two plots focusing on the characters of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Kiryu is framed for the murder of an innocent man in a patch of land that's incredibly vital to the Dojima clan, and tries to clear his name and find the murderer. Meanwhile, Goro Majima is the manager of a swanky host club, and to return to his former glory, is called in to kill someone that ends up leaving him in a rock and a hard place. If we're looking at previous Yakuza games, Yakuza 0 has a more darker and gritty story, and while it is fairly well told and dramatic for the most part, the story is also seriously bogged down with anime-like cliches and some really terrible pacing. I'll get to that later.
Gameplay wise, it's like any other Yakuza game. You complete missions, side stories and beat the %$#@! out of whatever comes your way in two large Japanese cities to explore. For someone not used to playing the other games; Yakuza 0 does feature some fun combat. Kiryu and Majima have their own upgradeable abilities and combat skills; ranging from Kiryu using quick and effective boxing moves and using brute force to Majima pulling off some sweet dancing moves to using melee weapons. For the most part, the combat is quite deep and expansive, and sometimes rather brutal. It's satisfying beating everybody to a bloody pulp. As for the worlds of Yakuza 0, Kamurocho and Sotenbori are really detailed for the most part, considering they're fictional depictions of Tokyo and Osaka's areas. The Yakuza games are known here for being virtual tourist spots, and these areas are very well detailed. For every hostess club is a Sega arcade next door. The wealth of minigames are staggering - from pool and bowling to karaoke and disco dancing, and to lighten the mood are wacky and humorous side stories. Some of these stories are funny and well done, and some are actually quite touching. The passion and love put into this world is heartening, and easily immersive. The characters of Kiryu and Majima are far more fleshed out as we see in the other games. Kiryu is naive and clueless yet you can feel that he's that loveable, big-hearted oaf all fans know and love. Majima is meant to be more humanized and sypmathetic here, in contrast to the eccentric and goofy sadism he shows in the later games. Some of the other characters aren't bad, but some of the atagonists feel gimmicky and more like stereotypical bad guys if any.
Unfortunately, I also had a fair bit of problems that somewhat ruined the game for me. For starters, I hated the game's pacing. I really, really did. Cutscenes during the main story dragged on for way too long...like, levels of "old-sick-mule-dragging-wagon-full-of-bricks" level of pacing. All of this exposition and clunky storytelling with cliches all over the wazoo just really bogged the story down for me. Kiryu may be the "gangster with the heart of gold", but he behaves like a disjointed, edgy anime teenager on some occassion, and sometimes feels formulatic like any other Yakuza game. I also felt that the 80s vibe wasn't expanded upon enough. I wanted extra neon lights, synthwave music, stylish Japanese sports cars and funky hairdos, dammit! (I'd say cocaine too, given the 80s marked the time of the coke trade but Japan isn't known for having the highest rates of drug abuse.) My other problem with the game was the translation. While 0 was fairly well translated for the most part, the English translation felt like it wasn't serious enough at times, especially during more darker and gritty moments in the story. Plus, a nitpick here - I'm pretty sure words like "butthurt" aren't considered in the same category of 80s lingo like "tubular". A real minor nitpick was the sudden difficulty spikes on offer, though during harder moments you can temporarily switch difficulty, which is nice.
Due to these flaws, this is the second game I just...gave up on. I wasn't patient enough to go through the game's 30+ story (seriously, look it up), and the fact that all I heard was gushing and hype led to extra dissapointment. Does that mean Yakuza 0 is terrible? God no! For a prequel to introduce people into the series, it's a great start. The combat is fun and the story is well done when it works, the wealth of side content and passion and love put into the game's worlds are quite admirable. For someone with a fondness for open world games, Yakuza just doesn't cut it for me, it just doesn't. But if you want a proper Japanese equivilant to the Mafia series of games, look no further. Just note that it's not worth the hype, but paitence and a lot of time to be engrossed in this world is required.