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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Yakuza 0.

Transcript Edit

It's official: the Yakuza series is now the long-running Yakuza series. There's quite a few of them now, and this month saw the release of its long-awaited zeroth installment, Yakuza 0, a prequel in which we discover how Kazuma Kiryu went from being a sharp-dressed man with a brick for a face who likes disco-stomping people into a sharp-dressed man with a brick for a face who likes disco-stomping people in a slightly different suit. We also learn how fan-favorite series regular Goro Majima went from being a sharp-dressed man with a brick for a face who likes disco-stomping people into a boggle-eyed weirdo who dresses like he woke up naked in the pet cemetery.

And frankly, I'm a little disappointed, 'cos I was hoping we'd have the opportunity to learn where Kazuma Kiryu got his ideas about what members of organized crime families do all day, because he doesn't seem to think it involves committing crimes. I mean, when Kiryu sees gangsters shaking down passersby for cash, his first instinct is to polish his shoes with their nose cartilage. Kiryu, that's what you're supposed to be doing, you giant prat! I mean, what's the baseline Yakuza activity? Extorting money from local businesses, right? Well, Kiryu spends a lot of time in Yakuza 0 handing out large sums of money to local businesses. Fucking hell, man! On your first day, did they accidentally play the induction video in reverse?

I am fond of the Yakuza games, but honestly, I have trouble articulating why, which is a shame, 'cos that's me fucking job. Yeah, the combat makes you want to squirt with glee every time a very serious-faced man in an expensive suit violently suplexes another serious-faced man in an expensive suit into a mailbox, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a game model packed with more superfluous bullshit. In between the harrowing plot about deception, betrayal, murder, and conspiracy, we are invited to potter about, playing with fucking skill tester machines and trying to eat every meal at every restaurant, which is classic 100% completion bullshit because there's no gameplay or extra content involved. Whatever you order, all you'll get is a two-second cutscene of our man hunched over his dinner, with his back to camera, so he could be dining on the contents of his nasal cavity, for all we know.

It's certainly unique, and I get a flutter of nostalgia every time I hit the familiar streets of Kamurocho again, but by Christ, do these games bang on! 90% of the bloody plot is cutscenes of intense, understated conversation, and there's about twelve different varieties of it. Sometimes it's text-only, sometimes it's voiced but you can still skip the lines, sometimes you can't skip the lines and all the characters talk with their mouths closed for some reason, and every now and again, they're doing a fully-animated cutscene so you can really appreciate the sheer nanoseconds of work that must have gone into animating Kazuma Kiryu's facial expressions.

But at the end of the day, I always come away satisfied from a Yakuza game once I push through to the end, probably because they backload all the dramatic car chases and inevitable shirtless punch-ups in the second half, and it's the incredibly slow-paced buildup in the first half that tries my patience. Maybe it's the "Elite: Dangerous Principle": the occasional disco-stomping spaceship battle is all the more enjoyable when they're spaced out by huge expanses of the black, cavernous void of pachinko parlors and people making very serious faces at each other.

Still, I'd be the first to admit that the games do get kind of samey, even beyond the fact that they all take place in the same four or five blocks of downtown Tokyo. They usually start with a murder, of which odds are good someone we like will get falsely accused, we proceed to pick apart the threads of a scheme to take over the Yakuza so convoluted that the Riddler would suggest toning it down a bit, and there'll be a female character we have to protect because they've been victimized by the bad guys to a point that borders on fetishistic.

In Yakuza 0's case, Kiryu is accused of murdering someone he merely disco-stomped six or seven times (which he couldn't possibly have died from, because this is Yakuza, where everyone's face is carved from antique wooden furniture), so he's forced to leave the Yakuza and become an estate agent, the kind of estate agent that dresses up in a disco suit and resolves tenancy disputes by stomping groups of four or five serious-faced men. Meanwhile, Majima is being punished for past fuck-ups by being given a glamorous high-end nightclub to manage - Fuck, better toe the line, Majima, mate; next time, they might punish you with a key to the executive toilet! - until he's ordered to kill someone and ends up trying to protect them, since he's also a bit unclear on this whole "organized crime" thing.

And so begins another contrived dance of twists, wrong turns, and growly discussions broken up every five minutes by four or five angry, overconfident men getting decanted into the room from the inexhaustible supply for the sake of token combat. On which note, what's new is that both playable characters can switch between three different combat styles on the fly: one fast, one strong, one pansy-ass in-betweeny middle ground for all you ineffectual saps out there. But Yakuza combat has never been particularly sophisticated, and I got through the whole game pretty much only using strong-style combat just to prove I could. Majima's combat in particular was a cake walk, 'cos his strong style gets a permanent fuck-off baseball bat and the nunchaku twirl combo that I used to spam my way through every boss fight, 'cos all the motherfuckers could do was stand there violently nodding their heads, like my baseball bat was confirming all their extreme political views. I only ever died in combat in the last few random fights when the motherfuckers have guns, which are really hard to dodge and make you roll around on the floor like a cat with a piece of duct tape on its back.

The other new mechanics are weirdly financially-focused, but then, it is set in the 80's, and I was surprised that at no point do we use the cell phones of the time as bludgeoning weapons. Kiryu has to run his real estate enterprise by buying up local businesses, another in a long list of 100% completion collectible sidequests, made slightly more obnoxious because there's no way of knowing which businesses you can buy until you run up and press your face against the window, and if there's one or two left you haven't bought, the game has no way to tell you where the fucking things are, so I have to run up and down the street leaving a greasy smear all along the frontage. Meanwhile, Majima has to run a cabaret club with one of those restaurant management casual games that your mom likes almost as much as living next door to the dockyard, which isn't the kind of thing I want to do in a disco-stomping crime thriller, but you know what? You could say that about the vast majority of the content of a Yakuza game, and they just wouldn't be the same without it.

So my final word is, it's another Yakuza game, long-winded and weirdly hilarious in a way that only a scowling, hardened gangster attempting a neon-colored dancing minigame can be: long periods of dull, if weirdly comforting, mundanity broken up by occasional reminders of why we're putting up with it, like a water slide connecting two floors of a DMV office.

Addenda Edit

  • Child of the 80's: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • When you think about it life in general is like a skill tester machine programmed to have a 10% success rate
  • Yes I am aware my Japanese pronunciation sucks ass
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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