I have an absurd fondness for the Yakuza series and they have rapidly moved up my list to being among my favorite video game series. Part of this is the fact that they are adult crime novels, silliness aside, with probably the most serious plots you're going to find in video games. I really loved the Kiwami games for tapping into this with stories about murder, blackmail, revenge killings, and the complicated politics of Japanese crime syndicates. I mean, yes, this includes absolutely bananas subplots where you deal with the wacky residents of Kamurocho.
|Kamurocho is the same as it's always been.|
The actual crime drama story is that series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, is a new recruit to the Tojo Clan and not too happy about having to do his first beat-down of a deadbeat for a loan shark. It's the 1980s and the height of the Japanese Bubble Economy. Everyone seems to be rich and is eager to spend lots of cash on women, wine, plus other entertainment. However, Kiryu finds himself framed for the murder of his victim and is soon kicked out of the Tojo Clan. This is part of a larger attempt to discredit his adoptive father, Kazama, and kick him out of the Yakuza too. Key to both clearing his name and also thwarting the people involved is a patch of land called the Empty Lot, that is the key to making trillions of yen in an enormous construction project.
|90% of the gameplay is delivering beatings.|
The plot is twisted and full of wonderful character bits but also perhaps a bit too long. Yakuza 0 sort of has the problem of feeling like being a television series that's occasionally interrupted by bouts of gameplay. All of the games have a bit too much in the way of "go here, watch cutscene, go there, watch cutscene" but this seemed especially egregious. However, I can't complain about the plot too much because that's the thing I am here for. It does feel like it could go darker as the protagonists seem awfully reluctant to kill even fellow gangsters but maybe that's a Japan thing.
Either way, I feel like these are some of the strongest characters in the series. Majima has undergone a complete personality overhaul and while it isn't all that similar to the crazy man of the Kiwami games, it's a deep and rich character that I liked getting to know. I enjoyed Kiryu finally acknowledging he's a terrible gangster and probably would have been happier never getting involved in the like. The inclusion of characters like Dojima, Nishikiyama, and Shimano helps expand on their storylines as well as enriches the experience from the earlier games. I also am fond of new characters like Lee, Makoto, Tachibana, and Oda.
|Typical substory - Teaching a dominatrix to be mean.|
The sidequests are a hilarious collection of short vignettes that feel like they come from an entirely game than the ultra-serious crime drama of the main plot. You can help a guy stand up for himself, help Michael Jackson make a music video with Stephen Spielberg, educate a dominatrix on her job, and other fun little bits of ridiculousness. The two big optional activities, though, are managing a cabaret club and real estate. These actually have their own plots tied to them and are fairly enjoyable. In the end, though, I only played the real estate one to its conclusion because I wasn't really fond of being a manager for a hostess club. They're simple games that aren't really that entertaining but are both decent time-wasters.