Reviews// Yakuza Zero

Posted 13 Feb 2017 12:06 by
Although the narrative is a little predictable, it is executed perfectly, easily rivalling and perhaps beating other releases like Mass Effect. As is inevitable, given the subject matter, there is a real darkness in the story of Yakuza Zero. However, the shifting loyalties of the key protagonists add a layer of depth not usually found in videogame stories. This is not a game that features an abundance of narrative twists and turns, but instead has complex and largely sympathetic characters who are memorable not just for their villainy, but primarily for their words and the motivation that drives them.

The world that Kiryu and Majima inhabit is indeed dark, but completely understandable and to a great extent thoroughly logical, making it a more believable and far less depressing depiction of life than other games in this genre. The atmosphere in Yakuza Zero never feels oppressive, largely because it always feels as though the main characters have a level of control over the story that is unfolding. They make decisions based on what they feel is right, which in turn impacts the world around them, for good or ill. This is in contrast to other 'dark' games wherein developers seem to feel that the best way to convey a more 'adult' tone is to make everything unrelentingly awful for the player. Yakuza Zero succeeds because tonally, perhaps as in life, there is a continuous shift between happiness and pain.

To balance the main story the mood is lightened considerably by the inclusion of encounters with members of the public who give Kiryu and Majima short missions to complete. These are entirely optional, but are well worth seeking out.

Although they largely consist of the player going on extended fetch quests, or engaging in yet more fighting, the results are usually funny, strange or genuinely touching. Throughout my time with the game I have helped a rock band sound more 'tough,' assisted in arranging a film shoot for a TV cooking programme and aided a policeman regain his confidence after the death of his partner.

Some of the situations that Kiryu and Majima find themselves in are so ridiculous that they frequently voice what the player is thinking, how on earth did 'I' get involved in this? There is no great benefit to finishing these encounters beyond expanding the player's experience in the city. The main story is lengthy, but these encounters can be returned to following completion, this gives a good excuse to go back and explore the world again.

Yakuza Zero could probably be improved in places. The combat could be more meaningful and giving the player more control over events would be welcome. However, the world that Sega has created is fascinating to spend time in. It is the closest I feel I have come to playing a game that could be a very good drama in its own right, but whose interactivity takes it to another level.

Every so often a game is released that reminds me why the medium has so much potential. By adding a layer of interactivity, the player can experience and become engaged in something at a level beyond that which is possible in other media, precisely because of the level of ownership over the characters that the player has.

I tried not to mention Shenmue for this review, but in this regard it is fair to make a comparison. I still remember, extremely fondly, my time with Ryo Hazuki. I felt I shared his adventure in a way I have never felt with similar games, thanks largely to the environment in which the game is set. I have similar feelings for Kiryu and Majima - these are characters I will remember.

Yakuza Zero may not allow the player complete freedom to project their own character on to proceedings, but if they are willing to embrace the world as created and
dictated by Sega, the game is rewarding like few others. I look forward to further releases in the Yakuza universe on the PlayStation 4. I don't want to leave Kiryu's world.

+ An immersive open world.
+ Memorable and three dimensional characters.
+ Side missions at considerable depth.

- Combat can be repetitive.
- Missions are very prescribed.
- Interactivity is minimal.

SPOnG Score: 10/10
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