Yakuza 0 – Spoiler talk

Hey! This is the post where Oliver gushes over all the stuff he couldn’t talk about in the previously posted review (here: https://oliverculling.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/yakuza-0-review/). Be warned that its spoilers all the way down from here!

yakuzatats

So, Yakuza 0. I’m pretty sure that the review made it abundantly clear that I really like this game, and would recommend it to anyone who asked. There was a lot we couldn’t talk about for spoiler reasons, however, and there are a few parts of the game that are deep in spoiler town that I want to take a closer look at. This isn’t really as much as review as just analysing some of the particular parts of the game that I think deserves some attention. So, for one final time, let’s take a trip down memory lane to the late eighties, and talk some spoilers.

First thing first, let’s talk about those stances. As well as all of them being good fun in their own right, a really neat detail is how they each line up with different aspects of the characters that use them. Kiryu’s Brawler style, for example, has a basic move set that is very similar to how his attacks looked back Yakuza 1, but are noticeably more cumbersome and unwieldy. This makes sense, since his Brawler style is more or the less the basis for his way of fighting in Yakuza 1, just unrefined. By the time the events of Yakuza 1 takes place, Kiryu will have had more time to perfect the style, hence the somewhat cleaner delivery of attacks (here’s to hoping Kiwami does something interesting with this idea). Even the completely new styles have ties with Kiryu’s eventual way of fighting: Rush shows his capacity to be light on his feet, and how dodges and quick reactions will be formidable parts of his arsenal. And while Kiryu doesn’t retain the sheer destructive power of beating people down with office equipment as he does with Beast, the numerous grabs and throws he does are Heat moves he becomes capable of using in future games. All of this feeds into Kiryu’s fourth hidden style, the one and only ‘Dragon of Dojima.’ In addition to the fact that you learn this by apparently beating a guy so hard that Kiryu has a prophetic vision that makes him an instant master, the Dragon of Dojima style is great mix of all three of Kiryu’s available options. With the speed of Rush, the grabs of Beast and all tied together with a quicker and more masterful Brawler, this style is both great fun and extremely deadly. Not to mention, it has the single most damaging single target Heat move in the entire game. The only drawback to the Dragon of Dojima style is that, for some reason, you can only access it by pausing the game mid fight. While this only takes a second, this feels pretty clunky compared to the on-the-fly stance switching that the other three styles use. This might have been intentional, so you would only use the completely overpowered style on rare occasions, but it still feels like a step back.
Kiryu isn’t the only playable character, however, and all of Majima’s stances have a similar nature of being representative of not only his current character, but how he’ll evolve as the series goes on. Despite his first style being called ‘Thug,’ this is undoubtedly the calmest and most methodical Majima has ever been in the franchise. True, its core mechanic of poking out eyes and chocking unsuspecting targets definitely shows off how brutal Majima is even at his most serene (not at all helped by the psychotic smile you can see on him while using Heat moves). But the style also rewards expertly dodging around opponents’ attacks and letting your Heat build up before launching your own. It creates an impression that underneath Majima’s wild-eyed madness lays a fighter who is always planning two steps ahead of whomever he’s fighting against. This odd mixture of mad man and expert is further shown in Majima’s next style, Slugger. In many ways, there isn’t anything simpler than taking a blunt object and slapping it against an assailant until said assailant can assail no more, but Majima makes swinging a bat around look like an art form. The Slugger style is full of flips and spins that both show off its user’s agility and make it highly effective and it’s the basis for Majima to train in the use of a variety of other weapon types. This style represents Majima’s pragmatic nature of using whatever he can get his hands on to win, as well as being a darkly humorous way to bring Majima’s love of baseball to the centre stage. Majima’s third style is the Breaker style and it’s certainly a sight to behold. Dancing to a beat only he can hear, the one eyed Yakuza starts spinning and kicking with such power that it becomes an amazingly stylish way to deal with crowds. It’s incredibly in character for Majima to somehow turn break dancing into a martial art, and is also a good representation for his often bonkers boss fights in the later games, which also prominently feature him spinning like a manic. There can be no substitute for the real deal, however: Majima’s hidden fourth stance, ‘The Mad Dog of Shimano,’ more or less allows the player to fight as a boss. While slightly nerfed compared to his actual boss fights later in the series, the fact that this stance gives Majima an unbreakable knife and the ability to dash across huge spaces in the blink of an eye allows the player to feel what it must be like to be Majima in the other parts of the series. And holy hell is it fun; this stance is not only extremely fast and allows you to do the Mad Dog’s signature spin, but also has one of the most devastating multi-target Heat moves in the game (likely to be a contrast to Kiryu’s single target one).  Like the Dragon of Dojima, this style features aspects from each other the three basic styles (the counters from Thug, the crowd control of Breaker, the fact that the weapon can’t be broken like Slugger, etc.) Unfortunately, also like the Dragon of Dojima, you have to pause the game to activate the style. Again, this might have been done deliberately to limit how often you use it, but it still feels out of step with the rest of the combat.
Interestingly enough, the protagonists aren’t the only ones who have their characters reflected in how they fight, since bosses in Yakuza 0 all have unique ways of fighting, and all of which are in line with how the game shows them to be in the story. A good example of this is from Kuze (aka, the most tenacious man in existence), who makes a number of boxing references in dialogue, so it only makes sense that he uses a straight forward style that almost exclusively uses punches. Also, much like a boxing match, Kuze squares off against Kiryu one on one on a number of occasions, even in situations where he could have called for backup. The very best example of this, however, has to come from the final boss: Shibusawa believes that he, not Kiryu, will become the Dragon of Dojima. He believes that Kiryu doesn’t have what it takes to be worthy of that title, and so it only fitting that his fighting styleS are all reflective of Kiyru’s own. The final fight is the matter of one ‘dragon’ facing another, and so it makes sense that the two are almost on equal standing to each other.

In fact, let’s talk more about Shibusawa, because there’s a lot to talk about. A lot of Yakuza games have some kind of twist at the end, one that usually involves another antagonist appearing before the conclusion. This newly appeared antagonist differs depending on the game, but in most cases they were either the mastermind behind the game’s plot, or a second in command waiting for a chance to betray their boss. Shibusawa follows some of these traits, being a ruthless schemer who only enters the spotlight in the third act and managed to play the other two lieutenants for chumps while he attempted to secure the Empty Lot. However, the fact that he acts as a direct foil to Kiryu is what sets him apart: despite both being ‘dragons’ of nearly equal fighting strength, they’re differences are stark. Shibusawa is set in his ways that the only way a Yakuza can raise through the ranks is penning his title in the blood of others, while the more optimistic and young Kiryu believes that it doesn’t have to be so. Shibusawa believes that talent and ability can only get you so far before you have to overpower obstacles with raw power, while Kiryu’s story has shown that the help and support of others is just as good. And finally, Shibusawa is actively trying to cultivate his name as the ‘Dragon of Dojima,’ to cultivate his own legend. Kiryu doesn’t give a damn about some nickname. Indeed, Kiryu will eventually receive the title because others gave it to him, earning his legend through his own diligence.
Of course, all of these points of differences don’t really mean a lot of if Shibusawa just kills Kiryu here at the end of the game. And to be fair to him, it’s clearly the most challenging fight Kiryu has to go through in Yakuza 0. Shibusawa has three styles to match each of Kiyru, and his years of experience means he has something of an edge in the fight, shown symbolically through the fact his tattoo is complete compared to Kiryu’s incomplete dragon. It is also shown by the fact that he hits like a runaway truck. Both in the normal game play and in the QTEs, Shibusawa is relentless, and the two are almost hit for hit equal. This whole fights feels like a final test for the young Kiryu, and that only by overcoming it can he be worthy of eventually being named the Dragon of Dojima. (Also, can we appreciate how cool the shot of the two dragon tattoos at the very start of the fight were? They were actually positioned to face each other when Kiryu and Shibusawa clash!)
At the end of the day, Kiryu comes out on top, but he very nearly beats Shibusawa to death, and only the timely intervention of Nishiki stops him. If he had actually done so, it would have been Kiryu succumbing to Shibusawa’s philosophy: by beating him to death, it would have been an admittance that a Yakuza’s legend could only be written in the blood of those he killed to make it. Nishiki says that there may come a time where they have to kill, but he doesn’t want it to be now, and nor something the two brothers can’t face together.* Somehow, both Kiryu and Nishiki miss the heavy cloud of foreshadowing that seems to hang over the entire conversation.
Shibusawa makes a great foil to Kiryu and a great final boss; almost more so because there was no way you could have pegged him as the final boss when you first met him. When he’s first met alongside the other two lieutenants, he looks like he’s just going to be another boss later down the line. Not a push over, but not ‘final boss’ material. But, keeping to series tradition, the last boss only ever makes his real presence felt during the third act, which is where Shibusawa shines. We’re almost as surprised as the characters when it turns out that he’s screwed over the other two lieutenants, and is all but ready to pull the rug out from under Kiryu and Majima. Because of this, he feels like a credible threat that didn’t just appear out of nowhere, and the fact that he was secretly vying for the title that Kiryu will be known makes the fight against feel suitably epic. Shibusawa never became the Dragon of Dojima, but it’s easy to feel like if Kiryu hadn’t been present, he would have gained that title almost easily.

* It’s probably for the best that Nishiki isn’t aware of the, like, twenty guys Kiryu gunned down on the free way.

All of that is Kiryu related, however. There’s one thing in Majima’s side of the plot that I want to take a look at, namely his relationship with Makimura Makoto and how it re-contextualises Majima’s character, and a specific scene from Yakuza 1.
Majima and Makoto certainly go through a hell of an odd relationship through the events of 0. Majima is, without realizing it at first, ordered to kill the poor girl, and very nearly goes through with it. He decides that he won’t cross that line, however, at least not without finding out why the hell his boss wants some seemingly innocent blind girl dead. Over the course of several pretty well written character interactions, we watch as Majima grows attached to Makoto, especially after he learns what a horrible ordeal she’s already had to overcome. Even as he gets repeatedly reminded that the only way he’s ever getting back in with his Yakuza family is if he kills the girl, Majima repeatedly goes out of his way to ensure her safety. Despite being a pretty sound minded thing to do for a guy that would later become known by his nickname of ‘Mad Dog,’ this is actually pretty in line with Majima’s later characterisation. While he regularly (at least once a game) causes some pretty sizeable public disturbances and has been shown to be thrill at combat, Majima is actually pretty conservative of killing others. He only ever uses his knife seriously against Kiryu, whom he knows is a bad-ass on his level, and goes out of his way to avoid getting involved with any of the Tojo’s squabbles that would require killing others. To that end, Majima’s hesitation at the idea of killing Makoto could be seen as an indication that this part of Majima has always been a part of his character, even during his earlier days.
In any case, it becomes pretty clear that Majima is protecting Makoto for more than just practical reasons as time goes on…which, as it turns out, was exactly what his boss Shimano had planned. In a pretty surprising twist, Shimano had ordered Majima to kill Makoto because he actually knew Majima wouldn’t be able to do it, and end up protecting her instead. This was to cultivate a trust between the two, so it would be easier to get Makoto to sign over the Empty Lot of her own free will. What follows this shocking revelation is one of the game’s most powerful scenes: Majima wanders out into the streets in a daze, almost shocked into a comatose state that he had been so easily tricked and that his feelings of Makoto were part of some ploy. During this time, he gets completely battered by three punks that he wouldn’t have even sneezed at if he had been willing to defend himself. But that’s just the issue; Majima doesn’t even care to defend himself. Maybe he feels like he doesn’t even deserve that for letting himself get pushed into a corner like this. He pulls himself out of the gutter, bloody and bruised, and decides that he’s going to put an end this whole thing, even if he has to be Shimano’s “clown.” I think the use of ‘clown’ is a pretty deliberate one, since a clown is typically an entertainer who makes a fool of himself for others sake. The fact that he’s given such a title to himself should show how much of a bad way he’s in. After this, he goes all guns blazing, and charges into the Kazama family offices, fights Kashiwagi, and even fights Nishiki not long after. The fact that the game manages to find a way to get these characters into boss fights while it still fitting in the story is actually pretty awesome, especially since you’re fighting Kashiwagi for the first time ever in the series. Additionally, the fact that the up until this point the mostly calm Majima is starting to act highly aggressively and is just steamrolling the opposition gives the impression we’re seeing the very beginnings of the Mad Dog. While we do take something of a break when Majima finally finds Makoto again (which includes a scene so heart-warming it seems to have ‘this can only end badly’ written all over Makoto), this is pretty much Majima’s state all the way to the end.
And good lord, what a heart breaking ending it is. While Majima seems content with his new direction in life, which is basically just doing whatever the hell he wants and acting as crazy as he pleases, it comes with a bittersweet note. Majima meets Makoto again, who has now fully regained her sight. While he clearly recognises her, however, it’s clear she has no idea who he is. It must already be pretty painful to see the woman he cares so much about look at him like he’s a total stranger (a concept that was actually foreshadowed in one of Majima’s Sub Stories), but Majima goes one step beyond. After making sure the new man in Makoto’s life will take care of her, Majima simply…walks away. After everything he’s done, he just walks out of Makoto’s life, never once looking back. It’s a decision that makes a lot of sense, since his life is already full of danger and it’s only going to get worse from here. But its heart breaking to see Majima leave a person that had come to mean so much to him behind, especially since he won’t find another serious relationship for quite a few years, and even that ends in disaster. However, this whole interaction gives new meaning to an otherwise small scene in Yakuza 1. Majima is holding a woman hostage, mostly in an effort to bait Kiryu, and makes a rather lewd suggestion to the poor woman he’s holding at knife point (he becomes a real romantic in the intervening years, ya see). In a surprising moment of bravery, the woman manages to outright reject the suggestion, saying she has a boyfriend she cares too much about. Majima seems somewhat taken aback for a second, before releasing his grip on his hostage. Saying he appreciates honesty from a woman, he simply tells her to get out there, and turns to face Kiryu. At the time, this scene seemed to just be a suggestion that Majima had some sense of mercy and honour under that all madness, a suggestion that later games capitalised on. However, Yakuza Zero paints a slightly different light: the woman Majima takes hostage has a similar haircut and hair colour to Makoto, and while that’s where the physical similarities end, it’s not beyond possibility that Majima was reminded of Makoto in that moment. In addition to that, the mention of a boyfriend might have caused further sympathy from Majima, since he knew how it would feel to lose the woman you cared about.
I’ve no doubt that some of these connecting points between that scene in 1 and the entirety of Zero come down to luck, since I highly doubt that they had planned that scene to have as much meaning as it would eventually have. That all being said, this shows a great deal of cleverness from the development team, since it’s possible they might have given Makoto characteristic that resembled a hostage from a game  nearly a decade old. Not to mention they tweak the hostage’s design in Kiwami so the woman has an even greater resemblance to Makoto. It’s a show of resourcefulness from the developers, which really helps to really sell Majima’s character development.
Also, as an aside, I’ll admit that I got a little bit misty eyed at the scenes where Majima returned Makoto’s watch, and at the specific line where Makoto says Majima’s “eye was so sad.” I’m a big enough man to admit it.

Kiryu gets his own heart wrenching ending, though his is more subtle, and requires knowledge of the future games. After appearing in his iconic suit that will become his appearance for all future games (a moment that’s pretty hype), Kiryu explains the reasoning behind it. It’s not the black suit he started with, nor is it the crisp white suit he wore for the game, but he’s no longer “feeling black or white.” While he doesn’t say it directly, it’s clear that it’s important that his suit is actually a shade of grey.  After so many people telling him both what a Yakuza should be and what a man aspires to be, Kiryu decides that he’s going find his own answer, and this is reflected in his suit. It isn’t the black suit of the Yakuza but neither is it white suit of his legitimate business, instead it’s Kiryu’s own middle ground. This kind of middle point between criminal and legitimacy is one that Kiryu will straddle a lot through the series, but maybe that just justifies his choice in suit. Eventually, after he meets Haruka, Kiryu will find the answer he’s looking for about what kind of man he wants to be, but for now he’s just happy he has the freedom to find out on his own.
All of this talk of suits and such happens with his best friend, Nishiki (who makes the pretty funny sarcastic quip that Kiryu should just wear that suit for the rest of his life, if he likes it so much). While Nishiki doesn’t think much of Kiryu’s taste in suits, he eventually lets it slid, saying that Kiryu should just do whatever he wants. Kiryu is mostly amused by Nishiki’s pouting, but sincerely thanks his bro. He says he’s really raked up a lot of debts to Nishiki, and promises to one day repay them, even if it takes the rest of his life. Nishiki complains that Kiryu is going all “cool guy” on him (and bemoans the fact that despite saying he’ll repay him, Kiryu isn’t actually carrying any cash to cover the night’s expenses), and honestly the whole thing is an amazing display of brotherhood. The game really wants you to see how close the two of them are, and it does a really damn good job of selling the idea that these two could take on the world together.
However, everything that transpires between the two, from Nishiki betraying the Tojo to help Kiryu to the two teaming up to storm the boat at the end, all comes with this underlining tragedy. If you have even a hint of what of happens during the events of Yakuza 1, you know that this relationship only ends in tears. While I did buy that the two were as close as brothers in Yakuza 1, this game really helps to solidify that fact, and makes Nishiki’s character all the more tragic. The absolute most tragic thing, however, has to be that Yakuza 0 shows you how different things could have been. If the two had remained as close as they were in this game later on down the line, they could have almost been unstoppable, and many events would have ended pretty differently. Still, maybe things were destined to turn out this way: the tattoos on characters back are reflective of themselves, and maybe Nishiki was always fated to be the carp that would try and ascend to a dragon.
(On that subject, I do wonder if anyone has ever been given a tattoo of something really underwhelming. Like, what if you were given the tattoo of a puppy? Or anything else that was really embarrassing? Knowing how amazing the tattoos look in this game, they’d probably still end up looking really awesome somehow.)

In many ways, there’s a lot left to talk about. I haven’t even touched on some of the spoilers about Kiryu’s real estate or Majima’s cabaret club, or some of the more specific examples of stuff from the Sub Stories, but I think I’ve gushed on long enough. As a final closing thought, I hope that maybe the Yakuza games are starting to get a little bit more traction in Western territories: it was a rocky start, and then things only got worse for a long while, but maybe Yakuza 0 really is the exact thing that was needed to spread the Yakuza goodness to the west. I’m not expecting a miracle, since it’s gonna take a lot of sales to truly secure a place for the games outside of Japan, but who knows.

In any case, thanks for sticking through this splurge of semi-analyis and thought. These last couple of posts have really favoured Yakuza 0, I realise, but I have to admit that I love this game and its franchise. I guess I was just really excited to finally have a chance to talk about it in a positive way, since the default state of being for a long while was wondering when the damn games would actually be coming out in English. There’s no concrete ideas on what the next post is going to be about, but we’ll to mix things up a little bit.

Thanks for reading, friend! I’ll leave you with one of Kiryu’s many, many inspirational quotes:

“So people are actually lining up to buy a video game? What an amazing world we live in.”
– Kiryu Kazama, without a hint of irony.

Yakuza 0 review

yakuza-0

The Dragon Awakens

Way back in the early 2000’s, Sega had found its stride as a game’s company. They had built themselves a respectable place among the leading game developers of the time by focusing on a worldwide, child friendly audience. This ensured they were beloved overseas as well as in their home market of Japan, and the first few years on the turn of millennium were good ones. However, they started to find themselves in a bit of a financial crisis around 2003-2004, since arcades were quickly starting to lose popularity. While Sega did develop several games for home consoles, the revenue they earned from their most popular arcade titles was their main source of income. Knowing that they didn’t have long to act before their reserves were drained, Sega merged many of their development teams together, in a hopes of lowering costs and finding new ideas.
One of these teams, after a several days of team bonding exercises that consisted mostly of drinking a ton of alcohol in Tokyo’s red light district, came up with an idea. The idea was almost denied immediately since it would rely on a Japanese home market that might not even exist, and was a title aimed at adult gamers, a fact that minimised the potential audience. But the team persisted, and the idea was eventually green lit, though many were sceptical that the idea held any water.
The game created would be what Western territories call Yakuza (it’s Japanese name is ‘Ryū ga Gotoku’ which translates to ‘Like A Dragon’), the first game in what would later become the Yakuza series, and was a runaway success. After a ton of numbered sequels, several spin off games, and one game where the characters were punching the living dead back to re-death, we’ve come to Yakuza 0.

It’s important to know all of this before we talk about Yakuza 0, because Yakuza 0 is actually a prequel game, and one that’s a prequel to a game series with a vast and rich history. It was a game made to celebrate the series’ tenth anniversary, in which the characters (probably reflecting the developers during the first title) have to come to terms with the world changing all around them. It’s a game that celebrates how far the franchise has come for the veteran fans of the series, but is a great way for new fans to be introduced to its both stylish and brutal world.

Hop into your dancing shoes, press the wrinkles out of those colourful new suits, and prepare to throw some poor sod into a brick wall: we’re going back to 1988, Yakuza style.

Game play:
Fast, brutal, and satisfying, the series’ staple combat is refined to a dagger’s point, and the side activities are great fun.

Yakuza’s core game play is a third person brawler, wherein you will control a character going up against a myriad of opponents with varying levels of toughness. You can perform a basic combo by repeatedly tapping the square button to use light attacks, and then pressing the triangle button to use heavy attacks at different points during the basic combo. When you use the heavy attack will change the exact nature of how you end the combo (with some moves having different follow-up attacks for certain sequences), but it will always be a good, reliable source of damage. This is the very most basic form of combat, but it succeeds in having a real sense of speed and weight behind each attack. The use of sound and animations really sell the sensation of knocking some poor git half way down the street by just punching him really hard in the head, and it’ll be a difficult sensation to become tired of.

That being said, let’s talk about the two real stars of the game’s combat: its style system and the Heat moves. In Yakuza 0, you play as two different characters, each with three radically different styles of fighting. The main character, Kiryu, for example has the ‘Rush’ style that emphasises speed and dodging; The ‘Brawler’ style that focuses on exploiting weaknesses and pushing advantages, and the ‘Beast’ style that is best summed up as “grab the nearest heavy object and bludgeon a guy into unconsciousness.” Each style has its own strength and weaknesses, and in a situation where one style isn’t working, another will exceed. A key fact about these styles is that you can switch between all three on the fly, making it a fast and fluid system that encourages experimentation, as well as allowing one to adjust their battle strategy as combat unfolds. An incredibly neat detail is that each style has its own theme musically, and switching styles will change the background music to a tune optimal to each one’s own version of ass-kicking.

The second star of the game’s combat is the series’ own Heat moves. These are special attacks that expend energy from the Heat gauge, which fills up as you deal damage and empties if you take damage or go too long without dealing damage. It’s not enough to just fill the gauge, though; you need to be under specific circumstances to be able to use the Heat moves, such as grabbing an enemy next to a wall or being armed with a certain type of weapon. While that sounds like a lot to keep in mind, the game provides you with more than enough situations to activate Heat moves, and make them worthwhile, since Heat attacks deal crazy amounts of damage, can’t be interrupted or stopped, and look amazing. The sheer brutality of them are a wonder to behold; one of the basic Heat moves involves repeatedly slamming a guy’s head into a wall, full force, before slapping the guy across the chops for good measure. To sum it up, Heat moves are both visually impressive, highly practical, and quite rightly a core part of the combat.

When you’re not teaching punks that they should be more careful about whom they pick fights in the street with, there’s a slew of other content to get your teeth into for the game play department. One of the key things you’ll be taking part in is the game’s many ‘Sub Stories,’ which are little optional encounters very much like side quests or objectives. I talked at length about them in the past (see here: https://oliverculling.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/the-art-of-good-side-quests-feat-yakuza-0/), but to sum it up, they’re often humorous or heartfelt little side events that help to break up the more serious main story, while still being rewarding in a practical sense. They’re primarily helpful because each of the two playable characters run a business between all the head kicking they do, and completing these Sub stories will help you acquire assets that help you earn more cash. This, in turn, is important since cash serves as EXP in this game, and getting enough of it will let you buy new attacks or power up existing ones through literally ‘investing in yourself’ (don’t try to think too much on how that works).  It creates an elegant system where completing these side objectives will boost your business, which in turn powers you up, and it’s all fun to do.

That being said, I do have a couple of criticisms: both character’s side businesses benefit from you spending cash by either buying advertisements in certain buildings, or outright buying the whole establishment. This is all fine and dandy, but it is annoyingly common to find every building out of the list of available sites except for one, and that one will inevitably be damn annoying to find as you run up and down the same street multiple times trying to find it. I understand this was to encourage you to really explore the streets, and inevitably find more side content, but it can be a real pain. Likewise, while it’s great it’s truly immersed in its setting, a couple of the side quests benefit from you being able to recognize some basic Japanese staples: there’s a point where a character’s giving you hints about a type of food that’s just become available and wants you to guess from a list, but I couldn’t even tell you what the heck the names were. The translation smoothes a lot of these over, but there’s a few times where it felt like I had to just guess and hope for the best. Also, if I were being 100% honest, the combat in the game probably isn’t the deepest in the world: it is amazing good fun, and fits the tone of the game perfectly, but even at its most difficult your strategies will be the same at the end of the game as they were at the start. While this can be somewhat justified by the fact the Yakuza games are part of the brawler genre (ie, it’s more about the catharsis of beating past loads of mooks and fighting more unique bosses), I can see this being an issue for some.

Music and Sound:
Featuring a sound track inspired by its setting without limiting itself, Yakuza 0 features some great and hype as hell tunes.

I’ll preface this with the warning that I’m pretty tone tone-deaf, and the musical bug that seemed to bit every other member of my family seems to have skipped me, but I feel pretty confident in saying Yakuza 0 features some great tracks. It really embraces the late eighties setting, and immerses itself in the musical styles of the time, especially in the singing and dance-club mini games.
Even when it’s not lingering specifically in the memories of the eighties, the game has some strong musical backing. As previously stated, the game’s background changes to match whatever style you’re fighting with during normal battles, and has some great boss themes besides that. Likewise, the sound mixing for every kick and punch has a real sense of impact, and is a big part of what sells the combat.
Fun fact: in the Japanese version of the game, the player could actually buy a Walkman to listen to music as they went around the game, which included some of the best selling songs of the eighties in Japan. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, this feature was cut from the international release.

Graphics and Aesthetics:
Pairing up amazing graphics with the dingy and decadent aesthetics of its setting, Yakuza 0 brings veteran players into a setting that is both familiar and foreign, while introducing new players to its weird and wonderful world.

The actual graphical quality of this game is something of a matter of debate: on one hand, there are pre-rendered cut scenes in the game where in the characters look so much like the all-star voice actors they’re based on (not that my filthy gaijin ass recognises them), it’s nuts. On the other hand, the graphics outside of cut scenes are of a somewhat lower quality than the previous entries in the series, especially in regards to the various NPCs and enemy thugs you encounter. On the unforeseen third hand that I want to focus on, the game runs at a silky smooth sixty frames per second at pretty much all times. To sum up the matter of frame rate for those who haven’t heard the term, it’s how smooth an action looks on a screen, but also heavily affects performance on something like a video game. Let’s use an example: a thug throws a punch, and you have to dodge out of the way. At a higher frame rate, it’s easier to see the punch coming, and thus more intuitive to dodge. At a lower frame rate, you might have needed to actually start to dodge a couple of moments before you could actually see the guy wind up the punch. To that end, I think the lower graphical quality in actual game play is more than justified, since in a game as speedy and reaction based as this one needs the extra frames. I might make a post that goes into the matter with more detail, but for now I’ll just say that the slight downgrade in sheer graphics is more than made up for in performance. Not to mention, even if the total quality is slightly lower than normal, the game still looks pretty damn good in motion regardless.

As for the actual aesthetics of the game, Yakuza 0 makes some interesting choices. For those not in the know, the Yakuza games often take place or at least revisit a singular location in every game, which is often highly tied up to the game’s story. This is the fictional red-light district of Tokyo called Kamurocho, which is based on Tokyo’s actual red-light district, Kabukicho. While the garish neon lights of the city are the same as they’ve always been, long time fans of the series will notice some pretty noticeable differences. Trash lines the street in unregulated piles, more drunks than the usual number can be see clambering out of bars come sundown, and women of questionable repute seem to be on every corner. While Kamurocho will always be a hotbed of crime and other such happenings, one does get the feeling that this is a city that is being swept up in a wave of unregulated decadence and the grit of the visuals very much reflect this. It’s important to remember the game takes place during a time where Japan was experiencing an unprecedented growth of wealth, where the already prosperous suddenly found themselves with more cash than they knew what to do with it. It was probably this idea of excess where the game takes its Money fuelled tone from, and this theme can even be seen in the game play, such as the new ability to throw money in the air to distract would-be attackers.

The more fantastical elements are also worth acknowledging. For example, money explodes out of enemies when you defeat them, as if you punched them so hard their wallets submitted to the better fighter. It ties into the money related themes as said above, but also fits the more humorous side the game has, since the implication is that the harder you beat someone down the more money you literally knock out of them. Also, let’s talk about Heat: there are few things more odd or as cool as characters surrounding themselves with the burning energy with their passion for combat, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Story and narrative:
An emotional roller coaster full of intrigue, crime politics, and more twists and turns than an actual roller coaster, Yakuza 0 brings the series’ characters back to the beginning to find out what it truly means to be a Yakuza.

Yakuza 0 is an odd duckling in the continuity of the series, considering it is actually set before the events of the very first game. This means not only is it set before all of the character development of the later games, but is actually showing how the characters aquired the traits they were known for in the first game. It does do a lot of interesting things with this unique opportunity however, especially with the game’s two playable characters. First off, Kazuma Kiryu is defined by his stoic nature and his efforts to avoid conflict in his debut appearance in Yakuza 1, but the Kiryu in 0 is a lot more hot-blooded. He often rushes into battles knowing he’s gonna have to fight a small army of goons to get anywhere, and won’t hesitate to throw down with Yakuza many years his senior. He’s not completely, and makes a lot of effort to avoid several outright suicidal situations, but his naivety and inexperience shines through. Even more glaring a difference is the second playable character, Goro Majima. Compared to the complete and utter madman that is basically a psychopath and a clown fused into a single entity in the later games, the Majima of 0 is a level headed and cool as ice individual. He can keep his outward emotions totally hidden, and (to start with) makes every effort to avoid unnecessary battles. If it wasn’t for the eye patch and love of doing crazy spins during his attacks, you would have almost thought he was a different individual.

An incredibly intriguing part of the main characters throughout the game is that you can see the very start of what would become their defining characteristics. As time goes on, Kiryu learns that he needs to think more with his head, and that he can’t stand by and let others dictate what it means to be a Yakuza to him. Despite wanting to follow in his adopted father’s footsteps, a man very high in the criminal chain of command (and for all intents and purposes the Yakuza’s equivalent of Sun Tzu), it becomes increasingly clear to him that he needs to decide for himself what actually being a Yakuza entails. This will become the bedrock of Kiryu’s sense of right and wrong as the series progresses, and heavily affect his later choices. On the other hand, Majima’s story is more a stripping down: everything gets taken from Majima, from his position in the criminal underworld, his freedom, and very nearly his life a couple of times. It becomes hard to argue with Majima’s assessment that following the standards others have set for him has led him nowhere, and there isn’t much reason to not let loose. This is the very start of him earning the title of ‘Mad Dog of the Shimano Family,’ and it’s fairly easy to see how he escalates in the years between 0 and Yakuza 1.

But that’s just our two main heroes; what about the plot that surrounds them? Oddly enough, the core crux of the plot lies in real estate. We join our main character Kiryu, still a fresh face in the criminal Tojo clan, just as he gets embroiled in a clan based civil war. It turns out that the lieutenants of the clan are not exactly big fans of his adopted father, who is away serving jail time for a crime they got him caught in. This is only a temporary solution however: the only way to ascend high enough in the ranks to actually deal with him is if they secure the ‘Empty Lot,’ a small patch of dirt that is right in the middle of Kamurocho’s poorest district. Kiryu finds out the Empty Lot is actually a key part in a project the Tojo have been working on for years, one that could make the clan richer than they ever thought possible. However, this final piece of the puzzle is proving to be the most difficult part to solve, and the entire clan is in an uproar. It’s quite the odd situation: people are losing their minds, beating each other down and even going as far as killing for what amounts to a dirty patch of useless dirt and concrete. The irony that so much is riding on such an underwhelming area of land is so thick you could almost cut it with a knife.

Speaking of knives, Majima has his own plot to deal with. He’s been left out dry by his superior after disobeying a direct order, and is now stuck running a cabaret under their control until he pays back his debt of obedience. This has him slightly peeved, though it’s more the fact that the entire city has become his gilded cage, and the fact that said superior had previously had him tortured for over a year before putting him up to the task. As if that wasn’t enough, he finds himself involved in a potentially devastating power play by his boss, and on a hunt that will take him all across the city and to the very heart of his clan’s ambitions.

These two stories start off completely unrelated to each other, but through the twists and turns of the narrative, end up coiling together just in time for an explosive, grand and extremely hype finale. The fact that the player finds out often key information way ahead of each character simply because we see both sets of events unfold is a perfect example of dramatic irony, and wonderful to watch unfold. Even better is that the story is wonderfully paced: in addition to letting the player spend some time between story missions screwing around with mini-games and side quests, the story’s own internal pacing is never too fast or two slow. It takes exactly as much time as it needs to, and it never feels like the characters are lingering too long before jumping into action. Because of that, characters feel much more involved in directing the events of the story, which is pretty essential in what is at heart a character piece. The Empty Lot stuff is really cool, but it never overshadows the development the characters are going through, or that they’re the main focus of the story.

There are a couple of things I wasn’t one hundred percent sure on, however. At the risk of spoiling, I thought it was kind of disappointing that Kiryu and Majima never met properly during the events of the story. They do technically meet right, right RIGHT at the end of the game, but it feels more like a fan service moment to close the game off. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t pumped as hell when the two player characters finally met face-to-face, but it didn’t feel like a meeting worthy of such larger than life characters. Hell, the biggest missed opportunity of all was that they didn’t fight or team up with each other (in either order) at all during the game, which really would have made the entire experience worthwhile. Majima and Kiryu’s relationship in Yakuza 1 is so entertaining and peculiar that it feels like a waste that we don’t see how it all begins, especially since they sometimes come within a hair’s breadth of meeting during the events of 0. A few other problems I had can be summed up as ‘inherent problems that a prequel introduces:’ since these events occur before the events of the first game, we know for a fact that all the characters we met during the series who are in peril in 0 must eventually live through it, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense. This can take some of the tension away from some of the scenes of the game. Likewise, we know any new characters we meet will have their character arcs resolved in such a way that they’re either dead or permanently separated from any potential future events, to explain why they don’t show up later in the series. This can pose a few problems; chief among them is that some characters felt like they were gone before they reached their full potential as parts of the story. Despite all that, I would still rate Yakuza 0’s story pretty damn highly: even if the game had lacked it’s slew of optional content, I would have been happy to pay the entry fee just to take part in the very beginnings of Kiryu and Majima’s stories.

Conclusion
As brutal as it is heart-warming, hilarious as it is tragic, and god damn amazing at every other moment, Yakuza 0 is equal parts celebration and introduction.

I think there’s a question that’s been lingering over this review that I should really answer: would you enjoy this game more as a long time fan of the series, or as a complete newcomer? Honestly, the answer isn’t straight forward. Veteran fans will be able to see all the cheeky nods and winks to future events that will probably fly over the heads of newcomers, but at the same time I think there are a lot of points in favour of using this as a way to get into the series. There’s been a lot of care to make sure that all the call forwards won’t feel too out of place by integrating jokes around them (barring the time where Kiryu has his fortune read). Additionally, all the problems that a prequel creates won’t actually be an issue for someone who doesn’t know where the story is going. In fact, the events of Yakuza 1 will probably feel more powerful, if you see the set up that 0 creates.
Speaking of Yakuza 1, another reason this game would make a good entry point for the series is that a remake for the very first game is coming out very soon, under the name “Yakuza Kiwami” (kiwami could translate as either ‘extreme’ or the ‘height of’). This means if Yakuza 0 wets your whistle, you can see where the series began in its totality, with the added bonus of it being HD and re-updated to fix some plot holes.
Bottom line is, regardless of where you’re approaching the game from, Yakuza 0 is a real gem of a game. Filled to the nines with content and unapologetically in love with it’s both hilariously over the top tone and it’s more dramatic and serious one, Yakuza 0 really does earn its Japanese title: this is a game that rises infinitely and unerringly Like A Dragon.

Fun fact: Did you know that Yakuza 1 was very nearly scarped as early as the idea phase in its development? Or that Majima, resident mad man, very nearly didn’t have his incredibly sily voice acting? The game has a pretty fascinating story behind its creation: I’d highly recommend a series called ‘Forging the Dragon’ on YouTube (part 1 found here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbELDqMPZ3k) that goes into more detail. As of writing, the series in incomplete, but it’s an interesting look behind the curtain of all the work that actually went into making the first game. It shouldn’t be surprising it faced so many obstacles, in one essence: only something that is that much a labour of love could come out and take the Japanese market by storm.

Retro review! (Kind of) Samurai of Hyuga

So, we missed our Sunday deadline yesterday, and (even worse) the Yakuza 0 review STILL isn’t finished. The latter point is more because I’m hoping to finish off the game in it’s totality before reviewing, thus proving what blood massive hypocrite I am. In the mean time, here’s a odd thing: a retro review in the sense that the review is old, and not so much the game. It’s for a text based adventure called ‘Samurai Of Hyuga,’ and was written more as exercise than anything else. Due to it’s age, it’s not a great reflection of my current writing, and needed to be touched up a heck of lot, but what the hell. I was reminded of the game it was based on recently, and I thought it would interesting to post some older writing material. So without further ado, here’s the review:

Review: Samurai of Hyuga (Part 1)

I’ve always been a big fan of “Choice Of Games,” a game hosting service that make text based games exclusively, for those who don’t know.
In the eternal debate surrounding the need of story and narrative in video games, I’ve always been of the mind that having a cohesive story was important. Even if the gameplay is the most fun thing in the world, having a context that justifies that gameplay never went amiss. There are hundreds of games where I can kill zombies, but the Walking Dead stands as a game where I actually care about the people doing the zombie killing. This is not saying that every game NEEDS a complex tale filled with depth, nor does it mean that games that lack it hold any less value. Like a lot of things, this is more a matter of preference.
But with that preference in mind, you can probably see why I’m eager to latch onto text based adventures; especially Choice of Game’s extremely character focused ones. These games literally live or die by their story, since it’s the main feature. Rather than simply being the thing that justifies the core gameplay, the narrative and story ARE the core gameplay, and this all while retaining player control and agency.
These games come in many themes, shapes and sizes, but we’ll be focusing on just one for now: Samurai of Hyuga.
As I said before, Choice of Games is more of a game hosting platform rather than a developer. Due to the fact that a little code knowledge (and maybe not even that) is the only technical know-how you need, most entries into their catalogue were made primarily by singular people, editing notwithstanding.
Samurai of Hyuga therefore is the brainchild of Devon Connell, aka MultipleChoice. Connell’s writing style is very character based: while the settings and circumstances are interesting and well made, the most fun I had through SoH were the interactions between the characters and how they bounced off each other. His writing also lends itself very well to a balanced humour and drama tone, with light-hearted descriptions and jokes being effectively used to punctuate moments of seriousness and actual threat.

That established, onto the ratings:

Gameplay: Good level of variety, with plenty of customisation and a good few paths
I said before that the characters are one of the game’s strongest points; I feel like I should add that YOU are part of the equation, both as a character and a player. While certain elements are understandably set for plot reasons (your character’s past will always involve the betrayal of their master, and their life as a killer), this actually works in the game’s favour, seeing as you can’t change the past. One of the ongoing themes of the game is how much you let your inner demon, the part of you that craves bloodshed, has control. Whether your character is a bloodthirsty monster or a sorry soul who’s simply trying to recover from a past they regret is up to you, and each path brings a good deal of drama and character development. It’s also worth mentioning that you can play as either gender and either as gay or straight etc etc. (I mention this off headedly because this is largely a staple of the Choice of Games character creation, so it’s not as surprising as it would have been in most other platforms).
In a more simple fashion, there’s also a great deal of different ways you play in terms of attitude. Do you want to play as a stoic, emotionally distant swordsman with a steady hand? That’s perfectly possible. Do you want to play as perverted, lesbian ronin who’s highly protective of those close to her? Also perfectly possible (no points for guessing which one I picked). These options really let you craft what kind of character you want to make, and nearly every option feels like it makes perfect sense with the pre-established back-story.
This is, however, one of the issues I have with the game. The beginning of the game has you craft your character in an organic fashion: the choices you make effect the stats which you’ll have locked for largely the rest of the game. This is much smoother than just asking you to allocate them, and I’m glad it’s there, but sometimes the actual choices don’t seem to match up with stats. Some are pretty clear: any expression of worry or care for your companions will raise the ‘Protective’ stat, any lecherous motive or comment will raise the ‘Perverted’ stat* and so on. However, there are moments where it isn’t clear which stat is being appealed to, mostly in conversation pieces. There are one or two instances where being unable to hear the tone of voice means that you might accidently click on the Charming option when you meant the Protective one.
While this is an issue, it is thankfully pretty rare, and thus not much of a problem.

*This game wins the award of being one of the handful where being perverted is actually a mechanic.

Aesthetics/sound and music: Imagination out of ten.
                In Choice of Game’s own words: “It’s entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fuelled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.” That more or less sums up why judging this game by these areas is kind of hard to do. By all accounts, this game (and others like it) has the greatest graphics seen to humankind, since they’re perfectly tailor made to each individual. That being said, we can comment on the descriptive writing.
The game does a pretty good job of writing in descriptions of the areas and characters without getting too bogged down in the details, and creates some interesting areas and settings. That being said, it does sometimes feel like the effort to accomdate the player’s interpretations might weaken it slightly: there’s one character who is definitely younger than the main protagonist, but how much younger (and thus whether they’re referring to them as a ‘kid’ in the teen sense or the child sense) is never clarified. This is most likely to allow the player to interpret the player character’s age to a certain extent, but that sometimes leaves the descriptions of both characters wanting.

Story and narrative: The tale of a ronin finding inhuman enemies, as well as finding themselves.
The setting of SoH is pretty intriguing. Based in feudal Japan, there’s clearly been a fair amount of work to make the experience authentic as possible, with the various ceremonies and locations all having their proper names and motions. However this realism is sharing space with effectively spliced fantastical elements: magic is very much real in this world (one of the core characters is basically a pint-sized mage), but is realistically cordoned off by the government. Demons and spirit animals exist, but are so rarely seen that they’ve become almost like the folklore of real life. This odd balance of fantasy and reality gives the game its own pleasant vibe, and successfully keeps one from guessing what’s going to happen next.
You play as a ronin, a master-less samurai, who succeeds in being the most badass swordsman/woman in the land while also being the most washed up. By the time you take control of the character, your ronin has spent far too much time getting wasted off cheap drinks and drifting from place to place. By an as yet undisclosed method, you find yourself in a ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ situation (props to anyone who gets that reference), namely that you’re travelling with a child who has no place next to the bloodshed that follows you. Only instead of the love of a father to his son, you have a loveably pouty kid mage with you, who is kind of one of the main characters. Some people are going to hate this character, who’s a know it all book worm, but ultimately they mean well and act as a moral compass for your jaded ronin. Regardless of whether you love this character or hate them, they act importantly as a naïve and good hearted person, a strong contrast to your character who sees the world in a far more dim light. I personally had great fun; seeing the interaction between a kid who’s read more than they’ve seen, and a ronin who’s seen too much creates an amusing and sometimes heart warming combo.
Without giving too much away (because for such a narrative focused game that can be a REALLY bad thing), the narrative is an engaging one that really lets you get a feeling for the world and characters. Early on, you’re given a definite goal that’s the main crux of your journey, but isn’t necessarily the focus; the characters participating in completing said goal is. Helping your character out, as well as opposing them, is a varied and dynamic cast, all with their own arcs to go through. With several twist to keep things interesting (some even from the player-character) and a fast pace that never falls into incoherency, the narrative succeeds in holding your interest from start to finish.

Conclusion:
Take note of the ‘Part 1’ in the title. As of the time of writing, Samurai of Hyuga is only up to part 2, and likewise won’t be seeing a part 3 for a very long time. I would heartily recommend getting this game even in its incomplete state, however.
Much like a lot of Connell’s other writing, Samurai of Hyuga knows how to deliver good jokes, good drama, and really good characters to fill out both of those things. It stays true to the feudal setting while also taking some interesting creative liberties.
Would I recommend this game to everyone? Not necessarily; some people don’t really like text adventure games, and that’s perfectly fine. However, would I recommend this to people who read good text adventure regularly, or want to get into text adventure games? Absolutely.

A charming and sometimes heart breaking tale, Samurai of Hyuga stands out as a great example of narrative focused text adventure.

The Art of good Side quests, feat. Yakuza 0.

thebestprotags

Forgoing twenty bear asses.

Last week, I said we’d be having a look at the brilliantly stylish and over-the-top world of Yakuza 0, and we will be doing so, but there’s been a slight change in plan. When I do a full review I want to do the game justice, and talk about as many features as I can, AND I like to make sure I have a good handle of the narrative when discussing it. Usually, after sinking enough hours into a game, I feel confident that I can talk about it to a sufficient degree (playing a game all the way through is better, of course, but isn’t always possible so soon after its release). After putting in the metric ton of hours I’ve played, I would usually be prepared to do just that, but Yakuza 0 is a bloody dense game. Ever after all this time, I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of its combat, story, and especially its mini-games. To that end, the review is going to be delayed until next week, when I’ve had some more time to have a gander at it. Until then, however, let’s have a look at one aspect of the game that I can already confidently say I love about it: its side quests, or Sub-Stories as the game calls them.

Just so we’re all on the same page, when we’re talking about side quests, we’re talking about optional missions or objectives that often give out rewards intended to help the player on their way to completing main objectives, as well as give the player something to do when they’re not doing said main objectives. They’ve been a staple of RPGs for almost as long as the genre has been around, and are even present in some form in other types of games.

Anyone who’s played a ton of games (especially RPGs) will know that you can get some real dud side quests given to you. These can take various forms, such as ‘fetch quests,’ where you have to more or less just go from one location to another, wherein the greatest challenge to the player is the test of their patience. Or you can get gathering missions, where you have to run around and kill basic enemies/kill annoying enemies/pick flowers or whatever until you fulfil a certain quota, which can take much more time than it’s worth. Both of these problems can also be worsened if what you’re looking for is based on random chance, meaning you can go through all the effort of looking for an item, only to find that the game has decided it’s not in the mood to reward you for your efforts. Despite how harsh I’m being to it, I understand that some games do actually benefit from the ebb and flow these quests create: these side quests can give the player something to do while they move across otherwise unimportant stretches of the game, and can be handy tools for the developers to direct the player where they want them to go without intruding or bogging down the main quest. Fetch quests can be used to guide the player towards other features or areas without being too intrusive and having the player kill a boat load of basic enemies at the start of the game is a good way to make sure they understand the basic concepts of combat.

However, let’s talk about Yakuza 0’s Sub-Stories, and the simple brilliance they bring to the table. In many respects, Yakuza 0’s side quests (indeed, the entire series’ side quests) are pretty basic: it’s pretty rare for them to offer any sort of new mechanic beyond just choosing text options and beating the hell out of opponents, something you do regularly anyway. However, they accopmplish two very important things that more poorly thought-out side quests fail to do, the first of which is to offer the player rewards for their efforts that actually feel meaningful. Rather than simply offering you cash or items, completing Sub Stories will often have the person you helped come back to offer their aid to the game’s two core management mini-games. These mini-games (in addition to being pretty fun and addicting themselves) are your main source of income, and will be key in helping you to unlock more powerful and kick-ass attacks. This means that, even if it’s in an indirect manner, helping the oddballs around Kamurocho will help you gain access to the most advanced attacks the game offers, thus helping them helps you in the long term. By the end of the game, you’ll have built quite the firm of oddities and nutcases: I already have a fake punk rock-star working right alongside a man that it literally Steven Spielberg in everything but name, and the main character Kiryu more or less just shrug the whole thing off.

The second thing that the Yakuza series gets right about side quests is that they’re just fun as hell, which is arguably more important than the first reason. In particular, Yakuza’s idea of fun mostly boils down to hilarious and often bizarre turns of events. It’s a pretty simple set of reasons to enjoy something, but there’s no other way of putting it, these side quest never fail to bring a big dumb grin to my face. It’s clear that a lot of effort goes into making each situation the player stumbles across both unique and funny as hell, and even oddly heartfelt when they want to be. More than anything else, I’m constantly impressed by how on point the timing and writing is, since I found myself chortling at nearly every other line of the more extraordinary instances, and just taking in the moving character moments of the (admittedly much rarer) earnest ones.

There’s also a lot to admire about these side quests that aren’t immediately obvious at first: for one, they tie very well into the fact the game has an overall pretty small world. Having a small map is often considered some kind of failing point of an open-world, sandbox game like this one, but what Yakuza lacks in size it makes up for in denseness, and the game’s Side Stories are a big part of that. Usually, the player has to be given explicit directions to where the heck a side quest even is by a marker on the map, since they would be next to impossible to find. Yakuza manages to avoid this problem by placing Sub Stories along vital travel routes on the way to key locations, or along the paths to save points. This creates the impression that the player is coming across these events by pure chance, which is incredibly appropriate to the tone of the game. Rather than having to travel miles across other empty areas just to find what content there actually is, it feels like there’s some kind of strange escapade waiting around every corner, which is pretty appropriate to the tone of the game. The fact that these Sub Stories aren’t overly long is another factor to appreciate, since the developers often squeeze out all the potential they can from the situation, and then end them before they over-stay their welcome. Because of this, the Sub Stories make nice breaks from the much longer and involved main story.

And the sheer variety of situations that make up the Sub Stories is nuts! I’m pretty sure the last time I played the game, I watched Majima accidently create what would later become the standard for Japan’s taxes, and not too long later Kiryu was teaching a demure dominatrix how to be more worthy of the title. And those two are on the more normal side compared to what our heroes get accidently involved in. I’m not saying this is the only way to do side quests in games, but I have to admit that I god damn love how they’re done in this particular example.

So, what can we draw from Yakuza’s side quests in order to figure out what makes a good side quest in a more general sense? Being fun and entertaining is the easy answer, but one has to consider that different games will probably need different methods: Yakuza’s writing/translation is strong enough that just watching events unfold is a barrel of laughs regardless, but there may be games that would benefit from focusing more on its core game play to be at its most entertaining. This is especially true of other genres of games, such as shooters, that might ask a player to use weapons or tactics they wouldn’t have otherwise. Another factor for more general purposes would be that side quests should never be a pain to actually find or get to, and that their location should be carefully considered. If you absolutely must put a side quest or activity miles away from where the player will be spending most of their time, it might be prudent to add some kind of quick travel mechanic to the game, for example. Most important of all is that a side quest shouldn’t just be used to pad out game time, it should serve some sort of other purpose, such as expanding on a game’s lore or helping to teach the player a mechanic. Or, as is the case in Yakuza, sometimes a worthwhile purpose is to just have an excuse for the main character to fight zombies while defending a red-coated pop star by the name of “Miracle Johnson.” In many ways, what makes a good side quest is something that needs to be considered on a larger scale than the quest itself, and might need to take in the necessary evils that certain design choices require, i.e. using a fetch quest in order to bring the player to a location they wouldn’t have visited otherwise.

To sum it all up, Yakuza 0 has some fantastic side quests which succeed in being hilariously entertaining, helping to flesh out the world and its characters and even rewarding the player in actual gameplay terms, giving both an emotional and mechanical pay off. They make up for their relatively simple nature (most will be simply choosing text prompts or resorting to good ol’ head bashing) by being extravagantly over the top in their actual premises, as well as being a great way to break up the much more heavy and serious main story.

Tune in next week where I will continue to inevitably gush over Yakuza 0 in its own review, for real this time. Assuming my life hasn’t been consumed by Nioh after that comes out…

(Also, just to explain the sub-header: whenever someone needs to give an example of the tedious collectathon side quests that we talked about, a pretty common joke is use ‘bear asses’ as an example. This might be because bears are common enemies is a lot of RPG/Open-World games, or it might be the inherent hilarity that comes from ‘bear asses.’)