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!
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.