Yakuza 0 Review: Birth of a Dragon

Witness Kazuma Kiryu's rise to prominence in the PC port of the excellent prequel to the Yakuza series. 


Every amazing story has to start somewhere, and in the case of the Yakuza series and the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, that start comes in the form of Yakuza 0. Previously launched back in January 2017 on PlayStation 4, it's now made its way to PC to settled down with an even larger audience. It takes the sordid tale of Yakuza, Kiryu, and frenemy Goro Majima back to one of the greatest decades of all time: the '80s.

It's a match made in heaven, with the sentimentality and excess of the '80s meshing perfectly with the swagger and violence of one of gaming's most fearsome and surprisingly wholesome characters. It's a wholly entertaining trip back in time that paints the perfect backdrop for the six additional core Yakuza entries, and the best possible place to start if you're looking to get into the history of the world's coolest (and kindest) Yakuza member ever, Kazuma Kiryu.

Back in Time

Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the entirety of the Yakuza series. As such, there are only two characters you need to worry yourself with: Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, with narrative threads tying the two together and diverging at times throughout the game. Kiryu begins his tale in the bustling town of Kamurocho, with a plot centered around a small plot of land referred to as the Empty Lot. He who controls the Empty Lot controls an important project that various factions are in fact vying for. When a simple debt-collecting assignment goes south, Kiryu is framed for murder, and finds himself dragged into the conflict. As such, he's got to work outside of his clan, the Tojo clan, to figure out who's looking to take him out of the picture.

Meanwhile, the erratic and hilarious Goro Majima's story takes place in Sotenbori, Osaka. He's got his own laundry list of problems he's faced with, after having been essentially kicked out of the yakuza. As such, he runs his own cabaret club with some side gigs here and there. When he agrees to take on a hit for some unsavory folks, he ends up in some very hot water – as is usually the case when you get down with business like that. The origin stories of Kiryu and Majima are endlessly fascinating, even if you've never played another Yakuza game before, either setting the stage for the rest of the series or building upon an already strong foundation. Watching Kiryu transform into the fearsome Dragon of Dojima and Majima spiraling even further out of control than ever before is an absolute treat, and you'll be on the edge of your seat as it all plays out.

Lost in Kamurocho

But of course there's more to the game than simply watching narrative threads unfold. Most of your time is spent exploring the lengths of Kamurocho and Sotenbori as you please, usually left to your own devices to explore convenience stores, nightclubs, restaurants, and a wealth of other areas. Both cities are absolutely teeming with life and things to do.

You'll invariably get lost in the staggering amount of mini games and additional content available to you as well, including a disco dancing mini game, slot car racing, and building up Kiryu's burgeoning real-estate empire. There's so much to do that, at least one or two times, you'll find yourself having forgotten the main story thread and lose hours within the activities behind the scenes. It's highly possible, when you can scout women for Majima's cabaret club, chill out with old arcade games, and complete hilarious and occasionally heartwarming sub-missions.

Don't forget that throughout all this, you're still a member of the Yakuza though (even if there's just a tenuous connection for a bit due to both characters' transgressions, real and imagined). So you'll be faced with an absolute ton of different combat encounters, whether while you're walking through the city or completing a task for someone else. Street thugs, other yakuza members, and ne'er-do-wells all do their best to beat you down when they find you wandering about, and you'll have to open up a can of you-know-what to cut them down to size.

Luckily, combat is as intuitive as the later games in the series. Both Kiryu and Majima have three different fighting styles that you can swap between as you please. One allows for quick volleys of attack, one offers traditional brawling action, and the other is all about packing a real wallop. As you pull off deadly combos, you'll earn cash that you can invest in adding health boosts, new combos, and additions to your Heat gauge.

Your Heat gauge ensures that you can pull off some seriously devastating finishers. You might jam a thug's head into the wall, or in the case of Majima, do a spinning back kick with a flourish to finish off a fight. It's gleefully violent and decadent in its execution, to the point where even boss encounters feel more like fun excuses to see how much style you can infuse each round of combat with.

A Yakuza With A Heart of Gold

Beyond story mode's required brawls and the random encounters in the streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, however, you aren't going to be solving every problem with violence. Yakuza 0 is rife with a cavalcade of various side quests that range from dance-of at the disco to teaching an all-male music group better ways to interact with the public an cultivate their "tough guy" personas. Many of these quests require you to become the diplomatic and kind Kiryu who's just looking to be a good guy, helping folks solve their various problems, and watching it all play out gives you a well-deserved breather from the more dense combat-packed sections.

These missions are some of the most important parts of the game, infusing what others may interpret as a bloodthirsty game in which violence is the only way to reach a resolution with others. Exploring these quests reveals the beating heart of Kiryu and humanizes him as just a regular guy who's actually quite the decent person despite you know, being a member of the yakuza. It's this that helps set the series as a whole apart from other brawlers, and I highly recommend playing through all of these missions if at all possible, as their occasional silliness and earnestness goes a long way to make for an extremely memorable game. There are over 100 of them to discover, so you'll be in for a real treat if you decide to truly dig in.

Lookin' Good, Kiryu!

Having played the original Yakuza 0 when it launched on PlayStation 4, I was curious about how much would indeed be different with the PC version, or if it was even worth exploring in lieu of sticking to my PlayStation 4 Pro. I'm happy to report that Kamurocho and Sotenbori look absolutely excellent, and as well they should, with the PC version's 4K resolution.

In addition to glitzed-up graphics, I noted a significant decrease in loading times as well, which is certainly a good thing when it comes to Yakuza in general. Cutting down on the time I have to wait to load new areas is going to get me to the locales I want to see even quicker, and it was one of the parts of this slick PC port I appreciated the most. Otherwise, it's largely the same experience, with Steam achievements, full controller support, and all the other niceties you'd expect from any PC version of a big title like this one.

If you were expecting any sort of English voiceover track, however, unfortunately that's not an option, nor is it in any of the new Yakuza releases. The good news is that the voice cast is damned excellent that you'll never miss any hasty English dubbing, and you'll learn to love Kiryu's badass growl. It's seriously awesome. 

The Dragon Awakens

No matter if you've played the rest of the Yakuza series and know it like the back of your hand, or you're just now getting started as a fledgling fan, Yakuza 0 is a must-play. Not only does it act as an entertaining and compelling back story for Yakuza's coolest characters, Kiryu and Majima, but it offers a wealth of variations in gameplay for even the pickiest players. Like the rest of the games, it has plenty to offer, but most importantly, you'll be watching the rise of a dragon. And trust me, with Yakuza Kiwami 2 on the horizon, you're going to want to get started proper before embarking on your journey with Kazuma Kiryu. 

This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. Yakuza 0 is available now on PlayStation 4 and will be available on PC on August 1, 2018. The game is rated M for mature.

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

Review for
Yakuza 0
  • Excellent opening to the tale of Kazuma Kiryu and his rise to become the Dragon of Dojima.
  • Deliciously violent, with just the right amount of heart.
  • Over 100 side quests to complete aside from the main story.
  • 4K resolution gives the game a fresh coat of paint.
  • Some may find side quests silly or frivolous.
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