Yakuza 0 is an action-adventure game and a prequel to the rest of the series. It's set during the glitz and glam of the 1980s in Japan during an economic bubble.
You play as Kazuma Kiryu, a tough yakuza with a heart of gold, and Goro Majima, a laid-back yet determined ex-yakuza trying to get back in the business. They both get caught up in a high-stakes drama when their own Tojo Clan gang turns against them in a chase for a valuable plot of land in downtown Tokyo.
Pro Perfect for newcomers to the Yakuza series
If you've never played a Yakuza game before, this is the best place to start. Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the other games, and it assumes that you don't know who any of the existing characters are, so it introduces you to everyone in a way that's welcoming to new players. There are a lot of winks and nods to veterans of the series, but they're not done in a way that will confuse newcomers -- in fact, they add some replay value to the game since you can go back after playing the rest of the series in order to understand these little inclusions.
This game also has one of the best stories and gameplay in the franchise, with the Yakuza staples of memorable characters, and wacky side stories mixed in with serious crime drama as you get to know Kiryu and Majima when they were younger. It's an excellent introduction to the Yakuza games as the best of the best of the franchise.
Pro Dense and realistic open world set in Japan
Yakuza 0 takes place in the districts of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, both of which are painstaking recreations of the actual Kabukicho and Dotenbori districts in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively. They're not huge locations, but they're packed with details that make them seem much larger. Gleaming with city lights and brimming with people, Kamurocho and Sotenbori are filled with all types of restaurants with various cuisines, stores for you to shop at, and places for entertainment and mini-games. The districts are realistic enough that they make you feel like you're actually there.
Pro Intriguing crime drama story with exciting twists and turns
Yakuza 0's story is genuinely gripping and well-written, showing the lengths people will go to in order to gain power and status or to protect the ones they care about. The story is set in 1980s Japan during a high point in the economy, with the plot kicking off with Kazuma Kiryu, a young twenty-something yakuza who gets caught up in his clan's internal battle to claim a lucrative plot of land in the middle of downtown Tokyo. He has a strong sense of honor to do what's right by his sworn yakuza family while getting to the bottom of the scheme against him from the higher-ups in his clan.
And then the story shifts every two chapters to Goro Majima, who's the manager of a fancy cabaret club as a way to pay off his debt and get back into the yakuza. He soon gets thrown into an impossible situation where he has to murder someone for the first time to get back in the business, but this of course doesn't go as planned. The way Kiryu and Majima's stories intertwine and branch off from each other is filled with several shocking plot twists that feel natural and organic. It's definitely worth experiencing at least once.
Pro Brutal and entertaining brawler combat
The beat 'em up fights in Yakuza 0 are brutal, with impressive up-close-and-personal cinematics that make the fights a lot of fun. You can hear your opponent's bones crushing as you smash your fist or foot into them, with successive hits building your heat gauge over time. Once your heat gauge is full, you can use a special move against an enemy with a nearby trash can, bike, crowbar, or anything else you can pick up, showing a neat cinematic straight out of an action movie as you smash your makeshift weapon into your attacker.
The best part is getting to play as either Kiryu or Majima and experimenting with their different playstyles. Kiryu has three battle styles that he can switch between: Brawler, which is his standard and balanced style, Beast, his slower and tankier build that lets him charge up powerful attacks and carry the heaviest makeshift weapons like whole motorcyles, and Rush, his lightning-fast style with speedy chains and combos. Meanwhile, Majima has three completely different styles: Thug, his equivalent to Kiryu's Brawler, Slugger, a fun yet overpowered style where Majima wields a baseball bat like a sword and nunchaku, and Breaker, a cool style where Majima chains stylish breakdancing moves in succession to keep his enemies stunlocked.
The combat here is intense and varied, making you feel powerful while keeping your interest at the same time.
Pro Tons of side content
There's so much to do in between story missions in Yakuza 0, with plenty of quality and polish to keep you entertained for hours. All of the mini-games and side quests almost have a life of their own with plenty of variety and detail. There are dozens of side quests, some of which land Kiryu and Majima in hilarious and wacky situations that never seem too far-fetched. And there are a bunch of other mini-games, like singing karaoke, bowling, golf, gambling at mahjong, "watching" racy videos, managing a cabaret club and a real estate business, disco dancing, and many more. It's hard to get bored with Yakuza 0's plethora side content.
Pro Incredible English localization
Yakuza 0 is fully voiced in Japanese with an amazing English localization for Western audiences. The localization team did more than simply translate the game -- they made sure everything is relevant for a non-Japanese audience to understand and relate with. Since there's no option for English voices, the subtitles do a great job at bringing the game to life for those who don't know Japanese but still want to appreciate the culture and support the Yakuza series.
Con Not for players who dislike long, involved story cutscenes
If you don't like games that have a lot of story cutscenes, then Yakuza 0 might not be for you. The story shares the spotlight with the gameplay, so you can't really escape the long cutscenes that weave the narrative together, unless you decide to skip all of them. Even though the cutscenes are long, they make sense and they keep you engaged, though players who just aren't into this type of thing may get turned off regardless.
Con Graphics aren't that impressive
Yakuza 0 has weak textures, stiff character animations outside of cutscenes, and too many repeat copies of NPCs around the city. Invisible walls also block off the city's boundaries. Thankfully the characters and facial animations look great during story scenes, helping to make up for the poor visuals elsewhere.
Con Starts off a bit slow
The first couple of hours or so are a little slow, with quite a few cutscenes that set up the story in between a tutorial for the controls. It's mixed in with decent exposition and a solid introduction to the characters as Kiryu spends the night out with his best friend Nishiki, so it's something of a slow burn that builds up to the more action-packed story. You need to know these foundations to help you appreciate the story, though, making the lengthier start a necessary evil. It's worth it for the rest of the story, so it pays off to stick with it and try to find some enjoyment.