There comes a certain point where sequels become intimidating. With the amount of video games at our fingertips these days, why jump into something that might have you fumbling to understand what's going on, when you could just as easily play a billion other things? It's one of the reasons I've avoided the Yakuza games, even as clips of dudes fighting tigers gave me pause over my life choices. I'm here to tell you it's not a good reason to avoid Yakuza 0.
There have been six mainline Yakuza games—Yakuza, Yakuza 2, Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4, Yakuza 5, Yakuza 6—a handful of spin-off games— Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan!, Kurohyō: Ryū ga Gotoku Shinshō, Yakuza: Dead Souls, Kurohyō: Ryū ga Gotoku Ashura henu, Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin—and remasters of the first two games. Oh, and a full-fledged remake of the first Yakuza! Phew, right? Over the years, the I only tried was the zombie-themed one, got bored after a few hours, and never came back. It seemed like "Hey, maybe it's too late for me, the series has turned a corner and become so self-referential it's only for fans now."
Let's make something clear, friend: That is some hot bullshit; I picked the wrong game. Yakuza 0 is the funniest game I've played in years, a game that's managed to surprise and subvert my expectations more time in the first few hours than most games do over an entire playthrough. I have, at times, covered my eyes because it's unclear whether the game was going to show me a pornographic video…
...and burst into near tears because a group of kids showed up when I was helping a dominatrix find the confidence to demean the clients who show up to her job…
Kotaku's Luke Plunkett has an excellent piece with tips for Yakuza 0 newcomers, and the one I'd echo is slowing down. Unlike other open world games, Yakuza 0 doesn't instantly mark everything of interest on the map Instead, players are tasked with organically stumbling into side quests. There are literally dozens and dozens of side quests to find, though, so you're almost never going to spend more than a few minutes zipping through streets and alleys before something weird happens. That said, because I'm a daddy with limited time, I've already started consulting guides to make sure I don't miss anything.
Also, Luke is on-point about this:
DON'T BE AFRAID TO LOWER THE DIFFICULTY
There's a massive gulf in Yakuza 0 between the real heart of the game and the mechanic that will most test you. Not many people buy this game for the fighting, they buy it for the world and story, but it's fighting you're going to need to do if you want to get anywhere.
Because of that, if you're ever running into trouble...just slide the difficulty down to easy. It's not a total cop-out—you'll find that encounters with large groups of enemies are still challenging—but it makes things simple enough that you won't hit many roadblocks on your way to the next dramatic cutscene.
Good luck, and have fun beating up dudes, and helping a girl who's being blackmailed into selling her underwear, and tracking down a guy who stole a kid's game, and fighting a dude who's not wearing the right jacket to cross a bridge, and...and...and...and...
One reason I always scratched my head over Yakuza was the way Sega originally pitched the series outside of Japan. I realize there's a mostly serious story at the heart of the games, but the absurdist humor and sense of place has, for me, proved the real attraction of Yakuza 0. Perhaps I'm being sacrilegious, but the lengthy melodramatic cut-scenes often has me rolling my eyes. But to the game's credit, it's skilled at slipping between tones at will, and it never feels forced.
In any case, when Yakuza dropped way back in 2006, the video game industry was still trying to play catch up with Grand Theft Auto 3, prompting everyone to make an open world game. Sega spent a bunch of money signing up major Hollywood talent—Michael Madsen, Eliza Dushku, Mark Hamill—voice the characters, and released bombastic trailers like this one:
Though I'm into sweet yakuza dudes fighting one another and ships blowing up, it betrays the heart of Yakuza games and sells the experience short. Compare that to a Yakuza 0 trailer that explicitly highlights the game's ridiculousness:
That's the game I've been falling in love with for the past 10 hours, and that's the game I wish I'd been playing years ago, hard I known better. Yakuza seems to be finally having a long awaited moment outside of Japan with Yakuza 0, and it's a really good time to get on the bandwagon. Sega's already committed to releasing its full-on Yakuza remake this summer, Yakuza 6 is set for early 2018, and the company's considering remakes of the other games. Long live Yakuza.