Yakuza 0 Review

  • First Released Jan 24, 2017
  • Reviewed Jan 19, 2017
  • PS4

Turn that frown upside down.

Despite the Yakuza series' cult status, mainstream success has eluded it in the west. If you've never played a Yakuza game before, however, Yakuza Zero is a logical place to test the waters for yourself. It's the series' debut on PlayStation 4, and as a prequel to the first Yakuza game, it doesn't rely on preexisting knowledge of its principal characters. More importantly, you should play Zero because it's a fascinating game that combines equal parts drama and comedy, and is unlike anything else out there at the moment.

Such a statement is worth scrutinizing, so to be clear: It's Zero's flaws that leap out at you at first glance, be it some seriously outdated character models and textures or the repetitive nature of combat. A reasonable person would take these warnings as a sign that something's amiss--maybe it's not surprising that Yakuza continues to persist as a cult-classic series after all. But to get hung up on these shortcomings is missing the point. Where some elements languish from a lack of attention to detail, other facets of Zero are masterfully executed.

Take the story, for example, which jumps back and forth from the perspective of two different yakuza on opposite sides of Japan. Kazuma Kiryu is a young yakuza gangster from Tokyo with an iron first but a heart of gold. He's caught in the middle of a battle between criminal organizations seeking to take control of a valuable piece of real estate. On the other side of the country, in Osaka, we meet Goro Majima, a disfigured yakuza masquerading as the manager of a grand cabaret. Also on the outs with his clan, Majima's sent on a mission to kill a troublesome business owner, but soon finds himself unable to complete the job for personal reasons.

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Majima and Kiryu are on the run for the majority of the game, and they stumble into conflicts with yakuza big and small on a regular basis. During story-related cutscenes, Zero takes its storytelling seriously: Nobody cracks jokes or makes empty threats. When yakuza are involved, everything is at stake, including your life, but also the lives of your family and close friends. As such, the story is relentlessly tense.

Both characters will surprise you, slipping out of harm's way by showcasing a hidden talent or by devising a clever plan, elevating them to herolike status in short order. Extraordinary luck or ability aside, it's the allies they meet along the way that prove to be their most valuable assets. By weaving a complex web of relationships and alliances, Zero's story grows ever more fascinating, proving to be equal parts surprising and exciting from beginning to end. In the final act, all the cards are laid out on the table, and you realize who your real friends and enemies are--and what Kiryu and Majima are truly capable of.

Zero's plot is definitely a high point, and it’s dutifully conveyed through effective camera work and strong voice acting. While the game is only playable with Japanese audio and English subtitles, the energy and attitude behind most characters doesn't need to be translated. When a yakuza boss snarls your way, you believe it. Bosses--or, more appropriately, captains--are often rendered with photorealistic facial features. Some textures go too far, revealing what looks like extreme cases of clogged pores, but blemishes aside, Zero's key characters look just as convincing as they sound.

Almost across the board, however, Zero's other characters exhibit middling animations. Where its most prominent characters offer nuanced expressions, the vast majority of models in the game move in a somewhat robotic fashion. Likewise, most passersby look as if they were lifted from the series' PlayStation 3 entries, if not from a PlayStation 2 Yakuza game. Given that moving through story missions is only half the Yakuza experience, this is a reality you have to confront on a regular basis.

Hand-to-hand combat is another key component of Zero that feels dated, despite its improvements over past games. Both Kiryu and Majima feature different fighting styles--three varieties apiece, no less--but Zero's straightforward beat-em-up trappings ultimately grow repetitive. By and large, you can choose one fighting style that works for you and focus on that for the entire game. Styles are developed by spending money you collect from fights and missions to invest in new skills and stat boosts, and you can get away with experimenting as much as you like.

Zero is nothing if not a brutally violent game. You’ll grind enemies' faces into the pavement, stick a bat in their mouth and kick the exposed end, and pile-drive thugs skull-first into the street.

Majima is by far the more interesting combatant, as he can fight with a bat or by breakdancing in addition to standard fisticuffs. Both characters can pick up weapons in the environment and use them for a limited time, but otherwise, Kiryu’s primarily a brawler, albeit at three different speeds. The enemies you face on the streets are somewhat diverse and include the likes of lonesome drunks, bikers, and lowly yakuza thugs. Thematically, the variety is appreciated, but mechanically, most enemies fight the same.

Zero is nothing if not a brutally violent game. You’ll grind enemies' faces into the pavement, stick a bat in their mouth and kick the exposed end, and pile-drive thugs skull-first into the street. Special takedowns like these add a necessary amount of flair to combat, saving fights from becoming truly rote. While these attacks would kill a normal person, enemies in Zero are able to walk their injuries off. This is your first sign that no matter how seriously the story takes itself, everything outside of cutscenes is a tongue-in-cheek affair.

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The more you play, the more apparent it becomes that Zero wants you to feel both like a badass yakuza and like a participant in an absurdist comedy. The open-world structure of Tokyo and Osaka's fictional districts affords you the chance to interact with non-yakuza citizens through 100 optional missions that you discover by walking the streets and frequenting the game's various stores and amusement centers. Though these missions couldn't be more different from the main plot, that's part of their charm.

No one will argue that a yakuza on the run has time to pretend to be a random girl's boyfriend to impress her father or to stand in as a producer on a TV commercial, but these random and lighthearted challenges are excellent palate cleansers that often elicit a chuckle, make you scratch your head in bemusement, and refresh your perspective. You can also blow off some steam by taking on a handful of minigames, including bowling, darts, real-estate management, and ports of classic Sega arcade games like Out Run, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, and Hang-On. These events are shallow but ultimately serviceable, and the game includes enough of them to satisfy your curiosity should you grow bored of any one in particular.

Traditional for the series, Zero also doesn't shy away from thrusting you into erotic situations, be it it in the form of softcore-porn video parlors or in a minigame that involves betting on wrestling matches between two scantily clad women. At best, you can momentarily excuse its more tasteless pursuits as a reflection of Japanese society in the late 1980s or accept them at face value as a source of titillation.

For the most part, you can avoid these erotic amusements if you want to, but there's an ever-present air of sexism in Zero's story beyond the aforementioned "catfights". Stereotypically, yakuza view women as objects to be owned and manipulated, and this issue can't be avoided if Zero aims to present a realistic yakuza tale; just don't expect the game to address it in a meaningful way. While these elements don't outright poison the well given the basis for their presence, they’re ultimately an unavoidable and harsh reminder of the cultural valley of that exists between the game's setting and modern sensibilities.

Otherwise, Zero relentlessly adheres to its Japanese roots mostly for the better, and if you've ever traveled to Japan, the game's sights and sounds will almost instantly trigger fond memories and feelings of nostalgia. Its fictional slices of Tokyo and Osaka are based on real-life locations but tailored to custom-fit the adventure's scope and scale. For an open world, in terms of raw real estate, Zero's maps are small by modern standards. But what it lacks in scale, Zero makes up for with a wide variety of activities. It can keep you busy for 100 hours and then some if you take advantage of everything it has to offer.

By weaving a complex web of relationships and alliances, Zero's story grows ever more fascinating, proving to be equal parts surprising and exciting from beginning to end.

Were it not for the wealth of activities and side stories available around every corner, Zero would still be a riveting game for its story alone. It does a fantastic job of pulling you into the plight of its main characters and holds your attention through every step of their winding journeys. But, when you take in everything the game has to offer, Zero becomes something special. Yes, its presentation leaves a lot to be desired at times and the fights aren't always as engaging as they could be, but the rest of the game is incredibly diverse and engaging. The sheer amount of activities at your fingertips would feel overwhelming if they weren't so inviting--you're never pressured to do one thing or another.

Unless you have a strong aversion to violence, sex, or middling graphics, you owe it to yourself to give Zero a chance. Its story will surprise you, its inhabitants will make you laugh at every turn, and its ambitious scope will redefine how you think about open-world games. It's a fascinating adventure no matter how you approach it, and it’s proof positive that a game can be wildly inconsistent yet remain a great experience.

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The Good
Gripping story
Relentlessly absurd humor
Generous selection of fun minigames
Small but dense and entertaining open world
The Bad
Combat becomes formulaic
Inconsistent presentation
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Peter has dabbled in previous Yakuza games, but Yakuza Zero is the first game in the series he's completed. He beat Yakuza Zero in 38 hours, which included about 10 hours of exploring optional missions and minigames. Sega provided GameSpot with a complimentary copy of the game for review.
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Avatar image for fabio79gamer

play it! if you don1t like that1s okay but at least give it a try man!

Avatar image for shoegazer2

This game looks like a PS2 game and it scores the same as RE7? lol

Avatar image for marsdude

@shoegazer2: Haven't seen a PS2 game lately, have you?

Avatar image for fabio79gamer

i've played four games of this excellent series ( 1,2,3,4 ) and i don't know why the yakuza games aren't popular in this part of the world, there are a lot of things to do in the games from the fights to sing in a karaoke house, hundreds of funny and most of the time, interesting side quests and, the great narrative, every yakuza game has an interesting and excellent story behind it. this series deserves a better look in the ocident, here in brazil there are many fans of yakuza's games and i am one of them!

Avatar image for tevic

@fabio79gamer: I'm playing Yakuza 3 right now and I find parallels with the elder scrolls series, in the astounding amount of side missions. It's huge !

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@doc-brown: Would you review the next Rumble Roses game? :P

Avatar image for StonerDemon

Great review. Now let's hope for a Yakuza 5 physical release in the west. In the meantime, I'll be on an Ebay hunt for Yakuza 2 ;)

Avatar image for tevic

@StonerDemon: I hope for a physical release of Yakuza too !

Avatar image for valduramma

Been waiting for a Yakuza game on PS4 for such a long time. Love Japanese culture, love Japanese people, buying the game at launch.

Avatar image for fabio79gamer

@valduramma: i'll think will buy this yakaza zero 0 too, great series as far i can tell!!!

Avatar image for csward

Hmm the lack of English dubs is disappointing, but not unexpected. Wish Sega would spends some money on their games.

Avatar image for sasren

@csward: Thats what i thought until i played yakuza 0, have to say the Japanese voice acting is extremely well done and although you have to read subtitles it just captivates you and sucks you into this most unbelievable world of the yakuza.. its worth every penny. best Ps4 game to date IMO

Avatar image for livedreamplay

@csward: I find dubing awkward regardless of the language, it just takes away from the authenticity. I'd much rather make the effort of reading subtitles than lose the language it was made for..

Avatar image for tevic

@livedreamplay: I agree. The only exception is having to read french subtitles while driving in GTA.

Avatar image for livedreamplay

@tevic: Fair point...

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@csward: Actually, Yakuza is better without dubbing. It's part of its charm. Really. It would not be the same experience.

Avatar image for wayneextremity

Peter Brown:

Gives Mad Max a 6 because of repetitive combat and inconsistent pacing. Other sistes average 8/10

Gives Yakuza 0 an 8 for technically the same reasons

Avatar image for livedreamplay

@wayneextremity: If "repetitive combat" would've been the only thing he analyzed, then yes, both should've scored the same. But since he analyzez more than the combat, then it's normal for the score to be different...

For example the story from Mad Max was rubbish, so from the get go the fact that this one was labled with "Gripping story" should make its rating bigger...

Avatar image for veryDERPY

@wayneextremity: mad max looked at ubi games and copied 70% of it.

TERRIBLE decision

Avatar image for BlackBaldwin

@wayneextremity: Sounds like you haven't ever played a Yakuza game before mate mad max pretty dull compared to it i recommend picking it up it may surprise you.

Avatar image for craigtl

Yakuza games are corny and fun I cant lie. Its a guilty pleasure. I even enjoyed the shoot'em up Zombie Yakuza that was like totally out of left field.

Avatar image for BlackBaldwin

@craigtl: Yakuza dead souls was an odd game indeed i really enjoyed it even if it was a bit over the top for my gaming tastes..

Avatar image for Badmutha


Avatar image for nl_skipper

Solid review thanks! I hope to check this out at some point, though I don't plan on paying full price so I'll probably be waiting for a price drop.

Although I just want to comment on the apparent disgust at "cat fights". The reviewer is coming across as the sexist one to imply that women fighting is only there for titillation, and the fact he had to point out that they're "scantily" dressed. Fighters (of any gender) don't wear much in the way of clothing unless it's a judo match or something, do you really need to point that out as a possible source of offense...? Women fight for many of the same reasons as men, because it's entertaining to viewings, fun for the participant, and makes them money... that's not sexist.

I really like your input on various gaming topics here Peter Brown, but your over-sensitivity to these kinds of topics is really becoming off-putting. Honestly, it's really kind of insulting in itself, to basically limit what women are allowed to be shown participating in because of fear of offending someone is no better than showing them off just because they're pretty.

Avatar image for doc-brown

@nl_skipper: There's no disgust from me, but I feel like it's worth mentioning for people who may care. Calling them "catfights" is a sexist move, and I can tell you firsthand that that the camera angles used during these fights is designed to focus on breasts, butts, and crotches--not the art or profession of martial arts. I'm not grasping at straws: I'm pointing out facts.

Avatar image for nl_skipper

@doc-brown: Hey, I can understand where you're coming from a little more now (and I'm inclined to agree that calling them cat-fights is sexist). I'd still argue that showing something "sexy" doesn't necessarily make it sexist though. I mean humans are sexual beings after-all, there's no point denying we have those feelings, and I don't think it's wrong or inherently sexist to enjoy sexy displays. However this is your review and not mine so I'll just quite down now lol.

I really appreciate your reply though Peter, I'd love to see a little more interaction between staff and users here on the site in general. Hope to see you on the next episode of The Lobby, and have a great evening!

Avatar image for p1p3dream

@nl_skipper: At the risk of over escalating this, I just wanted to chime in. You're right, humans are sexual. And you're right, just because something is labeled sexy, doesn't make it sexist- but from the reviewers description he is just pointing out that the sex is focused from the male perspective. ie: boobs, butts, etc focused shots. And something is usually considered sexist when it's really only looked at from a particular sexes point of view. I think this is a valid point to make in 2017, when almost half the video game audience is female. *shrug* :) Cheers. Great review. Look forward to playing.

Avatar image for tevic

@p1p3dream: Female body has more sexual value than male body. It's a fact since time immemorial and all SJWs together will not change that. That's why in prostitution the man pays the woman. Because the man has less erotic value.

Female models are paid 4 x male models for this reason. You can call that "wage gap" if you want.

So focussing the "erotic" on women's bodies is not sexist it's just a basic fact of human nature.

Avatar image for p1p3dream

Hey Tevic, appreciate your reply. I wasn't going to reply anymore on this thread, as I figured I had said my piece and these controversial topics are delicate and easily turn heated. However, I appreciated the fact that despite not sharing my opinion, you made your argument with reason and logic as you see it.

You've said some really important things here, and my hope is just to offer some thoughts.

You're making a lot of statements, like "Female body as more sexual value than male body...," among other statements talking about what the value of a womens body is over the value of a mans. You imply, and even say, that these are just facts. Are they really facts though? Or do you think they might be, in fact, opinions? To me reading them, they sound like opinions. And opinions can change. It's your opinion that the female body has more value than a mans. What about a gay man? I bet his opinion would be different than yours. Your statement about prostitution doesn't really make sense either. There are women prostitutes, and there are men prostitutes. Sometimes a man pays a woman, sometimes a woman paysa man, although more likely is that a man is paying another man.

The value of something is completely dependent on who is deciding the value, and how much someone is willing to pay.

Where did you get the information that says female models are paid 4x more then males?

Tom Cruise is one of the highest paid actors in the world, and im sure there would be a lot of people who would use sex appeal as part of qualities of his success.

And again,my intent is not to insult you, just to clarify and offer my thoughts and opinions- so to clarify, Sexism or being sexist has more to do with equality... And your last statement saying, that exploiting women sexually is just human nature. Well, with a statement like that- you make it pretty clear what you think about women. Again, all I can say is that, fortunately, just because you may personally think a certain way- it doesn't actually make it true. That is the kind of logic that says That if a woman is wearing a short skirt/dressed sexy is raped, that she was asking for it- because it's human nature....

Avatar image for tevic


Fortune :

"There’s a huge pay disparity between male and female supermodels"

you make bizarre assertions in the end of your post considering that erotism would be "exploiting women sexually", which is really, really bizarre. Are you a puritan ?

Are all actresse is movies acting sexy, sexually exploited ?

What about women who are sexily clad, wear highheels, etc. Are they auto-objectifying themselves ? Are they auto-exploiting themselves ? Should we prohibit them to do themselves harm in that way ?

It really makes no sense at all, sorry.

Sexuality is not symmetrical. Men don't wear high heels or make-up because they know it's not the way to seduce women. Being strong and successful is.

Avatar image for outlawwitcher12

Can anyone explain to me why these games always come out YEARS later in the West after their Japan release? I could understand like a month or 2 later, but 2 years? All that does is make the game look dated. I'm not saying that is a game ruiner but it would be nice to see Yakuza from a fresh perspective for once.

Avatar image for BlackBaldwin

@outlawwitcher12: Like others pointed out translation is a big hold up to the series and i like to add its a sega ip which honestly they really have issues handling their properties they barely keep their company afloat nowadays in my opinion.

Avatar image for craigtl


I would think because its not as popular here. But who knows. I dont think its the translation like others have said because they only add in subtitles.

Avatar image for sakaixx

@outlawwitcher12: translation takes a lot of time. Especially if its a very japanese centric games. Translating those culture specific themes can be challenging.

Avatar image for yeezer

ctrl f "women"

As soon as I clicked on the article I did this an lord and behold the complaints were there. Haven't really played these games but just knowing it's gang related and has all men on the cover, you know this kind of game is going to trigger Gamespot. Still a good review but these nit picking complaints need to stop. This is Japanese culture and thank god they're still not allowing these SJW opinions to affect their games like some american devs are.

What a joke still though.

Avatar image for wayneextremity

@yeezer: most Peter Brown reviews are nit picky. Comes off whiny, almost

Avatar image for doc-brown

@yeezer: "Haven't really played these games but..."

Avatar image for tevic


"Stereotypically, yakuza view women as objects to be owned and manipulated"

Maybe one could also say that (ex : as anybody can notice when reading women's magazines)

"Stereotypically, women view men as objects to be seduced, owned and manipulated"

But in this direction, it seems not to be a problem at all to "modern sensibilities". So I can't help but notice these strange double standards.

Avatar image for p1p3dream

@tevic: I would, respectfully, say that most women do not view men as objects to be seduced, owned, and manipulated. Please don't misunderstand in that I'm attacking you personally! I'm simply just trying to politely offer up things to think about if you want. I'm not sure if you're a doctor or not, but if you are , you are probably familiar with the idea of projection. So I am guessing that you might be referring to Women's magazines that have headlines/articles like "How to make him yours!" Or "Make him love you" or any such variations. Maybe you've had a few bad experiences with women too where you felt manipulated? I would be cautious about making assumptions based on tabloid headlines. These headlines are intentionally provacative and intentionally sensational, in order to sell magazines. I would offer that making these kinds of assumptions based off of gossip magazines, could be more about you projecting your own thoughts and opinions about something.

I've spent a lot of time in Japan, about 4 months. Most of my time was spent in Tokyo. I can tell you for a fact, that women are treated and viewed quit differently there. Women are expected to behave a certain way (submissive) and are just generally not shown the same amount of respect as a man. The workplace is beginning to open up a bit there, but even still, if a woman is working in an office in Tokyo it's probably a 90% chance that they are a receptionist or an assistant.

Avatar image for tevic

@p1p3dream: I didn't say that most women view men that way. That's why there was "Stereotypically" at the beginning of the sentence. It's a stereotype.

You seem to imply that women are not respected in Japan, I guess it's wrong as women are respected in every culture. This respect in the west is called "Chivalry", I'm pretty sure there's an equivalent in Japan.

Can you find just one situation in Yakuza where Kiriu is impolite to a woman ? I guess you won't be able to find any, which shows women are quite more respected in Japan than men.

Avatar image for iohannfus2015

... five, six, seven, Peter Brown, nine and so on ...

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Funny, I recall Peter Brown giving The Last Guardian and Gravity Rush 2 nines.

Avatar image for xgalacticax

Can't wait! ....and for Yakuza 6 and Kiwami as well :). I started at 3 so never knew the back stories of Kiryu or Majima.

Yakuza 0 More Info

  • First Released Jan 24, 2017
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    Although 1980s Japan appears to be a colorful wonderland on the surface, the bright lights and flashy clothes can only cover so much of the seedy Japanese underworld. It takes money, power, and respect to keep this alluring illusion running, and it just so happens that Yakuza 0's two gangster protagonists are hungry for it all. Players will follow the genesis of Kazuma Kiryu, the rising Dragon of Dojima, and Goro Majima, before he's known as the Mad Dog of Shimano, as they pursue the almighty Yen. The Japanese thug life isn't all disco halls and phone clubs, because Kiryu and Majima will need to pass hellish trials and tribulations in order to be considered honorable Yakuza.
    Average Rating65 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Yakuza 0
    Developed by:
    Ryu ga Gotoku Studios, Sega
    Published by:
    Sega, Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol