Kazuma Kiryu knows how to have a good time. The Yakuza series' central protagonist likes to run around red light districts kicking the absolute crap out of anyone that gets in his way, and then when's he's cracked enough skulls for one night, he hits the nearest karaoke bar to belt out a few bangers. Just 20 years old in Yakuza 0, Kaz is more instinctive than ever. The first time that we see him, he's breaking the bones of some poor schmuck for a local debt collector, and from there, he charges headfirst into a whole mess of trouble.
A prequel that takes place before even the original Yakuza, Yakuza 0 is something of an origin story, but to call it that makes it sound a bit cheap. Really, this is a whole new tale within itself, featuring a huge cast of interesting characters. The lengthy cutscenes and reams of dialogue that we've come to expect from the property are present and correct, and as per usual, the title whips up an engrossing fiction of underworld intrigue. We're only about eight hours in, but we're already completely hooked.
Admittedly, though, not much has changed outside of the narrative. 0 still follows the tried and tested formula of past games, letting you wander the streets of Kamurocho at your leisure before jumping back into main story missions. For those who aren't familiar with the series, Yakuza isn't really an open world title, even though it's often referred to as 'the Japanese Grand Theft Auto'. In fact, it isn't much of a sandbox at all. If anything, SEGA's franchise slots into the action role-playing genre. There are side quests, text boxes, and combat encounters - not to mention locations filled with enemies, which essentially amount to dungeons.
There are also tons of optional activities to partake in. From darts and bowling to old SEGA arcade machines and foxy boxing (yes, you read that right), this latest instalment carries on the series' tradition of having something for just about everyone. If you get tired of beating random thugs senseless, you can head over to the batting cage and try to top your old high score. Simply put, Yakuza 0 is bursting with gameplay variety and personality.
But fans of the property will be expecting that to be the case anyway. If you've enjoyed any of the previous mainline games, you'll know what you're in for here. Kamurocho as a location hasn't changed much at all aside from the inclusion of some gaudy 80s flair, while the often clunky combat system remains very familiar, wince-inducing brutality and all. That said, with Kiryu now able to switch between different fighting styles in the heat of battle - each boasting their own strengths and weaknesses - there's perhaps a little more tactical depth to explore here.
As Sammy alluded in his review of Yakuza 5, which launched on the PlayStation 3 last year, the series has long since lost its once impressive shine. Legging it around the same old Kamurocho is getting a bit long in the tooth, and outside of the superbly acted story cutscenes, watching voiceless text scroll across the screen is starting to feel incredibly archaic. But then, at this point, all of this is part of Yakuza's identity. Things will have to change somewhere down the line, but for now, we're finding it near impossible to resist 0's undeniable charm.
Fans will know exactly what they're getting with Yakuza 0, while newcomers will discover and hopefully enjoy one of PlayStation's most overlooked properties - at least here in the West. Again, we're only a short distance into this latest instalment, but we're pretty confident that this is going to be yet another knockout for Kaz and the boys.
Are you looking forward to Yakuza 0? You'll be able to read our full review of the release before the game launches on the 24th January, but until then, wear your best suit in the comments section below.