Sega is bringing the Yakuza franchise back to life in a major way. The series’ unique way of storytelling, combat and characters have always captured the imaginations of gamers. Fans have been waiting for a new iteration in the Yakuza franchise and finally, Yakuza Zero is here.

Open-world games are not exactly known for their narrative prowess, but on occasion one will come along and challenge that stereotype. In what turns out to be a brilliant, thrilling and surprising story, Yakuza Zero‘s overall narrative shines in a masterful way. Even despite its massive 80-hour playtime for some, Yakuza Zero manages to maintain a compelling story.

It isn’t just the events that transpire in Yakuza Zero that make me so happy with the narrative, but more the characters within it. Protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Majima Goro are individuals gamers will play as throughout the story. Once you get a solid 10 hours into the experience, Yakuza Zero switches between Majima and Kiryu’s stories to keep things moving.

Each of their stories are very, very different. Kiryu’s tale early on is one you might expect more than Majima’s, however, each of their stories have more than their fair share of twists and turns. The first time you see Majima in the game is flat out amazing because of what you think will happen and what actually happens. These characters have plenty of depth to them and their backgrounds will make you care for them deeply.

Open-world games that sport a multi-protagonist narrative that has more than one playable character tend to be incredibly engaging. I’m surprised it isn’t used more, but Yakuza Zero implements the concept masterfully. Both Majima and Kiryu’s differing paths give you the sugar and salt contrasts needed to carry out, what can seem at times, such a lengthy narrative.

Majima’s debut is one of the most unique you’ll ever see (Courtesy of Sega).

Characters you meet along the way never ceased to amaze me. Daisaku Kuze is an example of a villain you’ll love to hate. Sega did a fabulous job of creating true villains in Yakuza Zero. One of the aspects of I love about characters like Kuze is he isn’t a cliche personality sometimes seen in games. He is quite the evil man, but his actions are driven by a purpose, not some nameless disregard. For most of the characters in Yakuza Zero, I happily know how I felt about them. There is no indifference and I believe other players will feel the same.

Getting away from the story, the game itself is extremely deep. For players who wish to dig deep, both Majima and Kiryu have several different combat styles. Each of them can be upgraded via the Yen you’ll acquire. All of the combat style skill trees have similarities and differences. It is a pleasure to have choice in how you wish to fight, and this form of expression is empowering.

Heat is a gauge players will increase when in combat. The more hits you can string together, without lapses in between hits, the more your heat will increase and remain high. There are three levels to your heat. After it rises past the first level, you can execute a special ability, which deals powerful damage. Gamers need to be careful about when they use the ability because doing so will drop your heat significantly. In a battle with numerous enemies, it is important to be more choosy about when you use your special ability.

Majima’s different combat styles include Thug, Slugger and Breaker. Thug is my least favorite simply for the lack of fluid motions versus the other two, but that’s just me. I absolutely love fighting with the Slugger or Breaker combat styles. The former is when Majima fights with a baseball bat and has a continuous attack that does a fine job of stunning enemies from all directions.

The same sort of attack is available through the Breaker fighting style too. Each move isn’t the most deadly, however, it is quite valuable when going up against a large group of foes. Breaker is also kind of hilarious since Majima is essentially dancing while beating his opponents to a pulp. Talk about adding insult to injury. There is a fourth style that can be unlocked, but I’ll leave its details for you to experience on your own. It is worth seeking out for all you perfectionists out there though. The same is true for Kiryu’s fourth style.

Kiryu’s fighting style has many intriguing options for players (Courtesy of Sega).

Kiryu’s three fighting styles include a similar set. The three are Destroyer, Thug and Rush, the latter of which I use religiously. With Kiryu, I enjoy be able to land quick attacks and still have enough mobility to react to peripheral enemies. However, Destroyer is quite entertaining because Kiryu can pick up objects nearby and bash his opponents with them. This style seriously decreases mobility, as does Thug, but Destroyer provides some very entertaining moments.

Another element that creates fun in the game’s combat is its money system. You’ll quickly feel out in each encounter and learn that certain move combinations result in low cash bonuses, while others result in massive cash bonuses. Using your special ability will typically net you higher sums of cash as will killing enemies of a higher difficulty. Earning money in combat creates a wonderfully addictive aspect to gameplay. If you ever are low on cash in Yakuza Zero, don’t worry, just go pick a fight and you’ll earn money back instantly.

Inventory management is an element of Yakuza Zero worth mentioning. Gamers can pick up items that will recharge health or heat levels when consumed. These items are consumable mid-combat or while simply free-roaming. For some missions, having certain items will also come in handy. Health becomes full by eating food, which is getable at a store or restaurant. The latter is the most effective way of restoring health. As for the most efficient way to restore heat, just go pick a fight.

Yakuza Zero is so much more than fighting and its story though. There are several instances where gamers can partake in mini-game activities. You will be able to spend time running a cabaret club as well as managing real estate. These activities are seriously addicting and can result in earning massive cash, or if you aren’t as lucky, losing it.

A look at the cabaret club managing experience (Courtesy of Sega).

Cabaret club management will have you assign certain girls to clients who enter. You’ll need to monitor their stamina levels because if they are too low, it will result negatively for the client. Players can work on upgrading their girls’ appearances. This will lead to more happy customers on a more frequent basis. It is an interesting mini-game with fun nuance to it, and the same is true for the game’s real estate mini-game. The only danger with these modes is losing track of time and suddenly realizing four hours went by like they were only one. This is the joy of immersion though, my friends.

When I look at Yakuza Zero from a big picture standpoint, it is clearly a massive experience. There is so much for players to become lost in. This includes everything from its intriguing plot, captivating characters, entertaining combat and addictive side content.

Sega’s Yakuza Zero shows gamers how open-world games can be gargantuan experiences, while still maintaining a legitimately thrilling and interesting story. The game will launch this coming Jan. 24 exclusively for PS4. Stick around here at We Write Things for more on Sega. Sega provided We Write Things with a PS4 review code of Yakuza Zero for the purposes of this review.

About Steve Ruygrok

Gaming, Spirits, and Craft Beer enthusiast. If you say you don't like beer, then you just haven't had the right type yet. Great spirits keep away the bad ones. Video games are kind of amazing, just do it...or something like that.