The Yakuza series is one I have long admired from the side-lines. The concept of complicated crime dramas mixed with shirtless muscle men beating the shit out of each other always seemed appealing, but my one attempt at playing the original Yakuza was met with too many setbacks. My good friend Stian, being a long-time fan of the series, then suggested I try out the prequel game Yakuza 0. And by “suggest” I mean he send me the game on Steam.
Guilt trip, much?
Well, I did have a good time with Yakuza 0 in any case. I loved its story, it was a visual spectacle, the men were hot, yet now that I am finished, a single thought dominates all others: What a waste of my FUCKING time.
More specifically, my main issue with Yakuza 0 is the sheer amount of side-content you are tempted and sometimes forced to explore. The game has a wealth of side-quests for its two protagonists to complete, mini-games to do, places to visit, and two separate management mini-games to engage with.
Series protagonist Kiryu is burdened with a property management side-gig where you buy up various buildings, invest in their improvement, and then assign staff to collect revenue. Meanwhile, his counterpart in Osaka, Goro Majima, is tasked with operating a cabaret club. A job that involves scouting for women to serve your clients, signing contracts with other businesses, and a lot of grinding to accrue fans.
Now I love me some management sims and would probably play games with these kinds of mechanics just on their own. However, as a side-quest to a semi-linear action game, these management jobs end up far outstaying their welcome while also being too simplistic to ever feel truly engaging.
Kiryu just ends up repetitively running around town to collect money from his office to then buy new buildings with, which generate more money so you can buy even more expensive buildings. It’s a waiting game that asks you to slowly grind towards ever-increasing wealth, but it offers nothing active for you to be busy with. Sometimes you have to beat up a generic group of enemies to resume your money flow and sometimes you need to do a button-mashing mini-game to collect your money. That’s it.
The cabaret club is more involved, as you balance what staff to bring with you to any night to cover anything your customers might want. You level up each girl individually and can customize your real stars to make them even better or more specialized. It’s surprisingly good, but really loses its luster as you need to repeatedly grind out 3-minute sessions without any short-term goals to work towards. It takes hours of work before you can bring down one of your five rivals.
Both of these mechanics also lack a layer of polish. The games are frequently unavailable when the story demands it, finding places to buy or sign contracts with is pure guesswork with no overview, there’s a lot of unskippable cutscenes in there, upgrades for your business are weirdly tied into a secondary currency you also need for the main game, it feels sloppy all over.
And most annoying of all is how every other side-quest in the game ties back into these mini-games. Employees for both businesses are recruited by completing side-quests and you also need to do them in order to sign up/buy certain shops. While the side-quests can sometimes be fun, a lot of them feel repetitive and simplistic. Many are just a bunch of slow cutscenes that then lead to dialogue trees you need to pick the right responses from, usually concluding with a fight right after. It’s serviceable and the stories can be fun, but you’ll be rushing to do all of them just to make the cabaret and real estate go a bit faster.
The worst of the worst, however, are the side-quests that involve friendship. You’ll be asked to constantly return to an NPC to repeat some pointless chore just to increase their friendship, only to then get a side-quest at the end to actually get your reward. One shop I desperately needed for the cabaret club wouldn’t work with me until I’d gone in and watched like 20 porn videos, all of which require you to sit through unskippable cutscenes, a dialogue segment, and then load back into the city so you can turn around, load back into the shop, and do it all again.
One restaurant had me eat there a dozen times before giving me a side-quest that required playing the fishing mini-game. It’s just layers of busywork you need to get through, none of which are intrinsically fun. I don’t like to fish, I don’t like to repeatedly watch unskippable cutscenes of Goro eating, I don’t like buying up shops, I don’t like grinding out the same cabaret nights, but I need to do all of it to eventually get a somewhat fun battle with one of the rivals. Is that really worth it?
Savvy readers may be asking why to even bother with the cabaret and property management at all if I don’t like it. Why not just focus on the main storyline and do what little side-content I do enjoy? Well, here’s the joke: you need to do this.
Oh sure, it doesn’t gate off actual story progression, but the enemies are going to get a whole lot tougher as you progress. You got 3 different fighting styles per character, each with its own upgrade tree, and you advance through this by putting down cold, hard cash. Millions upon millions of it. Late-game you’re lucky if a fight you spend minutes of your time on will yield a million yen, while you need BILLIONS. A single late-game upgrade can cost you 500,000,000 on its own, which isn’t even counting the side-grades that come with it.
But remember, the money you make you also need to reinvest. Any revenue you eke out is better spend buying up more buildings to make sure the next payout is even bigger. But that bigger payout also needs to be reinvested or you’ll waste your potential growth on a temporary boost in power.
The only conclusion: waste time. Just spend hours upon hours upon hours not making a single dent in the story. Waste hours running around town so you can collect payouts and buy more buildings. Waste hours grinding away at the cabaret until the sound of women makes you physically ill. You’re gonna need those health upgrades when late-game battles just have dudes with guns everywhere. You don’t wanna be stuck tickling those last few bosses and super-henchmen to dead, do you?
Oh but I had a change of mind. The friendship quests are a horrendous chore, but the catfight arena is the worst of all. Actually, literally, the worst bit of game-design I have seen in years.
The catfight arena is your only viable alternative to raising money. You bet on a wrestler based on theirs stats and win ratio, and gain back money as they fight through the tournament rankings. Riskier bets equal bigger payouts.
But you also need to actually play these battles, which is entirely indirect. All stats go out of the window as you play rock-paper-scissors instead, wherein I am fairly certain that the AI blatantly cheats. Draws are exceptionally common, at which point you have to button-mash like a madman for several seconds to beat the other girl. Even with major advantages and higher stats, I physically can not press the button fast enough to win. Hell, reports on forums indicate people couldn’t even win using macros and turbo controllers.
It’s physically painful to play and knowing that you’re very hopes of getting to progress the game are on the line, losing here is absolutely infuriating.
Yakuza 0 has a pretty good story and I love its presentation, but this overreliance on bullshit mini-games and tedious management mechanics absolutely guarantees that I’ll never replay.