Fighting is an integral part of the Yakuza series. Our heroes are getting into major and minor scuffles all the time. Yakuza 0 is no different. Except, it is a little different. Past games have given each character his own style, with abilities that can be unlocked and earned. With the prequel, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima both have battle styles they pick up by watching other people fight and progressing through the story. This not only gives us advantages, but makes sense in terms of the story.
In terms of exposition, I really appreciate the fact that both Kiryu and Majima have two different styles. Think about it. Yakuza 0 is set in the 1980’s. These two are young men. They haven’t established themselves as the Dragon and Mad Dog yet. Each one is still in his formative years, working out who they are. Of course they’d be inspired by the people they’d see around them and be testing out different styles to find their own. Naturally, early in the game, Kiryu and Majima would use different sorts of attacks. They’re growing into the men we end up recognizing and seeing in later games. We even get to see them touch upon their final forms, as I like to think of it, as we unlock new parts and elements of the story.
This means their masters make sense too. Both Kiryu and Majima begin Yakuza 0 with one style each. Kiryu picks up Rush and Beast in his introduction, while Goro learns Slugger and Breaker. In each case, they find people who use these unique arts on their own and can touch base with them to eventually master and become more accomplished. I like to think that their learning eventually leads to them developing a unique style that perhaps fuses elements of all three, maybe explaining why subsequent installments don’t have them switching techniques.
But really, these battle styles are more about practicality. We spend a lot of time with Kiryu and Majima in Yakuza 0. They face hordes of enemies. Different sorts of opponents employ different tactics. Men in Black can carry tasers. Some Yakuza may have guns or knives. Mr. Shakedown is a beast of a man. Each style can be well equipped to deal with each one. The Brawler and Thug styles are both the balanced styles that can handle most general situations. If Kiryu or Majima is running down the street, this style is more than adequate to handle these thugs, but it can also work well against a boss.
The other styles feel like they’re more focused on specific sorts of situations. Kiryu’s Rush and Majima’s Breaker styles are rather fast-paced. If Mr. Shakedown, a huge opponent that is out to steal all your money, appears, I rely on speed to deal with his huge size. It also comes in handy against opponents who are holding and wielding weapons. When you’re against a man with a couch or gun, dashing in with a flurry of attacks helps. Though, there are also times when you’re running from one place to another, get ambushed, and want to finish off a fight quickly with fast-paced attacks.
I tended to enjoy using Yakuza 0’s Beast and Slugger styles most of all. Each one emphasizes the use of equipment. While Majima gets a permanent bat, Kiryu gains the ability to automatically pluck up any environmental item that can be used as a weapon when attacking with the square button while near it. These two styles are fantastic in crowd control situations. Given the nature of each character’s situations, this happens very often. Getting wide arcs and increased damage from these special attacks is a huge boon. But again, I like and recommend using them in other situations too. They have a great sense of range, even if it does make the characters a little slower or more reckless.
The new skill trees present in Yakuza 0 are also delightful and give you something to do with all the excess money you’ll be earning. The game encourages you to invest in yourself, pumping in hundreds, thousands, and millions of yen into different trees, While investing in health carries across all styles, spending money on moves, heat alterations, and attack boosts only applies to that style. It not only reminds you that Kiryu and Majima are at the very beginning of their careers, but notes that Japan in 1988 was experiencing an economic boom. I’ve always found myself with too much cash in this series and ended up either squandering it on recreational activities or avoiding fights since I didn’t need additional funds. These trees encourage you to keep fighting for extra money, since it’s so much more useful.
With Yakuza 0, we have a game in a series that has always been about giving you the freedom to do whatever you want when you’re choosing to ignore the story. Its styles are the combat equivalent of that. You can find a plan that works for you, but also switch to other options if you feel they’ll work better in different situations. As Kiryu and Majima explore and grow as individuals, they’ll come across more powerful styles. And, since this is a prequel, it makes sense that they haven’t locked into one specific style yet. These capabilities work well within the scope of the game, encourage experimentation, and allow us options that can make it easier to face foes.
Yakuza 0 will come to the PlayStation 4 on January 24, 2017.