I made a billion yen running a Yakuza 0 hostess club and I can't stop

I didn't really know what a hostess club was before I played Yakuza 0. They are referred to as Cabaret clubs, but that creates the wrong impression. They aren't stage shows, they are clubs where men pay to drink and talk to attractive women.

The clubs are supposed to provide a platonic entertainment service, though inevitably there is a sleazier side. Yakuza 0 has a few adolescent side activities that make me cringe or sigh—collectible 'telephone cards', soft porn theatres, catfight arenas—and normally I walk back onto the street and hunt down one of Yakuza 0's bizarre sidequests instead. 

That did not happen with the hostess club, because the minigame is incredible. When you open up your club you take an overview of all the tables, and deploy your hostesses to match clients who wander in. Once seated, money starts pouring out of clients as they order more rounds of drinks.

Problems start popping up as the night wears on. When the hostesses need something for the table they show you a hand signal. You learn this sign language after a few sessions—more ice, a towel, an ashtray change. A wide thumb and forefinger gesture means the guest wants another drink. A tiny pinch means a small drink for her, because who knows how many more dull salarymen will want conversations tonight.

Sometimes the guests get angry. Maybe they don't feel sufficiently charmed by the personality they are matched with, maybe they can't hold their drink. You can appease them with gifts, or throw them out.

As I rake in millions I'm slightly baffled by the whole thing. We have strip clubs and escorts, but there's nothing quite like this where I live in the UK, as far as I know. Do the men believe the compliments they have paid for? Do they think the women, and the club, see them as anything more than a fat wallet? What am I missing?

The men never speak. You regularly see repeated 3D models walk in, a churn of workaday customers who might as well be identical. All that really matters are their preferences, and their wealth. I might allow a moneyed guest time with one of the club's 'platinum' hostesses, and I might offer them a session extension because my happy hour bar is almost powered up, and once that's activated I can really milk them.

Yakuza 0 mixes slapstick humour with serious crime drama and a bit of social commentary, sometimes all at the same time. The game is set in the midst of the asset boom in Japan, which resulted a few years later in a terrible crash and the so-called 'lost decade'. Given the context, the way the game shows money is ironic. Cash flies out of enemies when you punch them. You can mug gold-suited 'nouveau riche' for millions. The game's plot revolves around an ownership battle for a tiny alleyway which represents hundreds of billions in potential profit.

The hostess bar carries the joke. Money flies out of guests with every drink purchase until cash just pours out of the ceiling, covering everything. As a pure numbers game the club simulates the way customers and hostesses are mutually exploited for profit in ten-minute sprints. That all sits alongside a comedy caper that unfolds between opening hours, in which club owner and player character Goro Majima faces down against five evil club bosses.

I know I'm being worked here. Goro Majima's club is friendly and has a good working atmosphere, and Majima is friendly with his staff. It's down to your competitors to embody the worst aspects of the hostess bar scene. One boss works his hostesses to illness, another is violent. I get to feel like the good guy in comparison.

It works, somehow, because Yakuza 0 is so consistently funny. You train your platinum hostesses by roleplaying sessions. These are deliberately forced, full of faux pas, and the awkward flirtation ricochets off Majima who, like Kiryu, is a stubbornly sexless figure. Even though they are violent thugs wrapped up in gang life, Yakuza's heroes seem earnest and incorruptible, and that means Majima and his staff can tell the story of a family battling against the odds in the ruthless Sotenbori club scene.

And so, night by night, Club Sunshine catches a little overflow from the 1980s property boom. Recently I made my first billion at the hostess club and unlocked an achievement for spending it. Then I spent my winnings on making Majima better at hitting punks with his baseball bat.

I know I'm not getting the real story about hostess clubs. I haven't faced all the bosses, but so far the stories haven't touched on the abduction and murder of hostesses, or the exploitation of women working in clubs without visas. Yakuza 0 is too melodramatic to get very dark with its side-stories, so it serves up a polished-up vision of the Cabaret Club scene with its horrible features removed.

But Yakuza 0 isn't a historical document, and I'd rather see the Yakuza's characteristic reflection on hostess clubs than nothing at all. For a series dedicated to replicating the real world districts of Dotonbori and Kabukicho (called Sotenbori and Kamurocho in the game), it would be baffling to ignore that aspect of inner city nightlife, and yet in Yakuza 3 the western localisation stripped out hostess bars and sidequests referencing them. Since then SEGA has avoided messing with the series' strange alchemy.

Will Club Sunshine throw open its doors again? Yes, because I want some kicking upgrades for Majima's breakdance fight style and the club is the best way to make that cash quickly. The minigame is compulsive, and even though I'm getting it though  the lens of Yakuza, I have learned about an aspect of Japanese culture that I hadn't encountered before. Put the champagne on ice and line everyone up by the door and get ready to open, it's time to make another billion.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.