Sega's Yakuza 0 claims our next GOTY award for its vibrant, quirky and beautiful settings. Find the complete list of awards and personal picks in our 2018 GOTY hub (opens in new tab).
Phil: Yakuza 0 is a hard game to summarise. There's the serious story about a young gangster framed for murder. There's the absurd sidequests that parody everything from toilet graffiti to Michael Jackson. There's the teeming neon streets, the arcade cabinets, the pocket racing, the karaoke, the chicken who can manage your real estate business, and the endless supply of thugs desperate to meet your fists. There's a lot going on, and all of it is designed to evoke a specific time and place: the over-the-top excess of '80s Japan.
The setting doesn't just come through the architecture, the furniture or the clothes that NPCs wear, but is also an integral part of every system. Money is earned and spent easily. It bursts out of enemies when you defeat them, and, when you need to upgrade your fighting styles, you do so by literally investing money in yourself. There's a satirical edge to its humour, to the point that—in one of its substories—you drunkenly suggest the tax policy that would go on cause Japan's bubble to collapse, leading to a 'Lost Decade' of economic stagnation. From the story about what it means to be a gangster in a world of greed and excess, to the aesthetic, the design and even the absurdly over-the-top humour, every element of Yakuza 0 feeds back into its setting.
Andy K: This is my first serious foray into the Yakuza series, and those two chunks of city are an absolute joy to explore. I’ve visited enough Western cities in PC games, so it’s nice to experience somewhere on the other side of the planet, and rendered with such a keen eye for detail. They might not have the fidelity of somewhere like Los Santos, but Kamurocho and Sotenbori are just as immersive, and totally transporting. You can almost feel the grime as you walk the streets in your preposterous, shiny '80s suit.
Samuel: I've never felt more broadly attacked by minigames than I have playing Yakuza 0. It doesn't ask me to spend more time in its world so much as insist on it. And that's how I lost two hours in the batting cage, and another hour playing Space Harrier in the arcade, a game I only ever play inside other Sega games (Shenmue 2 being the other). This game is weird and wonderful. I'm delighted it's on PC, and that when you beat people up, money falls out of them. Computer games.
Tom: I didn’t think I’d end up saying this, but I like the story a lot. Gangland dramas can sometimes be sadistic tales about heartless people killing each other pointlessly, but actually want to see Kiryu and Majima land on their feet. I also love the game’s tendency to shift instantly from slapstick comedy to intense melodrama without pause. One moment I’m helping a living statue get to the toilet without pissing himself, the next I’m punching my way through an entire country estate full of gangsters. Majima and Kiryu take it all in their stride with earnest goodwill, and I can’t help but get swept up in it all.
Yakuza 0 shows that size and scenery don’t make a setting great. Personality and detail are just as important, and amid all the bluster and jokes, the game is making an effort to comment on a historical moment in big-city Japan.
Read Phil's original Yakuza 0 review (opens in new tab) here.