The Yakuza series is part Japanese organised crime drama RPG, and part slice-of-life about helping kids win the claw game at an arcade, teaching novice dominatrixes about self confidence, and writing the perfect postcard to a radio show. In Yakuza 0, it's also about side-hustling as a hostess club manager.
If it were possible to see the breakdown of my 65-hour playtime, you'd rightfully think that Majima Goro had given up his life of crime for good and become a full time stylist, date coach, and bartender, because I absolutely love Yakuza 0's hostess club management game.
A few hours into the rip-roaring drama and distractions of Kamurocho in the 80s, Yakuza 0's co-protagonist Majima is pulled away from his main daytime gig as the manager of a cabaret venue to manage a newfangled caberet club. It's a smaller joint, but a hostess club nevertheless, where men pay for a cover to chat up and buy drinks for pretty young women. Trouble is, Club Sunshine's nominal top hostess is awful at being chatted up, and the club itself needs a lot of TLC too.
I wasn't expecting to spend much time there. I didn't enjoy the Real Estate Royale minigame on Kiryu's side of the plot, and figured that the club management would be equally missable. There is not a single thing about the Cabaret Club Czar game that deserves to be skipped.
It's part dress-up game, in which you'll pick clothes, hairstyles, and jewellery for your hostesses, all of which have an impact on their stats: beauty, sexy, cute, and funny. You know, classic RPG stuff. But behind the earrings and pumps is a genuinely fun real-time management game.
Raking in food and drink sales is the name of the game, which my roster of hostesses earn over the course of a shift from their customers. It's on me to pair hostesses up with customers they can impress based on their skills—talk, party, love, and ‘skill' (which is apparently their wit and intelligence).
Things get no less than hectic on the club floor each night. Customers show up regularly, spending a short or long session at one of my six booths, and need a matching hostess with the skills and looks they prefer. Hostesses lose stamina, take sick days if I overwork them and routinely call me to their table to deliver a menu, glass, or ashtray, each of which I have to remember by their hand signals.
Each hostess can only entertain one guest at a time, and I found myself in a panic swapping out a woman from a customer with shallow pockets to go ply one who would shower her with drink orders. Other times I have to risk a woman with a client that won't like her and hope she hangs in there until another woman finishes her current date.
That's just the minigame itself. Over the course of the story, Majima and his ladies outrank the competition, recruit the top hostesses from rival clubs, and grow as people.
As Club Sunshine's manager, Majima also gets to know the women he hires, taking them on dating sim-like practice dates to help them improve their skills for real customers. They're adorable, each and every one, with their own personal stories that unfold across several dates: Hibiki who's become guardian to her kid brother, soft spoken Ai the low-key loner, upbeat sporty girl Saki, Chika, Mana, and Sunshine's zero-to-hero hostess Yuki.
All of Sunshine's ladies are more than their archetypes, making conversation practice dates no joke. More than once, I'd learn something about a hostess on one date and be asked to recall it hours later on the next. I always desperately wanted to fill up those pink heart bars but, as in life, I couldn't always correctly understand what they wanted or struggled when my dialogue choices came out of Majima's mouth a bit different than in my head. I tried to do right by each of them, supporting them as friends, and the reward was an adorable found family of young women in the big city.
The Yakuza series often dabbles in hostess clubs and dating, but the full management and dating sim of Yakuza 0 is so much more than a minigame. If Ryu Ga Gotoku ever launched it as a standalone, I might just put 65 hours into that too.