Here is a little story about me discovering Yakuza and the many things that surprised me.
I guess this is what happens when you go completely blind into a game. Literally the only thing I knew about Yakuza was that it's something like GTA in Japan. It was never interesting enough for me to actually try over all these years. But having to cancel my Japan vacation this year pushed me over the edge. I just had to walk around in Japan somewhere and it might as well be in Yakuza. With the new game coming out so soon I thought I might as well check it out. I researched before if I should start with Zero or Kiwami and the conclusion was that for a first timer Zero is absolutely fine, especially if you don't care about the story, which I never do in open world games.
The map is tiny.
I went into it expecting an open world. Well, it kinda is. It's just really really tiny. I usually only go for huge sprawling landscapes when I choose my Open Worlds but this one was a surprise. When I first looked at the map I thought: "That's a cute little introductory area. Can't wait to jump into the big city!" But no, that is it. You can literally sprint from one corner of the map to the other in less than a minute. It's less than a square kilometer. Granted, there are 2 areas to explore in 2 different cities but the second area is even smaller.
That's not to say that the game is tiny. There is plenty to do and I don't mean the mini games. Even if you never touch a single mini game you will spend tens of hours on the side quests. The game is extremely compact, but there is plenty to do in those tiny squares.
The recreation of Japan is perfect.
While I can't say I've been to Japan in the late 80s, I can say I've been to Japan twice and I've been to the neighborhoods represented in the game. The exterior is created faithfully, the stores, the clothes, the noises, they're all perfect. One would think the developers have actually lived in Japan. The biggest immersion moment struck me when I went past one of the many Pachinko parlors. You cannot walk into them but they made sure you can hear it. The extremely loud and annoying iconic noise of Pachinko machines. They absolutely did not have to do this since you cannot enter them anyway but they did regardless and I respect them a lot for that.
While it doesn't make up for my missed out Japan vacation, it feels like a relief. It really feels like I'm there right now.
It has the best facial animations and voice over ever.
This completely sidelined me. The game, despite its faithful recration of Japan does feel wonky and stiff in most places. It comfortably qualifies as a niche B-Tier Game, which is true for the most part, except for one area.
Facial animations, facial textures and voice overs are God-Tier. This is mostly for the well crafted cutscenes rather than regular gameplay. You can see how they ramp everything up and use higher quality textures when you enter those. As soon as you can see every single wrinkle and stain on people's bodies you know it's gonna be good.
The villains, while being the biggest scum on the earth are so enigmatic, you almost want to root for them. They deliver their lines confidently and you can tell they used very talented actors to deliver them. Japan having great voice actors shouldn't surprise me as an avid anime watcher, but it's still weird to see something that good in a game.
Oh yeah, and did I mention they used the real likeness of several well known porn actresses? The faces are crafted so perfectly I was able to recognize them long before I got their names. It's so much fun to watch them doing mundane work. Almost as if they are normal people with normal lives.
I do care about the story, like for real.
As I said, normally I really do not give a crap about stories in Open World games. I just play them to let loose in a big world, try some shit, walk around and see where it takes me. I walked into this game with the same mind set. To my surprise I actually do care about the world and its characters. It's not a grim world and it's not antirely silly either. It feels real and every character feels as if they belong there and they live their real lives having real problems. Of course the previously stated realism in the world and character animations help a lot to bring it home nicely. I find myself never skipping dialogues with spoken lines because they feel so real. I enjoy most of the cutscenes as well. The game just manages to strike a great balance between serious and whimsy.
I am at Chapter 7 currently and I have not looked up how many chapters there are in total to not spoil things. But I assume I'm somewhere at the start of the last 3rd of the story.
I didn't like the combat, until I did.
I am not good at fighting games. I usually avoid brawlers and especially BMUPs. The fighting was the least appealing thing in the game for me. Side note: That's why I'm so excited for the new game, which replaces the brawling with a turn based system.
At first I felt really weak and easy to defeat. There were so many things to learn about combat and so many different techniques to learn. I took the brawling as a necessary evil to enjoy the world. The RPG mechanics help a lot in making things easier and more palatable for people like me, but you still have to internalizy the fighting system in order to beat the toughest opponents.
Now that I had dozens of encounters and also put some effort into actually learning the ins and outs it's actually quite enjoyable to punch some bastards in the face. Though I did cheese it a bit by power leveling. Still not my favorite part of the game, but it's certainly a surprise that I came to like it at all.
The mini games.
The surprise is two-fold. Since most people are talking about all the different mini games in Yakuza games I made an effort at the start to check out every single one of them. It was quite deflating at first. There are so many rhythm and timing based games that I just couldn't get into. Pool is quite boring and games like Darts and Batting feel absolutely terrible with a controller. Then there are the myriad of Chinese and Japanese games that have rules so complex, just to dunk on us stupid foreigners. I straight up gave up my first Shogi game.
The worst part is that if you really want to get into the game the mini games are mandatory, as they are tied to a currency you need to unlock abilities that make the game much more enjoyable.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Due to the extreme variety there is bound to be 1 or 2 games you can really enjoy. For me that is Mahjong. While one of those Japanese games with stupidly complex rules I am lucky enough to be familiar enough with it to enjoy it. The arecade games are faithfully emulated and fun. The Ufo Catcher crane game is just as fun and frustrating as the real thing. Bowling is cool if you know what you're doing. There is also ct fights based on Rock, Paper, Scissors and Pocket Racing, which is extremely intricate with its car customization to fit different circuits.
Also most mini games have interesting side quests tied to them, which also help you within the game. So there is really no excuse to at least try them.
Well, there you have it. The Yakuza series has a new fan, even though I just played a single game and I haven't even finished it yet. I am extremely confident that I'll like all of the other Yakuza games I'll play because it is evident that the developers care deeply about the game and put a shit ton of effort into it to make it as perfect as possible to serve their niche.
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