It’s 1988 and Kiryu Kazuma has just had a very long night.
This is an issue with open-world games in general – they want you to experience the urgency of a thrilling story, but at the same time ask you to do all these fun side activities. In Kiryu’s current case, he has to go to Sotenbori – where the alleged owner of the Empty Lot (the reason for all of his current woes) resides.
But also, before he does that… He needs to defeat the Five Billionaires, learn all the fighting moves for his favorite fighting style (learning the legendary Dragon Of Dojima style along the way), help a cop regain his confidence, help a foreign sex worker find true love with her pimp, beat massive hulking thugs that shake him down for money (multiple times – got to afford those aforementioned fighting style upgrades, of course), become friends with a bowling pervert (and get a chicken manager for his real estate business in the process), eat and drink as much food as possible, and learn how to play a mildly infuriating pocket racer minigame. There are numerous other things that are likely being forgotten, as well.
The real estate minigame itself is not the most exciting thing in the game. Assign managers to various districts, wait the time allotted to collect your yen. Sometimes there are thugs causing trouble, so you run over to the same area in each district, beat up the thugs, and then you can continue getting money. There’s some mild strategy involved in switching up managers and security after a certain number of collections, but it’s such an afterthought you don’t need to worry about it.
And yet, the entire process still kept me going for the 15 or so hours it took for me to finish the whole Five Billionaires storyline. It’s drudgery, sure, but an entertaining sort of drudgery, the kind that makes me want to keep going. Is it Kiryu’s stoicism in the face of, well, anything that urged me to continue? The promise of more awkward interactions with his secretary? I really can’t say. Collecting telephone cards of scantily clad Japanese idols, or watching pervy videos of said idols to… raise my friendship with the local pervert? That’s not it.
Yakuza 0 is, to me, a game that is far more than the sum of its parts. The combat is perfectly functional, but I play on Easy because it’s fiddly and awkward enough to where I don’t feel compelled to get good at it. In fact, I’m playing it on Easy because it’s easier to pull of the stylishly brutal Heat moves that, don’t worry, never kill a person. Even if he stabs a man in the stomach with a red-hot knife, making a move that seems to gut the poor bastard, that guy will be apologizing profusely to Kiryu at the end of the battle, none the worse for wear.
There is something about these games that compels me to continue playing, even if the introductions to these games are terribly long and full of interruptions. When you think you’ll get to finally be free and play the game, don’t worry – there’s probably a few more cutscenes to establish the story – and introduce you to side characters – and introduce you to side activities – and introduce you to things that maybe you’ll be kind of interested in? I’ve put 63 hours into this game so far, and still have quite a few more chapters to go. And I’m looking forward to putting more time into it. Despite all the awkwardness, there’s a real earnestness to Yakuza.