An interesting experiment from SEGA bringing across much of the Yakuza experience to Vita, but missing some of the most important elements.
No – Digital-only (JP)
World-building & Story
While the home console version of Yakuza 0 features an entertaining plot about how Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima became acquainted with each other, the Companion App merely boils down the important points to remind you of this world before throwing you straight into its underground fighting action.
Taking place in the ‘Bed of Styx’, a coliseum where members of the criminal underworld fight it out in bloodsports for supremacy, you’ll mainly be engaging in 1-on-1 fights to earn money which can then be transferred across to the main version of the game – although of course, only if you played it on a Japanese PSN account. As such, beyond the initial few CG stills, there’s nothing really in the way of plot or character development – you’ll need the full Yakuza 0 for that, but it does provide a nice overview of the setup.
Presentation & Sound
For a free app, Yakuza 0 is surprisingly impressive with its presentation – smooth animations and modelling ensure that while what’s here is limited, it’s always nice to look at.
Both Kiryu and Majima rock traditional shirtless yakuza models featuring a massive dragon tattoo over their backs and they move around the arenas with the swiftness of a hawk, ducking in and out of throwing punches and kicks. There’s a variety of enemy models too from killer clowns to surgeons dressed in scrubs each with their own unique animations, but what’s most impressive is the ‘heat’ moves – powerful cinematic attacks that usually connect with force and send blood splattering everywhere.
Sadly, the other aspects aren’t quite as impressive – while things like the gambling mini-games contain spectators yelling and it’s very nice that there’s a fully in tact version of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz in here, the most important other aspect of the presentation (arenas) are fairly dull. The audience in the background move in a largely unrealistic manner and the fights are all penned in by very close walls – I know they’re pulled straight out of the console version, but I’d have still liked to see a bit more variety and effort.
You won’t get much in the way of sound but I did really like the announcer before a fight starts – hearing him yell “GORO MAAAAJJJJIIIIIIMMMMMMAAAA” (or Kiryu’s name) set the mood well for the brawling that was about to begin.
Gameplay & Content
As a free-to-play app, I really can’t be too critical about what’s on offer in Yakuza 0 for Vita – and indeed there is plenty to do here without spending a single yen, although I can’t help but yearn for more from the package.
So the whole point of the app is to be a companion to the main release on PS4 – the idea is that you’re given a small selection of game modes here that can be used to grind money which in turn can be transferred to the main title. What you’re getting is the underground coliseum battles, some of the gambling mini-games and even a few of the arcade titles, although some of these need to be purchased for a small sum (¥500) in order to be played.
So obviously, the main attraction here is the fights – you’ll be able to take part in a series of tournaments in 1-on-1 combat as either Kiryu or Majima (oddly each have their own separate progression systems through exactly the same content) in order to earn money. Each tournament has its own rules – some will drop potions from the sky that provide buffs or debuffs, others allow weapons and some cause you to take extra damage if you hit the floor. Earning enough money unlocks the next tier meaning there’s plenty of playing to be done if you want to see it all.
The combat of Yakuza 0 falls somewhere between a traditional fighting game and a 3D brawler like Uppers. There’s a tonne of nuance to it and surprisingly it seems everything from the console version made it across – you’ve got punches, kicks and grabs, you can use equipment that’s scattered around to smash over your opponent’s heads and there’s even a basic skill tree hidden in the menus that you can use to level up your abilities. It’s not simple either – foes will regularly block (each is unique and has their own fighting strategy), often bring stronger weapons than you’ll have access to and a big part of being victorious is learning their patterns and when to strike.
Sadly – and this might actually be a positive for some people – there’s only a 1 v 1 option here, which takes away a big positive of the Yakuza series for me which is the large-scale street brawls. Everything feels decidedly more small-scale (which makes sense since this is just a free app) although thankfully the spectacular heat moves are still in, allowing you to pummel your opponent’s face into the ground (you’ll also be asked to perform ‘crowd pleaser’ moves to impress the spectators), but I was left wishing for brawls with a lot more opponents to beat down.
Fighting isn’t the only attraction on offer here though – there’s also a selection of gambling games brought straight across from the console version including Cee-lo and Cho-han which I still struggled to get my head around. My favourite of the bunch was undoubtedly Koi Koi, something I first came across when playing the Tales of series that involves matching cards to score bonuses – although the fact it uses Hanafuda cards means it might be fairly inaccessible to most without at least familiarising yourself with the deck first (still, if you get used to them, it’s a tonne of fun).
Beyond this you’ve got Pachislot machines (not my cup of tea) and arcade games you have to pay to unlock (more on that later) or you can buy various items in the shop. It’s all fine but highlights my biggest problem with the app – a lot of Yakuza’s charm comes from its sweeping crime stories and beautiful city of Kamurocho and with all that stripped out, the game just boils down to brawler fighting and minor mini-games and ultimately becomes dull quicker than I would have liked. I was left yearning for the winding alleyways and bizarre shops of Kamurocho to run around, or some wacky side quests to get involved in.
I can’t knock it too much – ultimately it does what it sets out to do which is offer a way to grind out some money and engage in more combat on the go, but I can’t help but feel this is a step off being a full game that they didn’t quite deliver in the end. Add in Kamurocho and a story and you’ve got the full Yakuza 0 – but without these elements it’s more of an empty shell.
One of the most impressive things the app does is allow you to play a variety of arcade games, just like you’d do in the main title’s SEGA arcade. Among these is Columns, SEGA Mahjong MJ Single, Special Attack Aircraft Carrier Beluga and – most impressively – Super Monkey Ball Special, which is effectively a port of the first few levels of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz.
All can be unlocked permanent for ¥500 (alongside an extra Pachislot table) and they definitely add a tonne of value to the game for a very small investment.
Ease of Understanding
Pretty much everything here is in Japanese, although that’s definitely not a barrier – if you’ve played the English version of Yakuza 0 everything is effectively exactly the same here from the items to the tournament order, so it’ll be very easy to dive straight in (you just might struggle with the crowd pleaser moves and some of the end-of-match results).
Even the enemies are exactly the same meaning you can rely on the same tactics, while the story introductions are stills so easily handled by Google Translate if you’re interested in reading them.
The Yakuza 0 Companion App feels both impressive and disappointing in equal measure. It’s amazing they crammed the core fighting experience and many of the mini-games down onto the Vita and better yet, released it for free – but two of the core elements of the franchise are missing in the process. With a few tweaks it could’ve been the full experience – as it stands, it’ll appeal to diehard fans but others may be left wondering what the point was.