The myth goes, you’ve doubtless heard before, that Sega doesn’t make games like it used to. Not its Japanese arm, anyway, where the style and strut of its 90s and early 00s output can feel like a distant memory, as can all that grand ambition that was once fuelled by naked madness. The truth, however, is known by too few in the west. Sega is still capable of greatness. It still possesses an unhinged genius. It just pours all of it into one series.
At this point in their lives the Yakuza games are hardly unsung, unloved or underappreciated – after a long hiatus they even make their way over outside of Japan fairly regularly, even if localisation remains agonisingly slow – but they’re certainly not played by anyway near enough people. Maybe it’s the story that’s staggered and swayed its way through each game like a drunken Kamurocho businessman on the long walk home, or maybe it’s the intimidating sprawl that had accumulated by the time of Yakuza 5, the last mainline entry to make its way over here back in 2015.
Yakuza 0 feels like the perfect answer to both those concerns. It’s a prequel, for starters, shearing away so much of that flabby lore, while elsewhere it’s been trimmed down to the essentials. That might seem counter-intuitive when other open world games feel the need to go bigger, but Yakuza 0 proves the hoary old idiom of less is more. There are now just two protagonists and two districts to be explored here – Kazuma Kiryu stalks Kamurocho, the series’ long-running pastiche of Tokyo’s Kabukicho area, while Goro Majima runs the nightlife in Sotenbori, an analogue of Osaka’s own Dotonbori. It all amounts to a renewed sense of focus.