SEGA’s Yakuza games have generated quite a following over the years, and playing Yakuza 0 it’s easy to see why. Essentially JRPGs with gritty crime stories rather than the usual twee ‘save the world!’ nonsense, they are undoubtedly unique, but it’s their huge number of side activities and engaging real-time brawling action that really draws players in.

As the first PS4 Yakuza title to hit the west, hopes are high that Yakuza 0 will do rather well so as to convince SEGA to localise further releases. On the strength of what I’ve played so far it deserves success, and the fact that it is a prequel means that it is a good start for those new to the series, but it does have some annoyances that may alienate players expecting a next-gen experience.

It takes a while for Yakuza 0 to truly grab you, but when it does it takes a firm hold. The story brews slowly before a myriad of twists and turns do their best to captivate you, and whilst the combat initially feels woefully basic it steadily expands to become a highly enjoyable and technical affair. In fact it’s fair to say that Yakuza 0’s combat is its core component, with story missions often devolving into mass brawls where you need to be able to switch between fighting styles effectively on the fly in order to evade attacks and lay on the pain. Of course, utilising the environment and the items within it play a role in Yakuza 0’s combat too, as do infrequent and basic quick time events.

On the easiest difficulty, for the most part you don’t really need to do anything other than mash buttons in order to scrape by, but as you ramp the challenge up the combat comes into its own and you have to play much more strategically. It’s nice that Yakuza 0 caters for all players like this, allowing some to plough through the story without much trouble whilst offering others a deeper gameplay experience. The difficulty is changeable at any time too, which is great considering Yakuza 0 is a rather lengthy game.

At this stage, the biggest problem I’ve found with Yakuza 0 is that it just feels very old. From the controls that are often a little clumsy, especially outside of battle, to the in-game graphics that are decidedly last-gen aside from some snazzy cut-scenes, you never get the feeling that a concerted effort has been put in to propel the series forward in a meaningful way. It wouldn’t surprise me if many players not familiar with the series would be easily put off by its antiquity, which is a shame as there’s a hell of a lot to see and do to take your mind off of such aspersions.

From helping a polite woman become the overbearing dominatrix she aspires to become, to taking some time out to indulge in some frames of ten-pin bowling, the sheer amount of side activities found within Yakuza 0 is mightily impressive. It’s hard not get caught up in them as you progress thanks to the fun and hilarity they provide, and so for many players the main story will regularly take a backseat. You’re often rewarded for your time spent on diversions too, either with cash that can be used to buy items or upgrade your abilities, or useful items that can be equipped or consumed.

Releasing on 24th January, I’ve still got a fair bit of time to spend with Yakuza 0 before composing a full review, but it’s looking like it’s going to be another solid, if a little dated, entry in the now long-running series. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled closer to release for my final verdict.

$Yakuza 0