This Week in Games - Yakuza 0

by Dustin Bailey,
Are there too many video games? There might be too many video games. I finally survived the (high-quality) horrors of Resident Evil 7 and was ready to dive into my increasingly tall stack of neglected games, when suddenly there was new DLC. Goodbye, hopes of finishing Gravity Rush 2 this week—and hopes of dashing this lizard-brain fear of dark hallways in the near future.

Hey, have you heard about this new Nintendo console coming out? I mean, there hasn't been a ton of marketing, so maybe you missed it. Okay, yeah, Nintendo is working on a marketing blitz for this thing and it's going to be inescapable. They've even got a Super Bowl ad coming up, and if you're like me with an ironic love of watching millenials play video games in improbable locations, you should probably check it out. (Along with the UK ad, which is even more absurd.)

While I've spent most of the week bracing myself for Resident Evil scares, I did get a chance to play an early chunk of Kazuma Kiryu's latest adventure, and boy is it a good time.

First Impressions: Yakuza 0

Let's get this out of the way up front: if you've been on the fence about getting into Yakuza, then Yakuza 0 is absolutely the place to start. It already seems to be one of the best games in the series, and as a prequel story it stands on its own, even if you haven't played the other games. Plus, it leads directly into the original Yakuza, a remake of which is getting an English-language release later this year.

But what's so great about Yakuza? If you've heard the line “it's like a Japanese take on Grand Theft Auto,” you've been done wrong because that isn't it at all. This is a beat-em-up RPG that's a spiritual successor to equal parts of Shenmue and River City Ransom. It's got cutscenes full of melodrama and intense-looking men screaming angrily at each other, while also including an extensive disco-dancing minigame and side missions covering everything from lost game cartridges to underground panty-selling rings.

Yakuza 0 is set in 1988, and follows the early adventures of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu alongside fan-favorite asshole, Goro Majima. Both characters are quite a bit different than the people they'll eventually grow to be—Kiryu is definitely not yet the Dragon, and Majima has a number of pressures that are forcing him to be “consummate businessman” instead of “violent thug.”

Money makes the world go 'round in this late-80s Japan, and the economy powers a lot of systems. Cash flies out of foes as you beat them up, and you get bonuses for varied attacks and special finishers. “Invest in yourself,” says a mysterious old man early in the game, and that's exactly what you do, spending cash to unlock new abilities for your various fighting styles.

Those styles are a new addition for the series. Kiryu can go with his traditional Brawler style, updated with an instant counter ability unleashed by hitting attack right after an incoming strike lands. There's also the Rush style, which allows you to quickly dodge and make quick attacks, stunning enemies with enough successive blows, and the Beast style, which ups your defense and allows you to incorporate weapons and objects from knives to bicycles directly into Kiryu's combos. Majima, too, has his own set of three styles, though I'm not deep enough in yet to unlock all of them.

The combat is just as high-impact and entertaining as it ever was before, but the addition of the new styles ensures that it's also varied, since you can switch between them at any time to fit the situation. Lots of weapons around? Just swing wildly in Beast mode and take everyone down. Lots of incoming attacks? Rush will let you dodge all of them with ease.

In between story beats, you're free to explore the city as you want. Feel like a few rounds of Space Harrier? Go for it. In the mood for karaoke? Totally there for you. You can even head to the red light district to enjoy (live action) videos of pretty ladies in bikinis holding giant, phallic balloons, and make friends with the video store owner along the way.

The side missions are a collection of ever-increasing displays of absurdity. Like, there's this timid dominatrix mission, where Kiryu is roped into teaching confidence to a shy girl working at an S&M club. In the end, she learns not just how to please her customers, but how to take control of her own life, in a moment that's equally silly and poignant.

If it seems that I'm rambling about all the fun little details, that's because I am. Yakuza is all about those details. Finding an especially silly minigame, going fishing in between especially dramatic points of the story—and hey, the actual story here isn't bad, either. After half the series has involved Kiryu as a saintly Superman, running orphanages and saving puppies, it's fun to see the plot return to a harder-edged story of revenge and murder.

All this is to say that Yakuza 0 is good, I want to play more of it, and you should be playing it if you aren't already. It's silly and dramatic and fun all at the same time, and it's a great place to get in if you haven't checked out the series before.

NEWS

THE FOUNDER OF NAMCO HAS PASSED AWAY

Masaya Nakamura was the founder of Namco, which earned him the nickname of “the Father of Pac-Man.” He passed away last week at the age of 91.

Namco was founded in 1955 as Nakamura Manufacturing, later to be known as Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, or its catchier abbreviation. Nakamura got into the video game business by acquiring the struggling Japanese subsidiary of Atari in 1974, earning the exclusive right to distribute Atari's games in his home country. Namco started developing original games a few years later, releasing Pac-Man in 1980. The rest, as they say, is history.

A 1983 quote from the Pac-Man Museum is floating around all the obituaries, where Nakamura expressed his concern for the popularity of Namco's most famous creation. "It's not a very happy thing to see people spending so much time on it,” he said. “Once it goes beyond a certain level, it is not good for young people."

But even then, Nakamura was still a fan of his company's own creation. That same interview shares an anecdote where the businessman was seen muttering at Pac-Man's game over screen. "He doesn't like his, score," explained his translator. "What did he get?"

"...3930. He says he can do much better than that."

RESIDENT EVIL 7 HAS DLC, AND IT'S GOOD, BUT...

So that Resident Evil 7 thing is pretty good! I liked it a lot, and that's despite hating the Beginning Hour demo and having a deep love for the corny melodrama of the previous games. Now, just one week after the game's release, there's already DLC for it. Titled “Banned Footage Vol. 1,” it's $10 and adds three new scenarios.

I played some, and it's good. The “Nightmare” mode has you essentially playing a tower defence game with yourself as the tower, setting up traps, collecting resources, and crafting weapons and bullets to help you survive waves of enemy encounters. “Bedroom” has you essentially playing a small adventure game, trying to escape a room through a series of inventory puzzles. There's also “Ethan Must Die,” which is your requisite ultra-tough roguelike-like mode where you have to explore the world as it's filled with super-powered “one-hit-and-you're-dead” enemies.

They're all cool reworkings of the core mechanics, creating scenarios that are unique from anything in the main story, but it's tough to fight the feeling that this stuff should've been in the game in the first place. RE has always had a wide selection of playable extras, and these are exactly the kinds of modes that made up those options. Paying extra for them—especially when they come so soon after the game's initial release—feels sketchy.

Banned Footage Vol. 1 is out now on PS4, with Vol. 2 available February 14th. Both packages will be out on all platforms February 21st, and the free “Not a Hero” update is coming sometime this spring.

NINTENDO ANNOUNCES FINANCIAL DETAILS, ROUGH SWITCH ONLINE PRICE

I'm loath to go into earnings details when there are stories that don't involve corporate financials out there, but given all the questions surrounding the transitional period Nintendo is going through, it seems like this is a worthwhile bit of information. First, in a Nikkei interview, president Tatsumi Kimishima offered a rough estimate of the Switch's online cost at 2,000-3,000 yen annually. That's less than $30 US, and probably a smart level at which to base pricing given the cost of similar services on other platforms.

Pokémon Go has continued to tear up the charts, and strong interest in the franchise helped to drive incredible sales for Sun and Moon, which are already outpacing the last two pairs of titles. The new interest is largely coming from those who didn't previously own 3DSes, since the console's sales exploded in the latter half of the year and have made systems much harder to find at retail. The 3DS is hanging around for a bit longer after the Switch launch, unlike the Wii U, which has now discontinued production in all territories.

And while the Switch has NFC support, it doesn't seem that amiibo are going to be hanging around much longer. Nintendo barely sold a quarter of what they had the previous year, and based on the trajectory of Disney Infinity before it, the toys-2-life bubble seems to have definitively burst.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

NIOH
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 7
MSRP: $59.99

After a number of largely successful betas, Team Ninja's take on the Dark Souls formula is finally here. Switching to a setting filled with traditional Japanese imagery is Nioh's first, most obvious differentiator, but it also trades the methodical pace of Souls combat for action that feels at home in a character action game.

POOCHY & YOSHI'S WOOLLY WORLD
Developer: Good-Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 3
MSRP: $49.99

Nintendo continues the important work of porting all their great Wii U games to platforms people actually own with Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World for the 3DS. It features all the stages from the original game, plus new ones featuring Yoshi's pupper buddy. And, of course, there's a positively adorable yarn Poochy amiibo.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The Road to Boruto expansion for Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is also out this week, along with a new physical package that combines the original game, new expansion, and existing DLC onto one disc.

That's it for this week! Catch you next time!


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