As with most sandbox games, Yakuza 0 lets players loose in an open-world absolutely brimming with opportunities, from main story missions and side quests to mini-games and interactive distractions. Unlike similar titles, however, Sega's latest entry in the long-running Japanese crime saga doesn't forgo focused story-telling in favour of giving players the freedom to forge their own path.
While you can sink dozens of hours into simple, addictive activities, like playing darts, or deeper diversions, such as running a real estate business, Yakuza 0's nuanced, noirish plot is never undermined by such detours from the core campaign. Credit is due to the game's fleshed-out antiheroes and colourful villains, liberal use of highly-produced cutscenes, and even its quirky cast of minor characters. The downside, at least for less patient players, is that you spend nearly as much time watching and reading this sprawling, sub-titled story as you do interacting with it.
Of course, once you do engage with the controller, the gloves come off. Yakuza 0's pair of playable protagonists—which you alternate between every couple of chapters—are skilled brawlers who leverage their lightning-fast fists and feet to navigate the Japanese underworld. As accessible as it is deep, the combat system's arcadey responsiveness satisfies twitchy thumbs, while its distinct styles—three for each protagonist—and their upgrade-populated skill trees reward those who put some thought into each punch.
While Yakuza 0 will see you crack a thug's cranium on a urinal, it won't put you behind the genre's usual assortment of guns and grenades. Wince-inducing fisticuffs will leave henchmen, bosses, thugs, and other unsavoury sorts all over the streets, but the game's violence usually isn't lethal. In fact, death is held with such reverence in Yakuza 0 that its opening murder mystery leaves even the titular bad-asses quaking in their garish leather boots.
Because Yakuza 0's narrative serves as a prequel to all previous entries, it won't just satisfy seasoned fans, but also those yet to climb the series' criminal ladder. Newcomers be warned though, whether holding a karaoke mic in its musical mini-game or a baseball bat in one of its visceral street brawls, Yakuza 0's depth and attention to detail could see you still playing long after the sun rises on Japan's red-light districts.