Yakuza 0 Does Side Quests Perfectly

Munancho! Side content can sometimes be a distraction from the meat of the story, or a pallet cleanser so you don’t wash out slaying dragon after dragon or meandering about and solving the woes of a lowly baron. For a lot of games, these optional paths can also be a grind, something you need to do to be strong enough to take on the main story. Yakuza 0, though? There, the side quests are practically perfect in every way.

Take the boy and his stolen game. There’s a stretched-out line of die-hard fans, queuing for the release of a brand new title. You can talk to those in the line; nothing stems from it at first until later on you bump into that same little boy who is now crying having had his hard-earned game nicked from his hands by a high school brat. You chase down this lowlife to find he’s been beaten by someone with a knife who, when you find them, has been beaten by a man with a gun. There’s always a bigger fish.

As it turns out, the top of that food chain was a Yakuza, but not just any old Yakuza – he’s the father of the little boy who you are helping out. He stole the game to give to his kid. It’s repetitive, even if it does come full circle, but that repetition is so prevalent that even Kiryu gets dazed and confused going from one scumbag to another, constantly having the same chat. It feels almost like a parody of those side quests that are copy-pasted, leaving you with that horrible twinge of deja vu – didn’t I do this? Oh, it’s just the same with a new coat of paint and a harder foe. The fists, the knife, the gun.

Ultimately, it’s the dialogue that sells that journey. Boil it down to what it is and you’ll find a series of beat-’em-up encounters with some dialogue intermixed to add context. It’s not overly complex or particularly interesting in how it plays, but it’s Kiryu’s response, the silliness of how on-the-nose and over-the-top the exchange is, and the full circle, oddly wholesome ending – sure, it’s a Yakuza who just stole from somebody, but he did it for his little boy. That’s what’s particularly exciting about Yakuza 0’s interim content.

Not only is it a break from the point-to-point story beats of the main game, but it’s also a refreshingly different tone. Don’t get me wrong, the main story can get silly, but at its core, it’s gripping, unsettling, and captivating. What you find when you delve beyond that narrative is completely ludicrous plot points that put these brooding characters into completely outlandish situations – take one of the very first side quests you do. As you waltz on down Nakamichi Alley, Kiryu is approached by two men who need a producer for a video shoot.

You get given a stereotypical getup, thrown into the deep end where you have to waltz with a director who knows the dance down to a T while you’ve been given instructions scribbled down on the back of a wet Burger King receipt; you’re expected to keep up, bluff your way through the role, and somehow come out of the other end not looking like a complete fraud. It’s a bit of fun, and you can’t really go wrong with it. Either you don’t know jack and that comes off, or you do and you get through – there are no real stakes, it’s just a harmless distraction that adds a bit of fluff to the pastry of Yakuza 0. I adore the approaches of games like The Witcher 3 where it adds layers to the story, context, and expands on the characters, but Yakuza 0 hit the right spot in a way that even games like CD Projekt Red’s never quite managed.

If you really want, you can plow through Yakuza 0 and ignore it all. The side stuff is optional, and that’s perfect. You can walk down the road, hear the plights of a person in need, and shrug it off because you’re too busy with your own problems – true to life in many ways – but sometimes, taking a peek beyond that curtain can lead to the most interesting content that any game has to offer. Just meandering around, looking for a save point, I stumbled on a grieving mother whose daughter had been indoctrinated into a cult that siphoned off the money of its members. Jumping in, it was an extremely obvious dig at religion in every sense, and it even got Majima to loosen up and pull off a cultist jig.

The side quests hooked me through and through. From the very first one, I knew that Yakuza 0’s optional exclamation-mark romps were just that, romps – dumb fun with a sprinkle of charm. Doing them only made me want to plow on: what’s in the next chapter for me to uncover? I’m still going, and I’m excited to find out, and all the more, I get why side quests are around. There are your mandatory ones branded as ‘optional’ when in reality they’re a must to stand a chance against the ten-foot foes of yesteryear in the narrative, but then there are the games like Yakuza 0 that offer them as a gesture of respite – “getting tired? Well, try out this neat little, self-contained plot.” It’s like the filler episodes in an anime if they were entirely optional.

How many times do you run into a village in Skyrim, get told that there’s a dungeon nearby with a relic, only to find the same bland format you’ve delved into a dozen times over for the same 200 gold you’ve nabbed an equal amount of times? Sure, there’s the odd change up here and there, the odd Daedric party or realm to play around in, but overall, Yakuza 0’s side content is much more memorable. So far, I could explain in detail every side quest I’ve embarked on, and I can’t say that for any other game. Each character is unique and rich with personality, each plot is whimsical and childish in its fun, and all the interactions and out-of-the-blue camera zooms are a treat to sit back and take in.

What’s more, as eccentric and disconnected as they are, they serve to add depth to Majima and Kiryu, letting you engage with them even more. Kiryu is out to clear his name while Majima is setting off to wipe his debts with the Yakuza, but first? Well, let me take a detour to play the claw game at the arcade to win a little girl the toy she’s after. The bleakness of the story, whether it’s a hit on a blind girl or hearing on the news that the guy you just hung out with has been killed while you scoff down brunch, is counter-balanced by the extra cherries on top, and isn’t that what side quests are best at? Hepton.

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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.

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