Few video game protagonists keep to strict working hours, and how could they? When there’s a war to win, a world to save, a lover’s heart to ensnare and all the other grand and arduous problems that a game designer asks us to solve, it would be practically irresponsible to clock off a five for a pint of lager, a packet of crisps and a prestige TV box set. Even if they did have time to unwind then, just as we rarely see Tony Soprano bobbing away at the urinal, or Donald Draper questingly exploring a nostril, surely these parts of the game would be first for the editor’s chop. What Lara Croft does to relax (eating caviar off her butler’s extended arm while listening to Brahms, I like to imagine) is rarely relevant to the story at hand. Aside from the indulgently barmy Final Fantasy XV, what your character eats for dinner rarely has a place in the core gameplay loop.
Not so, says Yakuza 0, a Japanese game that takes a more holistic approach to virtual existence. In his job as a promising Yakuza underling, your character Kazuma Kiryu has heads to knock, territory to protect, errands to run and his good-ish name to clear. Despite the pressing demands, he still manages to make luxurious space to unwind each day. You have the chance to chase all of the usual post-sundown Tokyo pastimes: wailing bravely through a karaoke hit, trading war stories at the bar over an Old Fashioned or hammering the Sanwa plastic through a slew of classic Sega hits — Space Harrier, Outrun, Super Hang On or Fantasy Zone – at the downtown arcade.
Beyond these routine distractions, side-missions are where the game’s true jewels are to be found. The game positively encourages you to slow down, as these vignettes pop up semi-randomly, while sauntering the streets. Will you help the boy who has had the video game he just bought snatched from his hand by an opportunistic thief? Will you stand in as a stunt double for a stroppy actor who won’t shoot a degrading scene? Will you meet up with a girl you chatted up over text for a stop-off in a love hotel? Yakuza 0 is a game that not only encourages but also actively rewards players who take some time out from the drama.