Review – Yakuza 0 (PS4)

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Yakuza 0 for Playstation 4

Having first spent time with Kazuma Kiryu and Majima back when the original Yakuza was released in the West on the PlayStation 2, complete with English voice over, and then delving into whichever mainline release made it over to England after the first; I was more than ready to dive back into the seedy and honourable underbelly of Kamurocho’s yakuza families with the release of Yakuza 0. Released 2 years ago in Japan, Yakuza 0 is an origin story which lets you play as both Kiryu and Majima, and experience their original journey to becoming major players within the families. Let’s just say, the game does not disappoint.

The story is the best the series has produced: a multi-layered narrative, that shows the story from two protagonists’ perspectives until the stories thread together to a satisfying conclusion. The writing in strong and entertaining in the main quests and the side quests, masterfully managing to shift from the franchise’s trademark seriousness to utter comedy on the fly, without any negative effects on the story.

Yakuza 0 builds upon the core foundations and gameplay mechanics from previous entries. Each character’s move sets are different and vast, the skill tree offers robust customsation options and quick time events are used sparingly only in appropriate scenes.

And what would Yakuza be without its mini games; a new distraction awaits around every corner and inside every nook of the two main locations: bowling, arcades, pool, darts, fighting tournaments, gambling and more await, opening opportunities for even more side quests.

Graphically the game is presented well, with nice lighting that reflects the neon strip lights of Kamurocho onto the rain soaked pavement that really brings the city to life. The only hitch I experienced was slight screen tear in heavily populated areas like Kamurocho’s Theatre Square.

Like every entry after the original game, Yakuza 0 features only a Japanese voice track and English subtitles, which I personally prefer.

If you’re a fan of the Yakuza series what are you waiting for? But unlike previous entries, Yakuza 0 is a perfect place for newcomers to jump on board; it’s the closest thing to the great, Shenmue, until the 3rd of course, or hopefully the rumoured remastered collection. If you need a fun, story-driven game to keep you busy for a good 30 plus hours, there’s no better game than a Yakuza game. What other game in one moment lets you become a real estate tycoon, and then the next sing karaoke in a bar, or play a game of bowling to win a poultry prize? Nobody does it quite like Yakuza. I hope the developers at SEGA keep them coming for many years to come – and maybe just maybe, Yakuza Ishin turns up on Western shores.

Review – Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin (PSVR)

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Playstation VR exclusive for the Playstation 4

It is amazing to think that the original Psychonauts was released in 2005, over a decade since we last joined our heroes Raz, Lili and company. At one point in time fans like myself believed we would never get to see Raz arrive at Psychonauts HQ, and we still don’t, but it is coming in the much-anticipated full-fledged sequel, Psychonauts 2. So, when Tim Schafer and Double Fine announced a PSVR stop-gap that narrated the journey from Whispering Rock to Psychonauts HQ I was one pleased fan (now all we need is Brutal Legend 2).

The biggest conundrum I saw Double Fine having with a Psychonauts VR game was how they were going to transfer Raz’s wealth of psychic powers into successful and satisfying VR gameplay mechanics. I am happy to report that although the gameplay has changed from a 3rd person, platforming adventure, it still retains that Double Fine charm. The developers have chosen to go with the tried and tested, stationary, 1st person perspective, which brings you closer to the characters and world, and helps alleviate the pesky motion sickness that more free-moving gameplay can produce.

The opening section of the game sets up the story beats and acts as a tutorial to get to grips with each of Raz’s abilities. He has pyrotechnics, a psychic blast and more, which progressively become integrated into the puzzle solving as the story continues to develop. The only way to sum up the gameplay would be an evolution of the point and click game: to use your head as a cursor and seamlessly become an acting role inside the story.

That brings me to the story. Tim Schafer has the sole writing credit, and you can tell. Within moments of putting on the PSVR headset and entering the aircraft, the familiar characters I loved in 2005 were sat around sharing witty and well-thought out dialogue. The greatest praise I can give the writing is that it felt like Tim Schafer had not taken a decade long hiatus in writing these characters; each one was familiar and as unique in personality as I remember. It helps that the original voice talent returned, too.

The use of PSVR is some of the best I have experienced; I never felt the need to take a break from the dreaded VR sweats. The team at Double Fine used the array of quirky characters to implement some of the best perspectives you can only experience in VR: overlooking a vast sea as a whale and looking up at the world as an insect. There was another storytelling moment that I enjoyed the most, but I will not spoil that, just know that it is a fantastic use of being able to look around your environment.

Typically, in the PSVR games that I have tried, the fidelity of the graphics suffers, but all in all, Psychonauts’ cartoon artstyle worked well (I did play on the PS4 Pro if that makes a difference with the resolution). The 3D audio through my Playstation Gold headset was good, and helped add to the intensity of the setpieces.

If people were going to have any qualms over purchasing Rhombus of Ruin, it would be the price and its length. I finished it in between 2 to 3 hours, and was very satified with what I got from the £13.94 I paid with a Playstation Plus membership (it will soon rise to its RRP of £15.49). I viewed it as a nice side story between the next mainline release in the series; a short experience to refresh myself with the characters. To me it was no different that buying a Blu-ray or going to the cinema.

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, is exactly what I wanted as a fan of Double Fine and Tim Schafer’s previous work. Despite its short length, Rhombus of Ruin holds all the charm and wit and quirky mindscapes you remember, to get you ready for what comes next. Roll on Psychonauts 2, and of course, Full Throttle.