It’s 1988 and you’re weaving through clouds of smoke in a back alley, neon karaoke signs buzzing overhead. You’re on your way to a club until you find out someone’s framed you for murder. Things take a turn for the worse, and now the Japanese mafia are after you. What do you do?
If you’re like me, hitmen be damned, you go to a restaurant and order everything on the menu.
In alternating chapters of Yakuza 0, ex-Yakuza protagonists Kiryu Kazuma and Majima Goro play out their respective stories of testing the limits of loyalty and redemption. Split between fictional districts of Tokyo and Osaka, the level of detail in every nook and cranny of these towns is astounding. The fake food displays in the windows, the tattered signs that point to a six-person bar tucked away behind the main roads. But the best parts aren’t in the main story or even the sights — it’s everything else you’re allowed to do. I’m not particularly interested in the redemption of my characters or their personal developments. It’s managing my businesses, playing the UFO catcher for too long and eating every single item the game has to offer.
Yakuza 0 allows me to drown in excess with none of the consequences. I even got a trophy for watching a softcore VHS, where a bikini-clad girl innocently squirmed on a vinyl chair, batting eyelashes at the camera. As a big, bad former Yakuza man, I can buy the best whiskey as many times as I want. I can eat the most expensive sashimi platter for lunch. I buy French cologne and never use it. Hell, if I could throw my Italian leather wallet in a toilet, I would.
I quickly slid from casual tourism to vicarious living. The only other time I’ve done this was in Skyrim. I had my own house and filled with wheels of cheese. They were everywhere. Cheese on the table, at the foot of the bed, on the stairs, in the basement, in my nightstand. But that was the extent of my culinary hoarding.
In Yakuza 0, you can replenish HP by consuming health drinks, snacks or eating at a restaurant. Once I discovered this, I hit pause on the main quest line and carefully inspected every food establishment on the map, planning my culinary adventures. When I first walked into a convenience store, I bought every single type of ramen. I had little to no room for healing drinks. Nothing mattered anymore except my collection.
Five hours later, I dubbed a tuna rice ball my “lucky charm” after I won a string of street fights. I imagined it was probably warm by that point, kind of like the tater tots in Napoleon Dynamite’s pocket.
I found myself assigning character traits and food preferences to Kiryu and Majima. The former prefers spicy, meat-based dishes while the latter has a soft spot for sashimi, rich broths and veggie-based platters. I tried fugu (pufferfish) for the first time and I wrote a lengthy, imaginary review in my head. The texture was not what I imagined, but the sea salt dust gave it a powerful punch. A solid choice to pair with a cold glass of beer.
I never expected that I’d be creating my own game within a game, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Playing something the “right way” means less to me now than it did before. So what if I don’t finish this game, perhaps even after a year? As long as you’re having fun, sometimes those mini-stories you create in your head are even more rewarding than the plot itself.