As it turns out, Yakuza 0 features just about everything you could ask for in a video game about Japanese crime, complete with ridiculous fighting moves that allow you to breakdance your way to victory and a riveting karaoke mini game. No matter where you step in the massive world of Yakuza 0, fistfights — where either Kazuma Kiryu or Goro Majima must punch their way to victory against hordes of opponents — are a given too. While these are fun, the true battles that make Yakuza 0 great are the boss battles you’ll spend hours mastering and working through on harder difficulties.
On the surface Yakuza 0 has a relatively accessible combat system which new and returning players can easily get the hang of with some practice. Regardless of who you are playing as you’ll have access to three different battle styles (once all are unlocked) which each embody a specific fighting strategy. Some, like Kiryu’s Brawler, focus on hitting hard and taking hits, while others, like Majima’s Breaker style, revolve around sweeping attacks that can deal with multiple enemies with ease.
Each of these battle styles can be swapped at will with the push of a button, which encourages players to experiment with different combos and strategies while fighting the game’s various enemies. During my time learning Yakuza 0 I did exactly that, kicking ass with Kiryu’s Brawler and Rush styles while completing the first chapter of the game. Honestly, I thought I had a decent grasp of the combat system. But once I came up against the game’s first boss Daisaku Kuze? Things took a turn for the worse.
Unlike the normal encounters throughout Yakuza 0, boss encounters are a one-on-one endeavor based on fighting precision and strategy. They have extremely large health pools and can lay you down on the floor within a minute if you let them, and well, that’s exactly what Kuze did to me for a solid hour while playing the game on normal difficulty.
As someone who isn’t well-versed in fighting games, I became frustrated as Kuze kept knocking me down while I alternated strategies as Kiryu. Every time I grabbed him and threw him on the ground or against the wall for a combo, he would stand right back up and kick my ass within a matter seconds. Swapping between my available battle styles to mix up my moves improved my odds a bit, but all-in-all it ended up taking me over a dozen attempts to down him and move on to the second act of the game.
By presenting me with a challenge that took a hell of a lot of effort to pull off, Yakuza 0 delivered an experience that pulled me closer to Kiryu’s character than any basic fight in the streets could. In a way, it reminded me of my time with Dark Souls, though I’m sure other players could have completed the fight in a fraction of the time it took me.
Despite being few and far between, Yakuza 0’s boss fights all represent the similar practice of presenting a challenge and delivering an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for players who tough it through. While I’m almost certain that I could go back and beat Kuze twice as fast the second time around, I’ll never forget the first encounter I had with him during Yakuza 0, and that’s one of the game’s most impressive accomplishments.