Note: I will only refer to the prequel of the series because it’s the only one I have played so far. The features mentioned below might or might not apply to the rest of the Yakuza games. Also, minor spoilers ahead.
You have just finished an exhausting mission, in which you had a tremendous fight with one of your ex-bosses. More precisely, a Yakuza head. You know it will have consequences, and you only hope it will be a quick death. But death would be the easy way out. These people will not stop until they find you and make you feel indescribable pain. The fight was a hell of a climax in your long adventure, you still feel stressed out and you are not sure how you will carry on. Getting out of a store, you find an almost naked man with a creepy-smiling face on the streets, watching you closely and prepared to give you some hot advice on how to get chicks. He may have an orgasm while he is talking to you, too.
That’s the magic of Yakuza 0 for you, dear readers. While you are trying to discover what the deal is with a young, apparently harmless, blind woman being persecuted by some heavy Japanese guys, you will find yourself helping another woman in the completion of a crossword with a secret “marry me” message, created by his shy couple. Or helping a huge pop star –a beautiful homage- from being kick-assed by some fake zombies. This is what Yakuza 0 offers. A stunning tale of vengeance, honor, family and business, mixed with over the top and stupid-but-awesome situations that will make you laugh hard. The most important part: it feels right.
But wait a second, what do I mean with this “It feels right” stuff? Well, here comes “Bathos”. Bathos is an expression, coined by Alexander Pope in his 1727 essay, which is more common used for anticlimax situations. Not only for video games, but for all the other branches of the arts. Let’s make an example. If you have watched any MCU film –with few exceptions, like the newest Black Panther-, you have already experienced Bathos. Try to remember any dramatic fight or serious moment of any scene. How many of those situations ended up with a character doing some stupid shit or saying some cringy joke? A lot, yeah? And did it feel right? Or it felt like you were reaching a climax and then all the tension was thrown away in just one second, before reaching the peak?
At least I can say I felt that way. Sometimes I did not have the time to “process” my feelings, my thoughts on what was happening, how I should be feeling. Actually, I can tell you how I felt, most of the time: disconnected and uninterested.
Another example. I love watching horror films. Specially psychological thrillers. The tense, the suspense, how it fucks with your mind, the design of characters, the plot… there are a good number of reasons why I love them. But if you are like me, you would agree that the climax happens when a terrific situation, sometimes gory, sometimes without violence, makes you nervous. Those scenes, in which the horror keeps increasing and it is exceeding our own bearable limits, are the orgasm. So… what would happen if Jack Torrance’s iconic head-through-the door moment was followed by a character’s fart? It would completely destroy the scene. And it would not be exaggerated to say it can ruin the entire movie.
Does Bathos work in other examples? Of course. It’s perfect for satires. For comedies and even for some action and suspense movies. It’s flawless for products that do not take themselves very seriously. And it’s also perfect for Yakuza 0. Why, you may ask? Because it is well put. You do not lose all the excitement and strong sentiments of any scene with a failed comic relief pun. These situations reach a climax and then they “go down” naturally, not in an abrupt way. After a tear has dropped and you have recovered, then comes the hilarious moment. And it works. It works so well you start smiling after you felt extremely nervous… without completely destroying the atmosphere, the characters or the importance of your journey.
Yakuza 0 is a game with tons of content. If you want to get the platinum, you can’t spend less than 100 hours on the journey. It is divided in the 17 chapters main story quest, the 100 sub-stories and some extremely fun mini games (Karaoke and Disco are a blast) and some frustrating crap (I fucking hate the Catfights). While I haven’t finished the game yet, with 50 hours on the clock I can say there wasn’t a single moment I felt the “fart effect” happened.
Sub-stories are the ones with most of the bizarre aspects of the game, and even there you have touching moments with some beautiful music playing. I have been chasing a thief, who stole a little boy’s video game, a new one with sales out. When I approached him, I realized that the thief was assaulted by another delinquent. When I found him, guess what: also that delinquent was robbed, this time by a Yakuza. In the end we find out that actually the Yakuza is the little boy’s dad, who is divorced and don’t see his child often. And he loves him. He wanted to give his boy a nice gift, but there were not any copies left at the store.
You can also read: Sea of Thieves: Great to Visit, Couldn’t Live There
You see how that sequence was ridiculous but lighthearted? This is a tiny example of how my experience has been so far. Yes, maybe there is not a whole bunch of these examples in the main quest -but there is. Nevertheless, this a law for the secondary missions. And it feels good with the outstanding drama the main story offers. Yakuza 0 does lots of things right –story, character designs, combat, music, voice acting, etc. But the correct use of drama and comedy is what got me into it. It would be utterly dense with only the first one, and it would a pointless series of jokes with only the last one. How it’s actually done, it’s perfect.
PD: Do you want to know Kiryu’s deadliest move? Watch out!