The Yakuza series is known for all things bizarre and unapologetically weird. Quests in Yakuza 0 range from training a timid dominatrix to let out her inner S&M Queen in front of a group of children, to helping a woman solve a crossword puzzle so she can find a proposal hidden inside by her boyfriend. However, alongside a sense of the strange and unexpected, there are also sincere, characterful, and dramatic stories about crime and integrity. This is thanks to the radically grounded environment its stories play across. The streets of Kamuchuro are a red-light district of Tokyo so finely detailed that players have gone on pilgrimages to Kabukicho, its real world inspiration, and navigated the streets like a second home.
But some of the finest details come from its people and their incidental animations. The dozens of small NPC actions that make the city tangible, even if you never notice them. Let’s take a minute to appreciate these smokers, lovers and workers as they go through their everyday lives.
Note: Click on the GIFs to play/pause.
A shopper awkwardly slows their pace behind a cart, pulled down a Kamuchuro sidestreet by a man with a hollow, weary expression.
A man claps in front of his restaurant in an attempt to attract business. He drops his hands in resignation as person after person walk by without a single glace.
A slightly more aggressive valet may follow you down the street, making sales pitches until your silence becomes pointed, or you break out into a run.
Characters can receive messages on their beepers, like this man in a purple jacket, who leaves his group of purple friends on a new, unknown errand.
There are more than two animations dedicated solely to pedestrians ordering items and consuming items from vending machines.
Vending machine animations reflect the personality types of the NPCs ordering.
Friends walk in large groups that flow to accommodate foot traffic, street layouts, and obstacles.
But some friends are happy to walk as a pair.
Couples are a particular strong point.
Here’s two lovers swinging their hands back and forth.
Others lean on each other, as if after a full night, seemingly tied together (if an obstacle or disturbance arises, separating them bodily, they will even find each other and lock arms again).
Love is nice.
A man crouches on his haunches, staring out into the world and swaying his sign slightly as people walk on by. He looks bored.
A man digs through the garbage lining the sides of Kamuchuro’s streets, alongside his pet.
When his search is finished, he shambles down the street, perky dog still at his side.
Bootleg jewelry is for sale on one of Kamuchuro’s central streets, right across from stores presumably offering the real thing.
A man shakes out a cigarette and lights it without breaking his stride.
People regularly use telephones on the street, and even the typically player-filled phone booths Yakuza 0 uses for save points.
Businessmen practice their golf swings in the street, before running to attend unknown appointments.
Pedestrians may scrutinize street signs, building directories and restaurant offerings before deciding on a course of action.
In a final, intriguing intersection of pre-built animations and AI reactions, a homeless man totters down the street and sees someone being mugged. He turns around at the sight of the disturbance, and walks back down the street after a moment of hesitation. Upon reaching his origin point, the man turns around, and walks back towards the disturbance before noticing it again, and repeating the loop. It creates the impression of a man trapped: unable to assist, perhaps mentally ill, with nowhere else to go.
That’s what these animations do. That’s all they need to do. Create the same microstories in your mind that you naturally build passing someone in real life.
Despite the self-aware pageantry, glamour, and excess of Yakuza 0, its setting feels authentic. The characters, for the most part, real — even if you never interact with them. Animating money flying out of a stuck-up rich guy as a player pounds them into the dust is cool, but the man digging through trash on the street, acknowledged only by the peppy dog trotting beside him? That isn’t something you imagine. It’s something you live.