Within the first hour of Yakuza 0, Kazuma Kiryu has to re-evaluate most of what he’s come to believe in. The crime family he’s been loyal to actually has no problem with selling him out, and Kiryu has to somehow prove his innocence in a murder plot, as well as stop a large-scale turf war.
Over the course of many conversations, Kiryu is quickly established as a man you don’t want to cross – he’s principled, highly idealistic and built like a tree. Unlike his friend Nishikiyama, he didn’t join the yakuza for the money, he just does as he’s told in order to repay what he sees as a debt to the people who took him in and gave him a home. Kiryu could well have been the stoic, hyper-masculine protagonist of so many games, but then comes the moment that shatters it all.
Kiryu and Nishikiyama have just had a sombre conversation in a bar. Tones are hushed, and ice crinkles in glasses filled with expensive highball whisky. Then they decide to break out the karaoke set.
Based on what I had seen of Kiryu until that point, I thought I would get to control his eager friend at best, or sit through a sequence of him politely clapping along at worst. I certainly didn’t expect Kiryu to take the stage. Painted in the rainbow sparkle of a disco ball, he grips the microphone as if to get ready for a fight, only to sing like nobody’s watching.
It helps that the first song you unlock (in what is going to be a regular pastime) is a real banger in the tradition of some of the most popular Japanese pop-rock songs of the 80s, the time in which Yakuza 0 is set. As if that weren’t enough, the lyrics to "Judgement -Shinpan-" give you a real hint as to how much of a cool cat he really is:
We pretended to be yes men
But we were bad boys all along
We say “No” in the name of justice
Whoa, breakin’ the law
These lyrics perfectly work for an uplifting, motivational 80s pop tune, but they also embody Kiryu. He channels his feelings through a song, and then, like a kid playing air guitar, he fashions himself into the ultimate 80s rock star, complete with leather jacket and bandana.
Here we see Goro Majima, the second protagonist, performing 24-Hour Cinderella
This elaborate fantasy is a good indicator for what kind of person Kiryu actually is, a far cry from the grumpy, unflappable gangster. Karaoke at a bar, too, unlike the privacy of a karaoke booth, means that when you’re on, you’re on, with nowhere to hide. Kiryu is confident to the point he simply incorporates another patron into his fantasy by making him the keyboard player in his band. All of this is made even better by the singing of Kiryu’s voice actor Takaya Kuroda. I have no idea what I expected, but it’s just so very normal – not bad, not great, but definitely enthusiastic.
By the time Goro Majima turns himself into a boy band member during his karaoke session, you’ve already gotten to know Yakuza 0 as the kind of game where nothing seems too far-fetched, but it was Kiryu’s heartfelt singing that won me over.