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In Yakuza 0, Food Heals More Than Just Health

Chicken Soup for the Yakuza Soul.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

Night has fallen in the fictional Kamurocho district of Tokyo. And Kazuma Kiryu, the primary protagonist of the ongoing Yakuza series, has frankly seen better days. In just the past few chapters of Yakuza Zero, he’s been framed for murder, dealt with incessant yakuza-related drama, helped a dominatrix become more confident, among other random things. Poor Kiryu can’t catch a break with every drunkard or nobody yakuza egging fights with him along the neon-saturated streets. They’re fights he never loses, of course, but remain annoying nonetheless.

The moon hangs high when Kiryu ducks to a local food stall—bruised knuckles, cut-up face and all. The space is a welcome quiet to Kiryu’s busy, prolongedly violent life; a place of solitude and reflection. He orders a beer and takoyaki (a popular Japanese snack of fried octopus balls).

In Yakuza Zero, like all other Yakuza games, eating at restaurants is a constant, though often overlooked pastime. Food equals health in the Yakuza series, so eating your fill is essential to surviving the onslaught of spontaneous street fights. But the restaurants represent something else too. As with playing arcade games, night club boogieing rendezvous, and other menial activities, eating is an escape from Kiryu’s harsh reality.

As Kiryu bites into the takoyaki, he lets out a rare gasp. “This is tasty,” he grumbles, as his health shoots up to a full-bar once more. Then he turns around, and it’s back to the wild streets of Kamurocho. Later, when the game’s other protagonist Goro Majima drinks fancy liquor, he sips it slowly, enjoying its taste as it’s described to the player in exquisite detail. Then Majima exits the dive bar, and returns to his chaotic life of juggling a hostess bar, a cabaret, and solving mysteries (of the murder and fist-flying variety).

Is Kiryu the next Anthony Bourdain? I guess we'll find out in Yakuza 6.

Yakuza’s use of food as a sanctuary reminds me of something else entirely: one of my favorite anime of the past few years, Wakakozake. Wakakozake is a short series—every episode spans about two minutes—that follows a 26-year-old office worker named Murasaki Wakako. Wakako’s no brawler like the protagonists in Yakuza Zero, but she’s still strong-willed and as busy as can be. She works tirelessly all day, and her only place of relaxation comes at the end of her work day, when she goes out to eat.

Wakako is more particular than Kiryu or Majima might be at an establishment. Though nonetheless, similar to those perpetually bruised boys, she ventures from fancy restaurants to seedy dives, always pairing her food and drink carefully. It’s here where she reflects on her hard work day, where all her troubles melt away as she relishes in the exquisite taste of the food and alcohol she consumes to wind down.

Yakuza 0, a Fascinating Game Completely at Odds With Itself

SEGA's crime odyssey isn't afraid of a little tonal whiplash, which sometimes can be a good thing... but not always.

Food for Wakako doesn’t just provide nourishment, but it’s mentally healing. It’s the getaway she needs; her well-deserved end of the day treat. For Kiryu and Majima, food is similar. Just like a bout of racing toy cars or enthusiastically belting “24-Hour Cinderella” at a karaoke bar, food is a rare, pleasant escape. After all, life’s kind of a mess for these two ex-yakuzas, but food will always be there to heal them (both literally and figuratively). And, albeit briefly, help them forget about the dudes outside who want nothing more than to kick their teeth in.

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for Vonlenska #1 Vonlenska 2 months ago
    I LOVE needlessly/lovingly detailed food in games! Muramasa has by far the most detailed, delicious, fun to play with, fun to eat kinda pointless but awesome food I've seen in a game. Look at all this yummy stuff
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows 2 months ago
    I always make sure to give Kiryu a good meal before I save the game and turn off the PlayStation for the night. He deserves it.
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #3 Nuclear-Vomit 2 months ago
    I could go for some Cluckin' Bell right about now.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #4 cldmstrsn 2 months ago
    wasn't there a Yakuza that took place during the meiji era? or am i on crack? cause if so I want that Yakuza game. Edo period is the coolest!Edited February 2017 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #5 StrwbrryJams 2 months ago
    More of this very descriptive and evocative writing, please :-)
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #6 Godots17thCup 2 months ago
    @cldmstrsn There is, though it unfortunately remains a Japanese exclusive. Yakuza Ishin! takes place at the very end of the Edo period, with the player character (Sakamoto Ryōma as played by Kiryu) joining the Shinsengumi in the years just before the establishment of the Meiji era.

    A previous samurai-styled Yakuza game set a few centuries earlier, Kenzan! (with Kiryu starring as Miyamoto Musashi), was released during the early PS3 days and also failed to make it out of Japan.Edited 2 times. Last edited February 2017 by Godots17thCup
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn 2 months ago
    @Godots17thCup oh my god you are the man! I want those games so bad. Hopefully the Yakuza Renaissance keeps happening and we get them in some form.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #8 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 months ago
    I feel like I can relate to this.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #9 Dorchadas 2 months ago
    +1 for Wakakozake. It's fantastic and really makes me miss all the food I can't find in America.
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  • Avatar for airbagfin51 #10 airbagfin51 2 months ago
    Now that my belly is filled with silk, I want to talk to you about someone who never turned up after our long conversations at the public restroom...
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #11 himuradrew 2 months ago
    Once I finish RE7, I'm going to binge on Yakuza 0 :)
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #12 riderkicker 2 months ago
    In Yakuza 5, there was an IRL famous chef who taught all the main characters how to enjoy the food they eat, causing them to get stat bonuses. http://kotaku.com/5934515/japans-favorite-arrogant-looking-chef-serves-up-a-video-game-appearance/
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  • Avatar for alexb #13 alexb 2 months ago
    @riderkicker I didn't realize he was a real guy. Cool. They captured his punchable expression perfectly in the game.
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