Majima Goro as the King of the Night in Club Cabaret from Yakuza 0

When Does ‘Yakuza 0’ Take Place?

Trying to figure out where to dive into the Yakuza game series can be overwhelming. But conventional wisdom holds that if you don’t start with Like A Dragon, which introduces a new main character to a series and serves as kind of-sort of a reboot, then you should start with Yakuza 0.

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Yakuza 0 came out in 2015 in Japan and 2017 in North America and Europe, and it’s widely regarded as the best game in the series. (At least, until this year’s Infinite Wealth came out.) Everything you want in a Yakuza game is in Yakuza 0: a story that’s just the right amount of melodramatic, the liberty to beat up random guys on the street, a version of Tokyo that feels truly alive, and a wide collection of some of the zaniest mini-games in gaming. No, seriously, you can go disco dancing. Or just … collect trading cards with actual, real women on them.

In short, Yakuza 0 is a staple experience in a franchise that is about to get even more name recognition in the West. Now that Amazon Prime has announced a live-action adaptation of the first Yakuza game called Yakuza: Like A Dragon, there’s no better time than the present to jump into the Yakuza series. But in terms of the games’ timelines, when is the “present,” exactly?

Ultimate ’80s nostalgia

Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the Yakuza series, which has now rebranded to its Japanese title, Like a Dragon. In reality, Yakuza 0 came out in 2015, between Yakuza 5 and the remake of Yakuza 1. It follows the main character of the series, Kazuma Kiryu, while also allowing you to play as Goro Majima. As its numbering might suggest, it takes place directly before the first Yakuza game, which alternates between stories in 1995 and 2005.

The tagline of Yakuza 0 is “1988, Japan …” So as you might expect, the game takes place in 1988 in Japan—seven years before Yakuza 1.

But we can get even more specific than that. The game starts in December 1988 and takes place over the course of roughly one month, until January 1989. The setting takes place in fictionalized versions of the real-life Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and Dotonburi in Osaka.

The late 1980s were a particularly interesting time for Japan. From 1986 until 1991, they were experiencing a “bubble economy,” where real estate prices were ridiculously inflated. The particularities of that era very much color Yakuza o. It’s a game that dives into the ’80s deeper than simply dishing out a nostalgic “’80s aesthetic.”

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.