The Yakuza series is part Japanese organized crime drama RPG, and part life about helping kids win the claw game at an arcade, teaching novice dominatrixes about self-esteem, and writing the perfect postcard for a radio show. In Yakuza 0, it’s also about side-hustling as hostess club manager.
If it was possible to see the breakdown of my 65-hour playtime, you’d rightly believe that Majima Goro had given up his life of crime for good and become a full-time stylist, dating coach, and bartender, because I absolutely love Yakuza 0’s hostess club management game.
A few hours into the roaring drama and distractions of 80s Kamurocho, Yakuza 0’s co-protagonist Majima is pulled away from his main daytime gig as a manager of a cabaret venue to run a newfangled cabaret club. It’s a smaller community, but still a hostess club, where men pay for a cover to chat and buy drinks for pretty young women. The problem is that Club Sunshine’s nominal top hostess is terrible at being chatted up, and the club itself needs a lot of TLC too.
I didn’t expect to spend much time there. I didn’t like the Real Estate Royale minigame on Kiryu’s side of the action, and figured the club management would be equally missed. There is not a single thing about the Cabaret Club Czar game that deserves to be skipped.
It’s a bit of a dress-up game, where you choose clothes, hairstyles and jewelry for your hostesses, all of which affect their stats: beauty, sexiness, cuteness and fun. You know, classic RPG stuff. But behind the earrings and pumps is a genuinely fun real-time management game.
Raking in food and beverage sales is the name of the game, as my list of hostesses earn during a shift from their customers. It’s up to me to pair hostesses with customers they can impress based on their skills – talk, party, love, and “skills” (which are apparently their wit and intelligence).
Things get nothing short of hectic on the club floor every night. Clients show up regularly, spend a short or long session at one of my six booths, and need a matching hostess with the skills and look they prefer. Hostesses lose their stamina, take sick days if I overwork them and routinely call me to their table to deliver a menu, a glass or an ashtray, which I have to remember individually with their hand signals.
Each hostess can only entertain one guest at a time, and I found myself panicking and switching a woman from a shallow-pocketed customer to one who would shower her with drink orders. Other times I have to risk a woman with a client who won’t like her and hope she hangs around until another woman finishes her current date.
It’s just the minigame itself. Over the course of the story, Majima and his ladies outwit the competition, recruit the best hostesses from rival clubs, and grow as people.
As Club Sunshine’s manager, Majima also gets to know the women he hires, taking them on dating-sim-like training dates to help them hone their skills for real clients. They’re cute, each one, with their own personal stories unfolding over several dates: Hibiki who has become her little brother’s guardian, soft-spoken Ai the quiet loner, optimistic sporty girl Saki, Chika, Mana and Sunshine’s zero-to-hero hostess Yuki.
All of Sunshine’s ladies are more than their archetypes, making conversation practice dates no joke. More than once I learned something about a hostess on one date and was asked to recall it hours later on the next. I’ve always desperately wanted to fill up the pink heart bars, but as in life, I couldn’t always understand what they wanted or were striving for when my dialogue choices came out of Majima’s mouth a little differently than in my head. I tried to do right by each of them, support them as friends, and the reward was an adorable family of young women in the big city.
The Yakuza series often deals with hostess clubs and dating, but Yakuza 0’s full management and dating sim is so much more than a minigame. If Ryu Ga Gotoku ever released it as a standalone, I might spend 65 hours on that too.