Showtime with Majima: A Masterclass in Character Introduction
Ryu ga Gotoku Studios excels at crafting memorable character introductions
Yakuza 0 is the chronological first title in the long-running Yakuza series, a prequel created after the release of five mainline titles. The Yakuza series — currently rebranding its name in the west to Like a Dragon to be more consistent with its Japanese name — details the exploits of the Tojo Clan of Tokyo, a prolific organized crime family. The series has surged in popularity because of its emotional narrative, memorable characters, convincing voice performances, and its infamously zany and offbeat side content.
The challenge faced by prequels in any medium is how to tell a story that can be accessible to newcomers while balancing enough stakes and fresh twists for series veterans who ostensibly know how the story is going to play out in the end. Yakuza 0 handles this challenge with aplomb. One scene that illustrates this success is the introduction of Majima Goro, the breakout character of the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series.
For its first two chapters, Yakuza 0 has you playing as Kiryu Kazuma, a straight-laced Yakuza soldier with a heart of gold on his journey to discover the true identity of a murderer in a crime for which he was framed. Though Kiryu is immensely likeable through his natural goodheartedness, he is a stoic character who is more often than not forced into the “straight man” role as craziness unfolds around him.
Enter the game’s third chapter, where we shift locations from the red-light district of Tokyo to the bustling nightlife of Osaka. The scene is a popular cabaret club, where a rowdy customer sexually harasses the hostess. Enter Majima Goro, the manager of the club who also happens to be the game’s second playable protagonist.
This introduction left new fans of the Yakuza to wonder about the capabilities of the manager, while longtime players will be intimately familiar with Majima’s unhinged and chaotic nature from the prior games in this series.
Majima handles the offending customer with politeness and grace, without a trace of his thick Kansai accent, yet the customer continues to escalate, eventually pouring his drink on Majima. Majima remains calm throughout, and reiterates that the “customer is king.” When the customer makes clear that the only way to resolve the situation is through fisticuffs, Majima’s dialect slips back out, and his bombastic nature with it, as he signals the jazz band to give him “one with a beat.” With the bouncy jazz accompaniment behind him, Majima wears out the customer into submission without laying a finger on him. To cap it off, Majima refuses to call the authorities on the disruptive man, instead playing on the customer’s guilt by coercing him into paying for a night’s libations at the club.
The brilliance of this scene is that it works for newcomers and veterans alike.
For the newbies, Majima represents the perfect foil to the serious Kiryu, and this scene is the perfect establishing character moment for the mad dog chained to the role of cabaret club manager. The charisma and capability of this smooth-talking club manager, who has something to hide under the surface, charms those new to the series.
For those who are familiar with Majima’s reputation thanks to playing other games in the series, the sequence represents a subversion of expectations with this new side of Majima. We see hints of the carefree and wild Majima bubbling under the surface, but we notice that expectations and rules require he keeps this side of him under wraps as he plays the role of the polite and flattering man of the service industry.
It’s only by playing through Majima’s story in Yakuza 0 that longtime series fans learn how Majima develops his trademark wild persona. We observe him combining his desire to live untethered and free with the traits of the foes he encounters throughout his journey (the ruthless Sagawa and the hedonistic, borderline psychotic Nishitani).
Majima’s story in Yakuza 0 serves as a beautiful re-contextualization of the character, as the creators of the series have jumped off Majima’s positive reception in the game by leaning into the character's dichotomy in more recent Yakuza games. Which Majima is the “real” one? The composed and capable club manager, the unhinged showman, or somewhere in between?
Series creator Ryu ga Gotoku Studios knows the attachment that fans have to Majima — he consistently claims the top spot in character popularity polls, after all — and capitalized on this fascination by providing a backstory worthy of the character in Yakuza 0. The lynchpin of Majima’s success as a character in Yakuza 0 hinges on that introductory scene at the cabaret, endearing everyone to him. If there’s a better character introduction scene in video games, it’s not from any game I’ve played.
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