The Yakuza series may primarily focus on the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, but always around to steal the show is his longtime frenemy, Goro Majima — to the extent that when there was a poll of favourite Yakuza characters, Majima snuck in at No. 1. Majima finally became a playable character in Yakuza 0 and, to my surprise, what I found most riveting wasn’t following the story of how everyone’s favourite whackjob became known as the ‘Mad Dog of Shimano’, but instead how you can become the Cabaret King.
When you’re first introduced to Majima in this prequel, he’s quite the contrast to his usual crazy screeching persona with a penchant for violence: instead sporting a ponytail, an impeccable suit and a surprising dollop of courtesy and restraint. Say hello to Osaka’s ‘Lord of the Night.’
The Grand Cabaret he manages is already a success. Instead, a few chapters later, you get to put Majima’s skills as a customer-facing operator to the test by turning around the ailing fortunes of a smaller establishment, Club Sunshine, as it faces getting muscled out by a cartel of five rival clubs nicknamed the Five Stars.
How to become a cabaret king? Things start pretty modestly, and in typically Yakuza fashion — your so-called ‘No. 1’ hostess Yuki, despite her endearing demeanour, seems a little on the useless side. Majima has to spend time coaching her, invest some dough in glam new clothes, and all of a sudden the club has a bona-fide hostess to draw in customers.
You’ll want to expand your roster from its initial three by recruiting more hostesses, either by spending CP points (which you’ll have accrued by doing other wonderful random side quests and challenges that exist in the game) or approaching certain women on the street who can be recruited in exchange for an expensive gift like perfume or a handbag.
I’m not going to try and apologise for how dodgy the latter sounds, but there are worse things you can do.
Let’s get to the fun part.
What elevates Yakuza beyond mere gangster melodrama interspersed with brutal brawling is its wealth of diversions that can range from the mundane to the uniquely Japanese brand of batshit, with hostesses long being a staple. Of course, under individual scrutiny, a lot of these may not amount to more than rudimentary sideshows worth just a couple laughs, while the hostess ones tend to veer on the creepy-slash-awkward side of makeover and dating mini-games. Cabaret Club Czar (to give it the proper name - though Cabaret King has a better ring to it) is something deeper and more compelling.
Each hostess has their own stats, based on appearance, such as ‘Sexy’, ‘Beauty’, ‘Cute’ and ‘Funny’, and more importantly their abilities, which covers ‘Talk’, ‘Party’, ‘Love’ and ‘Skill.’ They’re all conveniently colour-coded, because what’s important is having a roster of hostesses that have a balance of abilities to cover all bases to cater to any guest.
For a ‘mini-game’, there’s actually a daunting amount of stats and information behind running a successful cabaret night, so it’s probably better to get a demonstration of it in action:
Running a club session lasts 3 minutes (though it actually lasts longer since the timer stops during a cutscene or decision) where your aim is to make serious bank out of customers streaming in looking for good company which, judging by your hostess’ gradually dwindling HP, can be bloody hard work.
As a new customer is welcomed by your hapless sidekick Youda, one of your six vacant booths will flash up indicating their preference of hostess as well the size of their wallet — expect a lot of ‘poor men’ to begin with, which you can even tell by their choice of clothing. You’ll have just a matter of seconds to match them up with a hostess who’ll then hopefully start working her magic and coaxing your guest to eat, drink and merrily spend.
The above clip is actually from quite early on when I was still figuring out the mechanics and, being a shallow schmuck, I was focused on the hostess’s looks when pairing them up. As it turns out looks aren't as important as the abilities, which you’ll soon see from the guests when the ‘beautiful’ girl they requested isn’t so good on ‘love’. What you should actually pay attention to is the pretty big (also colour-coded) smiley icon — your aim is to make sure it’s at least a neutral green but definitely not a blue frown or worse, red and angry.
Far from just sitting back watching the money roll in, a hostess will sometimes shout for help, which you can then focus in on with Triangle. Instead of looking at stats you suddenly find yourself deciphering body language.
Your hostess will give you a hand signal, which can mean a number of things, from requesting a menu to a guest or ladies’ glass. Getting it right not only allows your hostess’ stats to improve but might also turnaround a guest’s mood, and the better they’re feeling, the more they’ll keep ordering, literally throwing cash your way.
On the flipside, providing a bad match can lead to a siren sounding and the guest yelling at their hostess, or worse they’re both having a full-blown argument. You’ll need to step in to calm the situation or risk losing an angry customer and wearing out your hostess, who won’t be able to take on another guest if their HP is depleted.
Get to the end of a session and your hostess will shout for the check, when you’ll also want to ensure they leave on high spirits to increase your popularity — or if you’ve messed up, try to mitigate the damage with an apology or gift (though the latter’s going to cost you). Later on, if you do really well with a big-spending salaryman, you can even extend their session.
Of course, you’ll be doing this simultaneously with up to six other tables, finding yourself frantically rushing around as each girl calls for help or the check while a line presumably forms outside.
It’s a satisfying learning curve as you figure out how to work the tables with precision, because although it’s got the appearance of a management sim, it’s really more like a puzzle game where, instead of matching colours and shapes, it’s customer tastes and hostess hand signals.
Similar to the core game’s heat gauge, you can also build up a fever meter then tap R1 to unleash Sunshine Fever, accompanied with a delightful picture of Majima and Youda getting the real party started (just look at the joy on his face). Not only jazzing up the music to something more up-tempo, Fever state can turn a guest’s frown upside down while everyone else gets merrily sloshed and literally rains money all around.
As you steadily rack up profits from each session and attract more popularity, you’ll eventually provoke the wrath of one of your rival clubs who will force a cabaret showdown, where you’ll have to finish with higher profits while your rivals try to disrupt your flow with their own fever attacks — weakening all your hostess stats or even unfairly clearing out all your guests.
Of course attracting a rival’s attention, let alone having your roster levelled up to stand a chance, requires working the cabaret more and more. Yet it’s not a grind at all, not least because it’s a very lucrative money maker. The more you play, the more you get better at it: you’ll start memorising the hand signals that you were previously oblivious to, effortlessly parsing all the daunting information on-screen. Soon enough you’ll match-up customer tastes at a split second’s notice, lighting up purple smiles across all tables, keeping guests in a rolling fever. Before you know it, you’ll be pulling in nothing but mega-rich salarymen and working the cabaret like a king.
As you progress, boosting your profits also comes with more challenges: you may have a crowd who want more ‘party’ girls so will need to ensure you have a roster that can appeal. Some even demand a specific ‘platinum’ hostess who’s only halfway entertaining another guest, so you’ll need to see if you can swap her out for another hostess who can still get the job done or risk upsetting someone else.
Sometimes it’s even better to just get a new customer seated with someone who’s going to piss them off rather than lose them altogether, in the hopes the right girl gets the check for her other guest in time to quickly swap in and save the day, though you’ll also run the risk of her getting knackered out with back-to-back shifts. It’s all a beautiful balancing act and one that gets more satisfying the more you play.
It’s funny to call this a side quest because the content of Cabaret Club Czar is about as long as a normal game, with its own core plot, which then unlocks more platinum hostesses each with their own mini arcs as you level them up through makeovers and etiquette and dating lessons, the latter nicely interconnecting with the other activities you get to do in 0 if you hadn't already sought them out for yourself.
Even some of the myriad number of side quests in 0 relate to the cabaret, though the best part is you won’t know until you’ve finished one. Take purple-haired battle-axe ‘obatarian’ Etsuko, who appears out of nowhere to give Majima grief. It’s a comical diversion but, when you finish her side quest, you’ll suddenly find her loitering by your club and it turns out you can recruit her as a hostess — not only that, but she stays in her loud garish outfit. In fact Etsuko proves looks really aren’t that important for making a good hostess in Yakuza, because it turns out she’s the life of the party (her ‘Talk’ and ‘Party’ stats are huge) and has skills that otherwise-popular hostesses lack. Any club hoping to attract the richest, most discerning customers needs an asset like Etsuko.
The Cabaret Club Czar quest functions well enough to be its own stand-alone game, or perhaps a great example of the whole Yakuza experience in a digestible form. It's a little like 0’s own version of Haruka’s chapter in Yakuza 5, which swapped brutal street brawling for rhythm action street dance battles, replacing the usual violent mechanics for something different but just as compelling in its own right.
Normally when faced with playing a huge open-world adventure or RPG littered with sidequests, regardless of the quality, I’m ready to call it quits after the final battle is over and the credits have rolled. Being a completionist isn’t really for me, but Yakuza 0 is one of those rare instances where, even after Kiryu and Majima’s fates had concluded, I wasn’t ready to put the game down until Majima had bested the Five Stars and maxed out the questlines for all the platinum hostesses.
So it’s with some sadness that this is a world that Majima leaves behind once the 80s have passed, and he’s back to being the Mad Dog of Shimano. Of course, I look forward to the bizarre and hilarious ways he’ll be cropping up in the forthcoming Yakuza Kiwami, as well as what role he’ll play in the later timeline with Yakuza 6. But, for me, Goro Majima will always be the Cabaret King.
Yakuza 0 is currently on sale for just a little over £20 for Playstation Plus members until the end of July 19th .