by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I think this might be a small column I pull up from time to time, where I talk about fascinating boss/antagonist encounters. Let’s start with one of my favorites – Daisauku Kuze!
You know, not all antagonists and bosses are created equal. Some are just boring, disinteresting encounters that have no purpose other than to bar your path, and some help flesh out the world you’re in, in some pretty fascinating ways. I was thinking about that this weekend, specifically about one of the most important NPCs/Antagonists in Yakuza 0, Daisaku Kuze. He doesn’t appear in any of the other games that I’ve seen, because he’s arrested during the events of Yakuza 0. He’s your first serious stumbling block in both combat, and in the story, and he’s not done after one fight. What makes Kuze such an important character though? Well, I’m glad you asked. No matter how aggravated I was to see him show up, I respected the hell out of his guts and determination.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku franchise is one that isn’t always understood in the Western audience – it’s not just “The Asian Mob”. There are similarities sure, but the Yakuza is a very rich, interesting study. So what about those people who don’t understand what the Yakuza as people are? In particular, the old-school Yakuza characters from the 80s. Without some form of context, he’s just some asshole that keeps showing up wanting to fight Kiryu. Fortunately, Yakuza 0 puts a lot of effort into Kuze as a person. Kuze exemplifies what it means to be Yakuza, but he’s not without flaw. After his failed attempt to put Kiryu down, he tries to get his thugs to help him kick our heroes ass. However, this doesn’t work out, thanks to his superior, and failure means one thing – punishment. Does Kuze complain? Of course not. He tells Kiryu to watch closely because this is what it means to be Yakuza. With that, he cuts off his finger as penance.
Despite the loss of his finger and a demotion, he does not stop trying to put the “Kiryu problem” right, fighting him several times throughout the game. He’s resolute and unstoppable, showing up in the most interesting places. Kuze’s in his 50s but is in fantastic shape, and one hell of a brawler. You fight Kuze five times throughout the course of Yakuza 0, and he certainly undergoes a bit of growth through the game as well. He stays an asshole, sure, but he winds up at least respecting Kiryu’s strength since, in every encounter, Kiryu punches the custard out of him. It’s important to know the resolve and guts of the Yakuza characters, and Kuze’s a character study in this all on his own. He’s one of the only major Yakuza enemies you fight in 0, much less one that keeps coming back at you. Amano and Shibusawa don’t come after Kiryu, only Kuze fights you directly (though occasionally with his thugs).
Kuze is a Yakuza to his core, and no matter what, stands by his convictions. Even if he knows he’s going to lose, he goes forward anyway – advice Kuze gives Kiryu after their final encounter. Even as an enemy, he offers sage advice to Kiryu, who would certainly continue to take that to heart (if he didn’t already have that sort of philosophy). It’s also interesting that Kuze’s tattoos represent Hell – The main tattoo is Enma, the judge of the underworld. The guardians of Hell are also featured, Gozu and Mezu. He judges Kiryu and wants him to stick to the Yakuza lifestyle Kiryu adopted, no matter what. It’s not a life just anyone can stick to, but Kuze does it without any regrets it seems. He gets more difficult every time you fight him, and the fights all come in places that make plenty of sense. Kuze also has one of the best theme songs in the franchise, “Pledge of Demon”. Kuze embodies what it means to be Yakuza, and showing up in 0 is a tremendous idea. It’s the beginning point for many players, now, and for those who may not understand the Yakuza lifestyle, meeting Kuze should leave those people with a bit more of an idea what these men are after and what they’re like. While not all NPCs are created equal, Kuze definitely stands out in 0 as a well-developed, interesting foe. Kuze is more than just a boss that won’t go away – he represents a lifestyle, a philosophy. He’s a fading ideal, that simply will not go quietly into the night. Daisaku Kuze is Yakuza.