Fading Afternoon is the tale of an aging yakuza, released from prison to once again earn money and territory for his yakuza family. The game actually directly begins with Seiji Maruyama leaving the prison, meeting his boss, and getting right back on the streets. This is a tale of working through difficulties and challenging norms, in spite of your age. Does Fading Afternoon earn the title of honorary 2D Yakuza, or is this a title you would rather let fade from your memory? Let’s find out.
The yakuza family that Maruyama served shrank in his absence, but now with his time served, his old crime boss is putting Maruyama back on the streets to expand the influence of their family. The largest issue, however, is that Maruyama has gotten older and has a chronic illness that keeps him from operating at his best. This means players have a balancing act of keeping Maruyama healthy as he attempts to lead his yakuza family to war and take over territory all over Tokyo.
Fading Afternoon has a very interesting approach to story progression. Each day, you can select from a number of locations to visit from an overhead map, and you can explore these locations to see story events, get into fights, or just treat your character to a nice lunch. Fading Afternoon is extremely light in regards of telling the player where to go- you’re basically just given a list of areas to visit and shown whether or not a rival gang is present there so you can go rough up the whippersnappers. This does mean that there will be times it seems you’re doing nothing but fighting with no real direction in the story.
When you do start acquiring funds in Fading Afternoon, you have to prioritize how Maruyama is going to spend his money. Getting a car, for example, will let you visit more places per day than taking the train, but obviously a car is a pretty expensive investment. You also need to maintain payments for Maruyama to stay in a hotel room until he’s able to move out, as no self-respecting yakuza can earn respect by sleeping on the street. Of course, having Maruyama sleeping in his car or on a park bench is something you can do, but that’s a great way to wind up with a dead Maruyama.
The passage of time is your largest opponent in Fading Afternoon. Just like Maruyama, you have to make the best use of the time you have left each day. At the start, you effectively get to visit 3 locations per day, and since your health doesn’t regenerate automatically you also have to balance health recovery alongside all the other tasks you might be doing due to the story events you’re getting. Each playthrough of Fading Afternoon will be a little different from others, as a result- you can lock yourself into fail states with only a little health left and no good way to survive a fight, for example.
Not only has Maruyama gotten older, but he’s developed some kind of illness that drains his health slowly throughout your playthrough. This is on top of health not simply recovering naturally after winning fights, so you have to ensure Maruyama does healthy things like getting a massage, taking a bath, going fishing, or eating a nice meal, things of that nature. As Maruyama, you have to fight rival yakuza families in order to acquire money to keep your hotel room, at least until you get another place to stay, but the cumulative damage from combat will eventually catch up with you if you don’t do some activities to recover. Your health cap lowers as the days progress due to Maruyama’s illness, and this creates an interesting tightrope approach to gameplay-story design that is actually uncommon to see in modern video games.
In combat, you have a variety of options available to you that might be familiar if you’re into 2D beat ‘em ups like River City Rampage. You have your primary punch and kick combos that you can adjust by pressing down on the d-pad, grabs, takedowns, a block, and you can also intercept enemy attacks. Intercepting weapons causes you to flip, knockout, or break the arm of your assailant and typically leaves you with their weapon, which means you can also use knives, guns, and even katanas.
Defeating rival yakuza to take over that area for your family will earn you respect, and respect will cause other characters to come help you. Conversely, becoming homeless in Fading Afternoon because you ran out of cash will cause you to lose respect, which means you won’t get the benefits of people coming to help you fight. On top of endlessly fighting opposing yakuza, you can also have Maruyama do considerably more mundane tasks. You can enjoy some mini-games, like playing cards at the casino, go fishing, do some target practice at the gun range, or maybe just have Maruyama smoke and relax on his balcony.
Fading Afternoon doesn’t exactly give you a lot of indication on what you should do, especially not in the beginning. You mostly venture around and choose locations at random and get into fights. This can wind up with the player getting lost or frustrated because you’re not exactly given much direction on where you should go or what you should do. This approach to story progression is largely because much of what Fading Afternoon tells is just Maruyama’s life as he tries to survive in a world that’s moved on without him. There are times when story events seem to occur almost at random, which makes sense since there’s a large number of branching story paths.
Most likely the first thing you’ll notice in Fading Afternoon is the absolutely gorgeous pixel art. The characters are simplistic and stylized against backgrounds that are quite detailed and beautiful, with characters fluidly animated both in and outside of combat. The multiple layers of backgrounds provide a lot of depth to the environments you’ll be walking and fighting through, which does a lot to make Fading Afternoon look amazing.
The music also has an extremely bright and jazzy vibe to it, utilizing emphatic bass lines, saxophones, and more, and it’s all very catchy. The day-to-day jazz music sticks around while you’re in combat, however, which is a bit of a strange juxtaposition and I feel less than fitting for what’s happening on-screen, though that could be due to the fact that the music is likely arranged from royalty free tracks.
All in all, Fading Afternoon is a fun time. It can get frustrating and downright repetitive and sometimes it can seem like you’re doing nothing but getting into fights with very little else going on, but thankfully it will only take you 2 to 3 hours for a successful run, and each clear attempt of the title should yield completely different story events. There’s a variety of endings to keep you occupied should you greatly enjoy the simple River City Rampage approach to combat, and who knows…maybe you’ll wind up giving orders and leading your yakuza family in the end.