Yakuza Kiwami is a complete remake of the original Yakuza, but also a sort of sequel to the recent prequel, Yakuza 0 (that was a mouthful). The original game was released over a decade ago in 2005, and has now been built from scratch with the Yakuza 0 engine. While remakes are going to implement a sense of nostalgia for fans of the original game, this remake also serves as a continuation to the fresh start SEGA and Deep Silver built with the recent prequel. Yakuza 0 and Kiwami implements ways to bring in new fans to this legendary series. Despite it’s noticeable flaws, it’s extremely accessible to newcomers.
Yakuza Kiwami takes the original 2005 game and revamps it with beautiful visuals, 60 frames per second, and over 30 minutes of added cutscenes. The story revolves around main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, a once former member of the Tojo clan. Kiryu ends up taking the fall for a murder in order to protect his best friend and the woman he loves. Fresh out of prison 10 years later, Kiryu ends up in a conspiracy with the Tojo Clan and must also take the responsibility of protecting a little girl who ends up in the middle of all the murder and betrayal. The less I say about the narrative the better; I thoroughly enjoyed this story and recommend a blind dive.
Kiryu’s journey is already enough to be worth the $30 price tag. The cutscenes are not only rebuilt with impressive textures, they have a film-like quality to them that constantly keeps you engaged. Despite being set in Japan, the cultural and language barriers never hinder the experience for western audiences, thanks in part to wonderful voice acting by it’s cast of three-dimensional characters. Each character is written with empathy, as we understand the motivations of everyone. The narrative moved at a consistent pace with many twists to keep me intrigued. I’m also a complete sucker for any sort of mafia/mob storyline.
One might see a walkthrough of Yakuza Kiwami and not believe anything I just said, as there is a plethora of silly side content in the form of Sub-stories. In one side mission, I was tasked with winning at a crane machine to get a stuffed animal for a man who wants get something for his “daughter” (Not actually his daughter, but she does call him daddy…yeah you get the point). The tone of the world in Yakuza may feel disjointed to anyone who’s never played a Yakuza game. The silliness of it’s world is just part of it’s identity and fans have grown to accept it.
Events can happen at random, so players must get used to this. One of Kiwami’s most frustrating aspects, though, is the random brawls with NPC characters, which at first is entertaining, but loses its charm after a few hours and becomes downright annoying. Kiryu will get XP extremely often, and because of this, the random NPC brawls don’t pose a challenge and only serve as an inconvenient encounter. However, the “Majima Everywhere” is entertaining and a new mechanic to the remake. The one eyed Majima will randomly pop up to fight Kiryu, which causes players to always be ready for a fight. The motivation for these fights with Majima are worth it as defeating him is the only way to upgrade Kiryu’s “Dragon of Dojima” fighting style.
The RPG elements are there to always feel productive. Fans of skill trees will have a huge smile on their faces as there tons of skills and upgrades for Kiryu. Most of these skills involve giving Kiryu new abilities in his four fighting styles. Gameplay for Yakuza Kiwami takes most of it’s mechanics of Yakuza 0. The brawling does take some time to get used to, but overall has an easy learning curve. That’s not to say it’s perfect, as the game’s camera is likely the toughest enemy players will face. Add in some stiff controls and the brawling experience could be divisive among players. While it can be extremely satisfying sometimes with brutal animations, it can also having you screaming in frustration. Also, the boss fights end up becoming tedious instead of actually challenging or fun. Bosses just have way too much health and don’t even get me started on how they constantly grapple you, causing you to always mash the X button. It’s not that fun, and it’s just mainly time consuming more than anything.
The enhanced visuals in the remake are definitely a treat to look at. Complemented by the 60 frames per second, Kiwami is a gorgeous game. The world is so vibrant with so many different colors that I would sometimes just stand there and take a minute to gawk at everything. That being said, there are numerous texture pop-ins when running around. The most noticeable being the NPCs, whose faces need a few seconds to register before the details come in. Before their faces come into full focus, they will first look like audience members in those old wrestling and sports games where they had absolutely no detail in their faces. While these visual inconsistencies are noticeable, they never take away from the experience. I must state that I never had any crashes or glitches, so it is only the visual disadvantages that keep from Kiwami from feeling like a completely polished game.
In my opinion, the reason Kiwami works so well is it’s narrative and characters. Otherwise, the frustrating combat and stiff controls wouldn’t feel worth the effort. As Kiryu I kept wanting to push through to see what was going to happen next, even if I had to fight one tedious boss after another. It’s silliness will take some getting used to for Western audiences, and while it’s tone may have not aged well, it’s entertaining enough to get some laughs out of me. While it can be an inconsistent journey in terms of gameplay and mechanics, the affordable price of $30 seems worth the price of admission for the numerous hours of content Kiwami is filled with.
Yakuza Kiwami is set to release on August 29th and this PS4 review copy was provided by SEGA. For more information, check out the official website.