Earlier this year, Sega began its initiative to bring several key entries in the Yakuza franchise to the west that previously hadn’t been localized. Yakuza 0 was an absolute treasure and deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best 2017 has to offer in terms of game releases.
Which brings us to Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of Yakuza 1 and a follow-up to Yakuza 0. It sort of walks a delicate tightrope of appealing to long-time fans while also being a jumping on point for newcomers to the series. Whichever camp you may be part of, Kiwami delivers the goods.
Yakuza Kiwami is a crime drama filled with deceit, jealousy, and family. It follows the story of Kiryu Kazuma; a young yakuza that’s on the cusp of moving well up within the ranks of the organized crime syndicate. In the opening chapter, however, Kiryu is arrested for the murder of a high-ranking official within the Tojo Clan.
Thing is, Kiryu didn’t actually murder anyone, and he’s secretly covering for his best friend Akira Nishikiyama, who really committed the crime in a blind fit of rage. Kiryu spends ten years in prison, and in that time a lot has changed in the criminal underworld of Kamurocho.
To be more specific on plot details would be to the detriment of anyone looking to play the game for themselves. If you are new to the franchise, then Yakuza Kiwami is a fantastic jumping on point. Knowledge of what happened in the prequel Yakuza 0 isn’t required to enjoy this one.
Being a remake, Yakuza Kiwami will be familiar to anyone that played the original release. The core plot is mostly the same and the way the cutscenes are framed mirrors the original Yakuza almost shot for shot. Make no mistake, though: this is a full remake and not simply a port with a higher resolution. The script has been tweaked a bit and the voice acting has been re-recorded and the game is all the better for it. It’s quite a step up in presentation from the PS2-era original.
When I reviewed Yakuza 0 earlier this year, one of the aspects I praised most was its combat. More specifically, the ‘knuckle-on-jaw’ feel that it featured. Kiwami uses the same combat system and slightly adjusts just how you interact with foes. Previously, you only had a fast, slow, and medium combat stances at any given time.
Kiwami adds a fourth: the Dragon Of Dojima style. This is by far the most devastating and versatile of the stances and plays into Kiryu’s tough as nails reputation. Unlike the others where you can upgrade their talent trees with in game experience, the Dragon Of Dojima style can only be upgraded by upping your rank in the Majima Everywhere system, I’ll get into how that works in a bit.
While combat, on the whole, has been slightly improved, the same can’t really be said for the boss fights. To put it bluntly, the majority of the boss fights in Yakuza Kiwami are a frustrating mess. For whatever reason, several of the bosses in the game will endlessly block and dodge your attacks to an absurd degree. I’m all for a challenge so long as it’s a matter of skill and execution, but less so artificial hurdles placed in front of the player.
One of the later bosses had a dodge so extended that by the time it was done he would be directly behind me. What was worse is this boss was dual wielding pistols so often mid-dodge he would fire away and stun me. The fight devolved into the boss endlessly dodging my attacks while he chipped away at me as I was stunned. Several of the bosses in the latter half of the game are irksome encounters like this one and it’s a shame.
Arguably the best addition to Yakuza Kiwami is the inclusion of Majima Everywhere. In the game, you’ll meet a character name Goro Majima, someone who’ll be familiar to anyone that’s played any of the prior entries in the series. In Kiwami though, Majima has taken it upon himself to keep Kiryu on his toes and instigate competition between the two characters at a moment’s notice. Initially, I thought this just meant Majima would just be out in the world and every so often I’d bump into him and duke it out a bit. That does happen, but Majima Everywhere goes much deeper than that, and the ways that Majima will appear is downright hilarious.
In one instance, I was out on the town minding my own business when a man approached me and insisted I check out this posh bar nearby. I obliged his request, sat down at the bar, and as I perused the menu, low and behold Majima was behind the counter, posing as my barkeep!
Anyone that’s played Yakuza 0 knows Majima used to be the owner of a cabaret club and understands a thing or two about mixing drinks, but his goal here isn’t to make sure you have a good experience. When it came time to pay the bill, Majima insisted a small fortune or just two drinks; it was either pay up or fight. The latter of which is what he really wanted all along.
The more you interact with and subsequently defeat Majima, the more it’ll improve Kiryu as a whole. The Dragon Of Dojima fighting style can only be mechanically expanded upon as you improve your rank in Majima Everywhere, and being probably the best fighting stance in the game, you’ll want to improve it any chance you can get. In my eyes, Majima Everywhere showcases everything great about Yakuza as a franchise: it’s creative, ties into gameplay mechanics, and is just a hoot to take part in.
The Yakuza series is known for having a plethora of side content to lose yourself in, and Kiwami is no exception. While the main plot will probably only run you for 15 hours or so, there’s upwards of 30 hours worth of side quests and alternative activities to partake in.
Majima Everywhere will likely take upwards of 10 hours to complete if you want to see that story played out to its true end, while also maxing out the Dragon Of Dojima combat stance. The game will also practically throw quests at you as make your way through the story. A particular favorite of mine involved showing a famous martial artist around the red light district and having him show off his slick jiu-jitsu moves on evil-doers.
Something I have to mention is that yet again Yakuza really nails humor. It's really rare to see a game that’s genuinely funny when those laughs are usually had at the expense of technical issues or just general mistakes from the developer. Not so in the case of this game, as I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of what was happening. One example is a quest called ‘The Cost Of An F Cup’ to which I’ll leave the details of to your imagination. Safe to say, if you’re looking to laugh a bunch, Kiwami lives up to the legacy of the rest of the series.
Following in the footsteps of Yakuza 0 was always going to be a tough act to follow for Sega. While I did not enjoy Yakuza Kiwami to the degree that I did with that game, all the same, Kiwami is excellent. There’s a ton of content here to make your way through, especially if you take the time to just explore the city streets and indulge in side activities. If you’re a newcomer to the series, this is an excellent jumping on point, and it’s a steal at only $30. So if you only have even a passing interest in the game, just know that there’s no better time to lose yourself in the neon glow of Kamurocho.
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.