Taking a trip down memory lane is always welcome. Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the first Yakuza game that originally released on the PlayStation 2 in September of 2006. It’s been quite the journey for fans of the series ever since then. It would take the English speaking world two years after the sequel released until we finally would be able to continue Kazuma Kiryu’s journey in Yakuza 2. And don’t even get me started on Yakuza 5, which was one of the biggest games on Sony’s “Building the List” initiative that Gio Corsi continues to head up to this very day. It took three full years in order for Yakuza 5 to be translated into English. Now with Yakuza 0 releasing earlier this year, and Yakuza Kiwami also hitting our shores, it appears as if Sega has a new goal in life to bring the Yakuza series out in all major territories as quick as possible. Coming off the success of Yakuza 0, how does it feel to go back to where it all began in the original Yakuza? Read on for our full Yakuza Kiwami review.
Title: Yakuza Kiwami
Developer: SEGA/Yakuza Studio
Available On: PlayStation 4
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Game Provided by the Publisher for the Sake of This Review
Let me start off by saying that it’s going to be hard for Yakuza Kiwami to follow up on the crazy success that Yakuza 0 had, and be as amazing as that experience truly was. After all, at the heart of everything, this game still is eleven years old, even if it has a fresh coat of paint and a few new gameplay elements to keep things more interesting. However, don’t judge a book by its cover, as they always say. For newcomers to the series or for veterans alike that may not remember everything, Yakuza Kiwami starts off extremely slow. That’s to be expected, as again, this was the very first game in the Yakuza series at the time of its initial release. We have to go through the motions of the story building, character introductions, and learning the ropes of how the game is going to play. After you get through those first initial chapters and the game truly begins to open up, you’ll realize just how fun it is to run around as the Dragon of Dojima and beat the crap out of thugs and enemies that dare to get in the way.
Traversing throughout Kamurocho feels identical to previous entries, so you’ll instantly feel right at home if you’ve played or are familiar with how the small city is laid out in previous entries. For everyone else, it’s extremely simple to navigate, and is filled with everyday folks going about their lives. There are various shops and local places to check out when exploring, such as restaurants, old-school arcades, and of course, shops. You can fully check out all of these stores and side areas, including other shops that are more closely tied to the main story or side missions that Kiryu can partake in. As mentioned in our review of Yakuza 0, Kamurocho is a play on the real life red-light district found within Tokyo known as Kabukicho. Looking up comparison pictures with a quick Google image search reveals just how well Sega and Yakuza Studio really nails the look of this fictional town.
Yakuza Kiwami is a direct sequel to Yakuza 0, so if you haven’t stepped foot into this franchise yet, I highly recommend starting with Yakuza 0 before jumping into this one. Even though this is a full remake of the original game on the PS2, Yakuza 0 was designed as a prequel that told the story of how everything came to be leading up to the very beginning of Yakuza Kiwami. You’ll learn a lot more about Kiryu’s past and even more so about Goro Majima, who plays a significant part in this game as well. In fact, one of the big additions to the game that sets it apart from its PlayStation 2 counterpart is the Majima Everywhere mechanic. When out exploring the city and progressing through the main chapter, he will randomly pop up at times and challenge Kiryu to a fight. If you are able to defeat him, he’ll help you recover the abilities you have forgotten as part of the Dragon Style fighting system.
Why has he forgotten these abilities, you might be asking yourself. Simple. The story in Kiwami is as good as I remember it being eleven years ago. Playing the role of the natural hero and everyday good guy, Kazuma Kiryu takes the fall for his best friend, Akira Nishikiyama, who murders the head of the Dojima Family at the very beginning of the game. I’m not going to spoil the events leading up to why this happened, but this part of the story is fair game, as it’s fully laid out before anyone that starts the game in the opening cinematic. After taking the fall, Kiryu gets shipped off to prison, where he spends ten painstaking years for a crime he did not commit, and thus, is quite a bit weaker upon getting released. Therefore, the new Majima Everywhere gameplay mechanic makes perfect sense in order to help relearn those abilities you’ve forgotten, and regain some strength along the way.
The combat system is extremely straightforward, with four different styles to cycle through and choose from by using the D-Pad. There are combos that can be initiated, and weapons to pick up amongst the streets and areas. Certain styles work better than others in different situations, and you can even use this to your advantage during boss battles. When a boss hunches over and begins glowing a certain color, you can switch to the corresponding style that matches the color and pull off a powerful attack in order to balance out the fact that the boss is currently recharging his health. It’s a fun mechanic, but just don’t forget to actually do it, or else these boss fights are going to drag on for lengthy periods of time, which can get very tedious and sometimes a bit on the boring side.
Yakuza is known for the varying side quests the games sends players on, and the memorable story missions told throughout each entry in the series. Remember how social media was flipping out over the Nugget the Chicken side quest in Yakuza 0 earlier this year? You’ll be happy to know that this tradition continues forth into Yakuza Kiwami. While there might not be anything quite as exciting and memorable as that moment from 0, there are still a ton of different side missions to explore throughout the game, and doing each one is going to provide a lot more context for the world, better explain what is going on, and add some serious depth and length to the game. So, they are very much worth exploring.
Keep in mind that the Yakuza franchise is very much baked in its Japanese roots. This series is not going to appeal to everyone here in North America and throughout the rest of the world. But I implore everyone to at least give this series a chance, because the fundamentals that lie at the very core of the gameplay are some of the best in the industry, and these games deserve more success than they currently receive. While the narrative isn’t as clear-cut as it was in Yakuza 0 and the fact that this is a true-to-life remake of the original game will mean it may not be as exciting as some of the more recent outings in the franchise, the classic re-telling of how everything came to be and the addictive gameplay is enough for fans of the series to give this a go. If you haven’t played Yakuza 0 yet, I strongly suggest starting there. But if you have played 0, what are you waiting for? Continue Kiryu’s story and let Sega know we want Yakuza Kiwami 2 localized as quick as possible in English after it releases in Japan at the end of this year!