Who could have ever predicted that we’d be writing a Yakuza Kiwami review? A full, ground-up remake of SEGA’s 2005 cult action-adventure series set in a fictional Japanese district; Kamurocho. With the Japanese criminal underworld, the “Yakuza”, being the focus.
We couldn’t be happier to see it brought to the PS4 in the UK. Fictional though Kamurocho may be, it’s based on the real-world’s Kabukicho, Tokyo; considered a popular “red light district”. That last piece of information was brought to you by: the internet.
Yakuza Kiwami is a great follow up to Yakuza 0(review), but suffers at times by the same token. Sega’s Yakuza team have been at this for over a decade and their story-telling has only gotten better. As such, Kiwami’s faithful recreation of the original doesn’t quite measure up to 0. That said, I feel that it does refine some of the combat and there’s something to be said for focusing on a single protagonist so that the player isn’t jumping all over the place in terms of narrative.
That’s enough build-up. If you’re ready to enter Japan’s organised crime unit and learn the legend of the Dragon of Dojima, read on!
Before we get to the meat of the review, we pose a question to you; the reader. We want you to be more involved in our site and, of equal importance, I want to ask silly questions to people. In the case of Yakuza, I ask you:
What’s your first Yakuza memory? Real life or in-game. I don’t mind. Just try not to incriminate yourselves. If you don’t have one, make one up. You’re gangster like that
Get in the Disqus or Facebook Comments at the end of the review. And please share this so other gamers can get involved, and enjoy the review.
How does it play?
Yakuza is an action-adventure beat ‘em up game with a heap load of things to do. Primarily, it’s all about brawling in Japan. Kazuma Kiryu is an experienced martial artist and a real brute in battle. For some bizarre reason, random idiots will pick fights with you in the street. May they rest in peace as Kiryu pulls off combination moves and “Heat” finishers that have to be seen to be believed.
Have you ever seen a man slip his hand through an enemy’s guard to break his nose with his fingers and subsequently step on his head? Well that’s just one of the many beautiful moves Kiryu can do!
Running around Kamurocho can get a bit tedious at times, but there are taxis for (admittedly few) fast travel options. There’s also a Completion List that awards Completion Points that can be traded in to a clown for various bonuses, including greater stamina for Kiryu’s jogs about town. Yes. A clown man will increase your running stamina. Because Yakuza is the best kind of crazy.
Major New Inclusion: Majima Everywhere System
Goro Majima is a man of many talents. He’s also a sort of rival to Kazuma Kiryu. Actually, I suppose you’d call him more of an unsolicited mentor. The Mad Dog of Shimano doesn’t like how Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, seems to have let himself go. As such, he’s made it his own personal mission to whip you back in to shape. Majima will appear in many unexpected forms.
Forms that should often remain unspoken. Each with a great deal of comedic value. Ultimately, however Majima may appear (often violating your personal space), he wants to crack a rib or two. Those familiar with Yakuza 0 will recognise Majima’s various fighting styles, some more hip-hop than others, but all lethal in their own way. By defeating Majima, the Majima Everywhere rank rises and Kiryu takes a step towards becoming the “Dragon Reborn” in his fourth fighting style.
The only fighting style that can’t be levelled up by conventional methods. It’s his classic Yakuza fighting style with some added brutality to fit the Kiwami (extreme) update.
For the most part, I love the Majima Everywhere system. The roads leading to specific events in his rank up quests put a smile on my face every time. That said, combined with the random thugs coming at you, it can happen at the worst possible time. Granted, losing to Majima doesn’t cause much in the way of a penalty, but it’s still frustrating to get your arse kicked by the cheeky one-eyed cabaret manager because you had a few unfortunate run-ins with the locals moments before.
Finally, the amount of effort required to max out the rank system exceeds a reasonable expectation. Unless there’s a fast-track that I’ve yet to figure out. By the end of the game, I’d reached Rank A of the total SSS obtainable. Running around, hoping to fight Majima five or six times before ranking up is a chore, regardless of how enjoyable the system itself can be. Thankfully it’s entirely optional, but I’d love to have that final fight with Majima. If only the grind towards it wouldn’t bore me to tears.
Extra, Mostly Less-Gangster Things
If fighting thugs in the street entices you but you’d like a bit more variety, buckle up. We’re about to go on a journey. Whether it’s fantastic cut-scene karaoke, a game of pool and/or darts, or rock paper scissors featuring scantily-clad bug-women, Yakuza Kiwami features all that and more.
There’s so much to do, though a lot of it felt like one-and-done for me. Many of the side activities are linked to the aforementioned clown and his Completion Points system though. So it’s always worth taking a trip around Kamurocho. Even when events seem dire, Kiryu always has time for a bowl of ramen and some adult entertainment.
Presentation and Graphics
Yakuza blends anime-like ridiculousness with grounded reality well. Kiwami is no exception. Its look can be summed up in two sections: cut-scenes and in-game engine. The cut-scenes are fantastic set pieces filled with drama and exposition. In-game it’s a bit rougher, with noticeably less facial animation, but it doesn’t detract much from the enjoyment.
The Yakuza games are distinctly Japanese, and they that inspiration like a full-back dragon tattoo. Though I have no personal frame of reference, those I’ve spoken to state often that it’s the most authentic replication of Japanese life in video game form.
Naturally, you can draw your own conclusions on that aspect, but as somebody that one wants to visit Japan (and recognises that it’s not all anime and games), I appreciate Yakuza giving us an exaggerated insight in to Japan’s city life.
Soundtrack Attack and Japanese Dub
As always, the music is perfect for the events that unfold. Be a dramatic reveal or a silly side-quest, I feel there’s always a track to depict the moment. Its intro, too, is as epic as I’ve come to expect. My favourite little piece is the guitar twang whenever the play encounters a side-quest. It’s something you’ll hear quite often throughout Kiwami with how much there is to see and do.
The original release of Yakuza featured an English dub. Between how bad that dub was and how long it’d take to localise the amount of content, I’m glad that this game features only the Japanese dub with English subtitles. Ordinarily I lament the lack of an English dub, but frankly, this isn’t Persona.
This is a more “realistic” depiction of Japan with people that are far more life-like and for them to be speaking English whilst surrounded by, and engaging with, so much Japanese culture; I’m not sure it’d fit. I’m far from qualified to speak on the quality of a Japanese dub, of course, but it all sounds pretty great to my ears. Every main character feels distinct and they all shout rather forcefully.
In a world where almost everybody wants your character dead, I suppose shouting might be the default setting. Seriously though, there’s a range of emotion in the dub that you can just feel through the performance despite the language barrier.
Remake Troubles of Kiwami
My single gripe about Yakuza Kiwami is a compliment to the development team: they’ve come a long way. Especially in their story-telling. Though enjoyable, the original Yakuza story is a fairly straight-forward rivalry with a few twists. In comparison, January’s release of Yakuza 0 acts as a previously unseen prequel to Yakuza that allowed the team to create a brand new story for Kiryu’s younger years.
As well as make Majima a playable character and explore his back-story. Yakuza 0’s plot is far more impressive than Kiwami’s. Even with the effort to tie Kiwami in with 0, it’s still restrained by being faithful to its original plot. Granted, better that than change too much and ruin it, but Yakuza 0 coming out in the same year only serves to show how much better the team are these days at delivering a narrative.
Kiwami comes packed with a host of modes and features. The primary mode being the Story. There are three difficulty settings (I highly recommend normal) and roughly forty (40) hours to a single campaign run. Let’s talk about them all in a little more detail.
New Game / New Game +
Start a new game with or without your clear data. In New Game +, the player’s items will be carried over as well as their experience points and upgrades to their fighting styles. The game states that “certain elements” will not be carried over. Currently, I cannot confirm what these elements are. Perhaps it’s “Majima Everywhere” progression.
The main game has the player take the role of Kazuma Kiryu; a long-standing member of the Dojima Family within the Yakuza. He’s being primed to lead his own family when an unexpected event lands Kiryu in hot water.
Whether you’re pushing forward with the story or engaging side-quests, the majority of your time will be spent fighting multiple enemies at once using the four fighting styles. It’s a brawler style game that allows changing of fighting styles on the fly, with even more (swift) options to change up during combos and evasions. The series’ signature “Heat” system allows Kiryu to build an aura over the course of the battle to unleash devastating techniques on the poor chumps that cross your path. Again, the more experience you gain and invest in one of the three upgradeable styles (the fourth is a side-quest / story-based progression), the more you can do within said styles.
2-Player VS Minigames
Two players can play bowling, darts and/or pool against each other. The game makes a point of saying this mode does not count towards the completion list.
Enjoy the Kamurocho district without the story getting in your way. Load up a save and explore the wonders of Yakuza Kiwami. Keep an eye out for Majima. Both eyes, actually. You might be at an advantage then.
A series of challenges with various restrictions to test your mettle. I found them to be somewhat frustrating but perhaps that’s just a measurement of my skill. I’m glad they exist as they offer a bitesize, challenging chunk of the Yakuza experience.
Should I play this?
I think Yakuza Kiwami is a must-play for series fans. Kiryu’s occasionally clunky movements when running about town aside, there’s so much passion in this game. Such dedication to portraying the Japanese experience in a way that other games wouldn’t dare attempt for fear of alienating an audience. Not only that, the fighting systems are a lot of fun.
There’s some awkward lock on issues when fighting very large groups, but there’s always a way to combat that fact. Usually by switching to Beast style and mowing down several enemies at once. The one-on-one boss fights are adrenaline-fuelled fist fights that test your use of the various styles and give you a chance for unique style-locked Heat attacks.
Gamers who should…
Whether it’s the troubles of Kazuma Kiryu or the joy of catching a stuffed animal from a UFO catcher, Yakuza has you covered for both intense drama and loveable quirks. Stick to the story for the emotional twists or roll off the beaten path for some things you’ll likely never see in another game.
Take MesuKing Battle Bug Beauties, for instance. The world is littered with cards that feature scantily-clad women in light bug-inspired apparel. By approaching the child professor in a local SEGA Arcade, Kiryu can engage in a questionable game of rock paper scissors against other young children, crushing their hopes and dreams but preaching to them about friendship.
I love Kiryu, but the way your bug babes literally choke-hold their opponents in to submission (if successful) is cruel on these kids!
Seriously though, there’s karaoke, darts, pool, hostess clubs, a fighter’s coliseum and the Majima Everywhere system to contend with. Majima being a true highlight of the game, but I don’t want to speak too much of it. His various pop-ups deserve to be seen before being heard about.
Gamers who probably shouldn’t…
It’s still a very niche title and may turn off players for the same reasons it’ll bring people like myself in. If you’re not interested in Japanese culture, a lot of the game might not make sense to you.
Not to mention how often you’ll get in to battles with thugs on the street. Granted, they can be avoided, but more often than not you’ll have to beat some sense into people, and that means a few seconds of loading in and out of the battle. When that occurs five times on the way to a story objective, it’s frustrating even for a lover of the series such as myself.
Also, if you don’t like long cut-scenes filled with exposition and drama, it’s not for you. Yakuza likes to flesh out its characters, almost to a fault, and they don’t mind letting you know about it. Players that’d rather stick to the action have that option in Premium Adventure, but I feel that’s missing on a large part of the experience.
Finally, violence. You’re a high ranking member in a world of organised crime. Not only that, Kazuma Kiryu is a renowned fighter. Though his heart is virtuous – he’s a real hero – his methods are brutal and some may find it difficult to watch.
For me though, a heat move that breaks both your opponent’s shoulders, punches their face one-hundred and eighty degrees and then throws them over your shoulder in to the air is nothing but glorious.
The trouble with Yakuza is that, honestly, there aren’t any similar games. Yakuza is more of an evolution of older games. Imagine if Streets of Rage had entered the 3D realm and acquired a decent writer for a story. Or, if you’ve played the Yakuza games at all in the past, this ground-up remake is an improvement rather than a revolution.
|The Good||The Bad||The Bugs|
|Intense Battles with enjoyable fighting styles and weapons||Occasionally clunky movements||Nothing significant to worry about here!|
|Engaging story with fantastic characters||Street thugs can interrupt a little too often||–|
|Accurate portrayal of red-light district in Japan||–||–|
|They remade the first Yakuza game!||–||–|
About This Yakuza Kiwami Review
Game Reviewed: Yakuza Kiwawi, digital edition provided by publisher
Review Format: PS4
PEGI Rating: 18