Sega has truly spoiled gamers this year by localizing not one but two titles from their famous Yakuza series. Released back in January this year, Yakuza 0 came out to rave reviews. Now it's time to see whether Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of 2005's original Yakuza game, can live up to the high standards that we have come to expect of the series. I was lucky enough to get my hands on it recently and delved deep into the first few chapters.
Firstly, Yakuza Kiwami is a remake in the way that all remakes should be. It's not just a glorified port, adding a few shaders here and there. The game has had a complete overhaul. In fact, if you didn't know that it was originally on the PlayStation 2, I don't believe there is any way you could guess. The graphics are great and completely in line with being on the PlayStation 4. This is certainly a step up from Yakuza 5, the last mainline installment which was released on the PlayStation 3, and you can see the hard work that went into the upgrade. The music improves the original by being modernized, and the Japanese voice acting has been restored over the corny English dub. There's a half hour of added cutscenes for you to enjoy here, as well as extra side quests and mini games on offer. The two biggest differences for me though were the updates to combat and the all new "Maijima Everywhere" system.
Yakuza 0's new combat mechanics are on show here and are a great way to change up gameplay. During fights, you can change between four different play styles, each with their own pros and cons. In Rush Mode, you speed up but lose the ability to grab and use items. In Beast Mode, you gain a strength boost at the cost of speed. Brawler is a good all rounder, and Dragon is Kiryu's signature fighting style. The first three are upgraded through your standard skill trees, but the last is upgraded in a very special way.
Randomly as you wander the streets of Kamurocho, series antagonist Majima can choose to fight you at any point. He'll come in forms you are least expecting, (such as a police officer or barman) and will trick you into battle. Win these bouts and you'll earn new skills for your Dragon fighting style. These are humorous little editions to gameplay and were brilliant enough that even though I know I should be finishing the main story, I often go on the hunt for him.
However, while a lot has been done to improve on the original Yakuza, Yakuza Kiwami is still a PS2 game at its core. When compared to Yakuza 5 the game world is extremely limited as you are confined to Kamurocho, and of course, you only play as series staple Kiryu, instead of the range of characters we are now used to. I haven't felt this detract from the game in my time with it. The addition of new fighting styles means that fights have the diversity of those where you'd play various characters. While I would like new areas to explore, I feel more that I've been spoiled by previous installments. Yakuza Kiwami is not a full price title but still gives great value to its players.
The changes made to Yakuza's classic combat has provided the best fighting system the series has ever seen. Not only are there the four fighting styles to choose from, but the variety of techniques and weapons you can use keep things interesting. Simply put, the combos you can perform after completing a series of attacks make you feel like a complete badass. Yakuza Kiwami's combat feels unique and unlike other brawlers out there at the moment. There are also still those goofy moments which fans have come to love the series for.
While I've only seen a sliver of what story Yakuza Kiwami has to offer, I have to say I'm completely hooked. Unlike later installments in the series, Yakuza Kiwami throws you into the action straight from the beginning. You feel more involved in the story as there are fewer cutscenes and more action. As someone late to Yakuza games, the story is more compact than what I'm used to, but I think it's only a good thing. You can feel where the story is going and it's not flabby with filler material. If you've never played the series before, Yakuza Kiwami would be a great place to start.
Our Yakuza Kiwami preview was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game will release on August 29th, 2017.