I was pretty late coming into the Yakuza series, so I got the opportunity to see Yakuza Kiwami, through fresh eyes. A remake of the original Yakuza game on PlayStation 2, many gamers will look at Yakuza Kiwami with nostalgic goggles. However, this is no simple remaster. Yakuza Kiwami has added so many features and upgrades since the original was released 12 years ago that it is virtually unrecognizable. Instead of a simple graphical upgrade, it is a complete overhaul of the original. Yakuza Kiwami brings that timeless Yakuza story into a completely modern title.
Yakuza Kiwami follows Kazuma Kiryu, a high ranking member of the Yakuza's Dojima family. Shortly before he is offered the position of patriarch of his own family, disaster strikes. Kiryu takes the blame when his best friend murders their current patriarch. Expelled from the family, and after 10 years behind bars, Kiryu goes in search of the woman he once loved. With Yumi now missing, he ends up uncovering a conspiracy he has to uncover to find her.
When compared to Yakuza's latest mainline installment, Yakuza 5, there are various pros and cons. With only one playable character and area, Kamurocho, Yakuza Kiwami's story and gameplay are a lot more focused than the later titles in the series. The result is that the story is deep, emotional and complex, while simultaneously easy to follow. The converse of this is that you have far less to discover, see and explore, and the main campaign is only around 15-20 hours.
The lack of playable characters does not really detract from Yakuza Kiwami. Instead, Kiryu has four different fighting styles which he can change between frequently during combat. Brawler is a general all round style. Rush is extremely fast but lacks the ability to grab or use weapons. Beast is very powerful but slow and lumbering. Finally, Kiryu's signature Dragon style is the best of everything. However, it is only leveled up by completing side quests. The difficulty in bolstering Dragon style makes it extremely rewarding to use. Conversely, you might find yourself foregoing using it for most of the game, at least until you are deep into the side missions.
Yakuza Kiwami has added various new side quests and minigames, that owners of the original title can enjoy for the first time. My favorite was the Majima Everywhere system, where the series' main antagonist, Goro Majima, can emerge out of nowhere for a battle. These are often preceded by a short witty cutscene to enjoy. They are also the best way to increase your Dragon style rank. However, while Majima claims to be everywhere, if you focus on the main missions, you can make it hours without ever encountering him. A little more chance for simple surprise Majima fights would not have gone amiss.
In terms of graphics, there is simply no comparison between the original and Yakuza Kiwami. Everything was rebuilt from scratch from the graphics to the music, voice acting, and even the translation. The localization here is excellent. Unlike the original, the superb Japanese voice acting is on show here. The English subtitles explain but do not erase allusions to Japanese culture. One of the best parts of playing a Yakuza game is being transported to Japan. The voice acting and additions of Japanese cultural aspects are a huge part of this. Yakuza Kiwami is the standard that remakes should aspire to. At a glance, gamers would not be able to choose Yakuza Kiwami as the PlayStation 2 remake among a collection of games on a modern roster.
In all, it is hard to fault Yakuza Kiwami. The story is strong and concise and packs plenty of emotional impact. With four different fighting styles on offer, combat is skillful and varied.The series staple "heat actions" are still just as gory and fun to watch as ever. Enemies come in a number of differing sizes and strengths so you often have to adapt tactics to gain the advantage. In other words, the combat in Yakuza Kiwami, like the other Yakuza titles, makes you feel like a complete badass.
There is plenty on offer here outside of the main story. While the world is small, it is open. Players can choose to spend their time racing pocket circuit cars, avenging street crimes, seeking out Majima or romancing their favorite hostess. Every side quest and mission gives effective items or experience usable in the main combat missions. However, this is not why you keep going back for more. The main motivation to engage is that they are all intriguing in their own right.
To complain that Yakuza Kiwami is smaller and shorter than other mainline Yakuza games seems to do it a disservice. While these are both true, it is important to remember that at its core, it is still a PlayStation 2 game, and the first in the series. There is a lot less on offer than other recent mainline releases, but the scope of the release also reflects this. Yakuza Kiwami looks and feels like a completely modern game but offers half the content of the newest titles in a budget package.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Yakuza Kiwami. For those who are new to Yakuza, Kiwami is the perfect introduction to the series before making a bigger investment. For fans who were introduced later in the series, like me, Yakuza Kiwami is the perfect education on the series' staple characters as well as established relationships and story. Finally, for long time fans, not only is Yakuza Kiwami a complete overhaul of the graphics and combat system, but there is so much extra on offer that you are sure to enjoy your return to the game as a whole new experience. Simply put, Yakuza Kiwami is an experience well worth your time that most people are sure to enjoy.
Our Yakuza Kiwami review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
A concise and emotional story that cuts out the filler and perfectly mixes in varied and interesting combat. At its core, Yakuza Kiwami is still a PlayStation 2 game, but its short and sweet nature doesn't hold it back in the long run.
- Amazing Mix of Fighting Styles
- Focused Emotional Storytelling
- Hours of Engaging Side Quests
- Smaller in Scope than Recent Yakuza Games
- Infrequent Majima Appearances