I never got into the Yakuza franchise. I always overlooked the titles as the franchise was always for a niche audience but whoever played them always seemed to regard installments as great games. However, last year, when Sega released Yakuza Zero (a prequel to the entire series), I thought it a great time to jump in.
I picked it up without having any idea what to expect but what I found was one of the most interesting, well-written, engrossing games I’ve ever played. It made me a fan of the series and I immediately wanted to play through the games in the rest of the franchise.
So, when they announced Yakuza Kiwami (a remaster of the first game), I was immediately on-board. But does Yakuza Kiwami still hold up after being released more than ten years ago?
The year is 1995, and Kazuma Kiryu has worked his way up in the ranks of his clan and is ready to be head of his own family. But on one night, gunshots are heard throughout Kamurocho and the chairman of the Dojima Family lays dead. Kiryu seeing that his friend may be responsible for the incident, takes the fall for him, and spends 10 years in prison.
Upon his release, Kiryu finds that the world has changed. He is thrown into a battle for head of the Tojo clan, and has to deal with finding a missing ten billion yen, a friend turned enemy, and a little girl that seems to be connected to all.
Yakuza’s story is rich and engrossing and will keep players hooked. I experienced several moments of anger, shock and sadness as I played through the story. It’s nothing but excellent and coming fresh off of Zero makes a bigger impact on the story as many characters make a reappearance.
In all honesty, Kiwami seems like a finale for Zero and its characters. So, it’s my recommendation that players look at playing Yakuza Zero first just to feel the full impact of the story. Kiwami does feature extra additions to the story, such as extra cut scenes, to tie-in more to Zero’s story to make the story more coherent.
I especially loved the extra scenes with Nishikiyama as he turns from friend to enemy. Although the story is great, it does slow down quite a bit towards the middle of the story, so players need to be prepared to push through that.
If you’ve never played a Yakuza game before, gameplay can be summed up as a third-person action-adventure beat-em up, set in an open-world environment. Players traverse Kamurocho; a fictional city set in Japan. The city may be small but if you’ve played Zero, you’ll feel right at home.
Players are able to buy items, access main missions, Sub Stories (side quests), play mini games and go to restaurants as they explore the city. The bulk of the gameplay is fighting and you’ll sure be doing a lot of it.
Whenever you come across other Yakuza or missions, you’ll be fighting. Kiryu has four distinct fighting styles that all make a return from Zero. The styles are:
- Brawler: a balance of speed and power.
- Rush: a balance of speed and evasion.
- Beast: a slow style with a focus on causing heavy damage.
- Dragon Style: a combination of all of the above.
You’ll have access to all these styles from the beginning. When fighting, you’ll gain heat, which will allow you to pull off special moves that produce high damage. Moves are always fun to pull; just be careful not to get hit as you lose heat if you are.
You’ll be able to upgrade yourself with experience points earned while fighting. These experience points can be used to get new moves, increase health, increase the heat metre or add on to other abilities.
Big boss fights allow players to perform special maneuveres in combat known as Kiwami moves. When a boss is hurt, they’ll hunch over and glow a certain color. You’ll then need to match that color with a different fighting style to perform a Kiwami move. These moves are more powerful than normal heat actions. They also stop bosses from healing but the problem is that there is only one move for each style, and it can feel very repetitive to watch the same move over and over again.
Repetitiveness is probably the biggest problem with gameplay. While not all players will feel this way, it can get quite tiresome to fight every enemy you come across as you walk around Kamurocho.
You’ll get noticed by an enemy, and most of the time you’ll have to fight your way out. In Zero, players could throw money to distract enemies but that feature has been removed from this installment, which means an unnatural number of back alley fights.
I also found that I gained experience points far too quickly. I already maxed out everything way before the end of the game and just kept earning more experience for nothing as there is no other use for it.
The only fighting style that you can’t upgrade with experience points is the “Dragon Style”. The only way you can upgrade it is by fighting Majima in a new addition called “Majima Everywhere”. In the world, you’ll encounter a crazed, obsessive Yakuza at completely random times and will be forced to fight him.
Sometimes, he walks around the world (like Mr Shakedown in Zero); other times, he hides in mini games. He also pops out of corners or manholes, and sometimes he’ll barge in while you are fighting someone else.
Majima is always a great fight. Just remember each time you beat him, he becomes stronger too as more life is added to him for the next time you fight.
Sub Stories And Mini Games
Although Kamurocho isn’t very big, there is a lot to keep you busy. Sub Stories (the game’s equivalent of side missions) are scattered all over Kamurocho. Some occur out of the blue, while others have certain conditions that need to be met before they pop up.
There are 78 stories in total; some are short, while others are long. Many provide some of the best moments in the game and can be random, funny or sad. All-in-all, they are all great.
Then, there are a number of mini games available, which is unsurprising as the Yakuza series is famous for it. The usual games make an appearance, such as bowling, karaoke, mah-jong, shogi, pool, darts, etc.
Two standout mini games are Pocket Circuit Racing and Mesu King. Pocket Circuit Racing is still a bad mini-game as it focuses a little too much on RNG. Mesu King, which is a card collecting mini game using rock, paper and scissors, is a nice addition and is even involved in some Sub Stories.
For a game that was released more than 10 years ago, the remaster looks great. Sega used the same engine they used in Yakuza Zero to boost visuals, meaning the game looks better than ever. This is especially true with regards to cut scenes, which are all full HD.
It is important to note that using the same engine did bring up some familiar problems, such as textures not rending, pop in and NPCs behaving oddly. So, although Kiwami is still a pretty game, problems do exist.
Yakuza Kiwami is the best way to play the original Yakuza. With additional content, such as extra Sub Stories, mini games, cut scenes and Kiwami moves, it’s one of the best remasters I’ve played and a must have for any fan of the series.
Although its story suffers from pacing issues and gameplay can be repetitive, there is no doubt that players are in for a rollercoaster of a ride.
Recommendation: Yakuza Kiwami is definitely a buy, and at a cheaper price than most games, it seems like a steal.