Initial Release: August 29 2017
The game still stands the test of time ten years later. And with added graphical, and system enhancements it could be easy to forget what era this game heralds from. Yakuza Kiwami is a game that charms and beguiles with its story and characters, But also punishes and humiliates with its strict learning curve.
Yakuza follows the story of Kazuma Kiryu. ‘The Dragon of Kojima’. A Yakuza who takes the blame of a crime he did not commit to protect his friend, after spending ten years in prison Kiryu emerges to find the crime syndicates he once knew have radically changed. Kiryu’s childhood friend is also missing, as is ten billion yen from the clan’s safe and a mysterious orphan may link these incidents in the most curious way. There is a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Join Kiryu in a tale of betrayal, intrigue and karaoke bars.
The initial hours of Yakuza are there to slowly lead you into an expansive, fun and alluring open world. With new missions added just for the remaster, Yakuza Kiwami boasts a very strong main campaign with compelling acting, humorous side stories and plenty of locations to locate and collectables to collect. Set in a fictitious neon Tokyo Japan, this open world is big. But it must be navigated by foot. There are no fancy automobiles to steal around here and any motorcycles you find are strictly for helping your criminal friends take a one way ride to the hospital. And it’s perfectly fine that Kiryu can pick up a motorcycle, hold it above his head, and use it as a melee weapon (eccentric right?). And while running from objective to objective in this fictitious representation of Tokyo could become mundane, Yakuza ensures that its world and its inhabitants will have enough going on to keep you occupied.
Aside from the dramatically charged main campaign, Kiryu will be accosted by random thugs who are just begging for a good ol’ one two uppercut to the chops, A fellow Yakuza named Goro Majima will also pop up as random locations to challenge you to random street fights, these can be excellent, but also infuriating if you are caught unawares. As well as this, you will find random encounters which lead to some interesting side missions, along with a bunch of genuinely good mini games and some intriguing ‘hostess’ dating challenges in which you attempt to charm hostesses into become romantic companions. Additionally there is also Bowling, Darts and Pool mini games. These last three can be accessed from the main menu and played with a local second player, which (as can be said for all mini games) all function great and are a nice game in themselves.
The story is well told and well paced but some missions in particular the opening ones can be contrived and irrelevant. Some missions feel stretched and prolonged which is a shame because it could put some less persevering people off and the game doesn’t exactly need padding. Get through the opening hour or so and the game hits a very satisfying pace, however some missions will ask you to find an item to complete an objective, only for the objective to change forcing you to walk backwards and forwards across town in to appease some scandalous characters and push through circumstances that could be easily avoided if Kiryu wasn’t written to be so naive and virtuous.
Early on in the game, You are introduced to the legendary Majima, an excellently portrayed character who brings a sense of comedy and drama. He is pathos, he is chaos, he is great. He is the joker to your Batman, and he is after you. Always after you. With the newly implemented and inventively named “Majima Everywhere System”. Majima can appear almost anywhere at anytime to attack you and berate you in what can be some of the games best moments. He is capable of bringing humour and tension and its easy to see why he has become such a fan favourite.
The world itself, is full of madly eccentric and un-relatable characters: Eye patched, animal print coat-wearing lunatic Majima and a mantis-style fighting pick pocket with the world record for buying lottery tickets the fastest are just two of the plethora of cheesy but lovable characters you will meet in Yakuza Kiwami. In light of the 1995-2005 Tokyo atmosphere you not only forgive the cheesier aspects of Yakuza‘ s writing, but actually learn to love them. That’s not to say it isn’t well written. The main campaign is very dramatic. But of course you will meet a lot of predictable goons who try to extort you or shake you down for one reason or another. Regardless, it always feels gratifying when you bring these criminals to (A Yakuza version of) justice.
The fighting is one of Yakuza’s strongest assets. The fighting is intense and well choreographed, Kiryu’s fighting style is broken up into 4 stances which can be switched on the fly using the d-pad. New skills are unlocked every time you fight your arch rival/super fan (its a confusing dynamic to say the least) Majima. It has a great potential that really comes into its own as the game progresses. There are also usable weapons, quick time events and multiple environmental and style based finishers to help the fighting become even more varied.
One thing regarding the combat: Boss battles can be at times tediously frustrating. Due to the linear platform of the game’s earlier hours, you have no real ability to be stronger than the game allows you to be. Without the early ability to grind and earn ability points, you will most likely find boss battles exhausting and repetitive. Most Boss Battles have multiple health bars when you have one tiny quarter of one bar and can interrupt your combos and can absolutely devastate you if you are not on your toes. It can be infuriating when fighting multiple opponents as when throwing one enemy you can still take damage whilst Kiryu is locked into committing this throw, meaning you have no way of defending yourself. However, that being said with this in mind, the fighting system rewards excellence. With special ‘Heat actions’ (ahem) available if you manage to fill your special bar by dishing out pain without getting hit yourself. These Heat actions are powerful finishing moves used by implementing the correct fighting style at the correct moment that can change the course of battle. But if you are being throttled by the games tougher bosses chances are that you won’t be able to get these special moves anywhere near ready.
The voice acting is excellent. The choice to keep the original Japanese is smart and adds authenticity with re-translated English dialogue to make a tighter experience more true to the original Japanese. The narrative is driven and compelling, characters have a dry-humoured charm that really helps you enjoy talking to any of the residents of Tokyo. While some may see the writing as eccentric to say the least, its Eastern influences and easy-going nature make the quirks endearing and the characters likeable. This game knows how to dish out the drama, but also understands the importance of having a little levity while featuring some genuinely funny scenes, most of which feature Majima.
It must also be acknowledged this is remake from the PlayStation 2 era. So whilst the graphics have been updated to stand amongst its PlayStation 4 brethren. Some of its systems and core mechanics are all a good decade old. Some of the combat systems have been brought over from Yakuza Zero and there are shorter loading times. But some of the features are still dated. There are some fleeting frame rate issues and some NPC’s clearly got less love compared to the main cast when it came to the remastering, The camera can be an enemy in itself and the map can be confusing without the aid of a way-point system.
Despite these minor flaws. The game still stands the test of time ten years later. And with added graphical, and system enhancements it could be easy to forget what era this game heralds from. Yakuza Kiwami is a game that charms and beguiles with its story and characters, but also punishes and humiliates with its strict learning curve. Considering all of this. Yakuza Kiwami is an excellent hostess that you won’t want to take off your arm for quite some time.
Verdict: 8 Out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Sega for review purposes