It’s a good time to be a Yakuza fan.
Back in January, Sega dropped the superb Yakuza 0, a gorgeous time sink that managed to be both a fantastic introduction to the series for newbies and brilliant fan service for veterans.
Now, Yakuza Kiwami has strutted into the market and it’s likely to appeal to both of the above camps, even though it’s a remake of the rather underappreciated PS2 classic, Yakuza.
Anyone whose Yakuza journey began with Yakuza 0 will be delighted that they now don’t have to sit on YouTube to learn about the series’ lore. Furthermore those who played Yakuza the first time round will find better mechanics and a deeper story on display here, all shot through with a visual scrub that brings the game’s presentation up to par with other titles from this series on the PS4.
If you’re brand spanking new to this series, Yakuza Kiwami is a third-person adventure set on a relatively small open-world map, bristling with side-quests, mini-games and fistfights.
Spread over 13 chapters, it’ll take players roughly 30 or so hours to complete if they ignore most of the content away from the main plot. But if they do this, they’ll miss a lot of what makes Yakuza Kiwami (as well as many of the other games in this series) so appealing.
One of the main strengths of Yakuza games is their ability to plonk players in an unfamiliar environment while making everything feel natural and familiar in no time at all. Between feasting at restaurants, buying energy drinks at the pharmacy and beating the snot out of various gangs roaming the streets, players have the opportunity to follow threads from a huge list of side-quests, each one more bonkers than the next.
At one point they may find themselves picking up a mysterious package from a lady, using a code phrase, “you look very sexy”. At another, they could find themselves fighting con men in a bar after a scheme to drug the protagonist goes horribly awry. A personal favourite involved tracking down the backer of one of the most inept gang of vigilantes in the history of videogames.
Underpinning all of these shenanigans is a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Beat Takeshi movie. The story centres on former Yakuza footsoldier Kamurocho Kiryu, fresh out of prison after a ten year stint for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s not long before he becomes embroiled in a violent feud between several Yakuza clans involving a woman who disappeared with ¥10 billion of the mob’s money.
The story’s progression and its big reveals will be well known to veteran players, but the developers have added some new content that stops Yakuza Kiwami feeling like a naked cash grab. First, the story of Nishiki (Kiryu’s former comrade) is more fleshed out and players gain a deeper insight into what made him turn on his friend. It’s pretty dramatic stuff and it gives Yakuza’s plot emotional heft that it lacked before.
Second, Goro Majima, whose appearance in the first game was brief enough to be considered a mere cameo, is a much bigger presence here. Thanks to the much touted ‘Majima Everywhere’ feature, players frequently bump into the Mad Dog of Shimano, who then challenges them to fights. Not only is this a rather decent way to bone up one’s combat skills – which aren’t really tested when you’re wailing on street trash – but it helps develop Kiryu’s Dragon combat style, which can’t be leveled up otherwise.
This brings us to the third major change between Yakuza Kiwami and its source material (the much improved visuals notwithstanding): combat. For the remake, the developers have brought over the four distinct combat styles – Rush, Brawler, Beast and Dragon – from Yakuza 0, making fistfights a more nuanced affair than they were in the first game.
Players start off the game with basic attacks, but the more XP they earn – through doing pretty much anything other than walking the streets – the more of Kiryu’s potential they can unlock. Given the benefits of beefing up Kiryu’s health and attack range, it’s a wise idea for players to rinse as much of Yakuza Kiwami’s side content for as much XP as they can. Late boss battles can become frustrating wars of attrition if they don’t.
Yakuza Kiwami Review – Verdict
Really, the only thing standing in the way of whole-heartedly recommending Yakuza Kiwami is the answer to this question: have you played Yakuza 0 yet? If not, it’s a longer, more detailed and better game and probably a much better introduction to Sega’s Japanese gangster series than this one.
That having been said, Yakuza fans have probably already pre-ordered this game and it’s a blast to play – even if you’re just a curious onlooker. If you have a Yakuza itch ahead of the arrival of Yakuza 6 in March next year, Yakuza Kiwami will scratch it and then some. Oh, and fans should note that a remake of Yakuza 2 is slated for release in Japan next year, so it’s likely on a matter of time before it arrives in the west.
Yes, it’s a good time to be a Yakuza fan.
- Yakuza Kiwami was reviewed on a PS4. A review copy was provided by the publisher.