Released on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2005, the very first Yakuza game was quite a hit in Japan, but it didn’t fare as well over here in the west.
Four sequels later, and still the west was lukewarm to its advances, but with the release of Yakuza 0 earlier this year on PlayStation 4, things may have possibly changed. We loved Yakuza 0, Yakuza 0 loved us, and hoping to follow up on that love and make it a long-lasting relationship is a remake of the very first Yakuza which picks up where the brilliant prequel left off.
With Yakuza 0 being the first game in the series that I’d actually played to completion, I was excited to jump into Yakuza Kiwami. Now, having watched the credits roll, I can say that I wasn’t disappointed. Well, not too much anyway. You see, while it felt great to once again to step into the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu and crack some skulls, at the same time, being a remake of such an old game, Yakuza Kiwami often felt a bit limited.
First things first, anyone coming to Yakuza Kiwami from Yakuza 0 will feel right at home with its setting. The town of Kamurocho in which the events of the game pretty much solely take place remains largely the same as that featured in Yakuza 0, with only a few new developments to keep you on your toes. It means it’s easy for you to find your way around and locate side activities to engage in, but it also means that playing Yakuza Kiwami can often feel like playing a story expansion to Yakuza 0 rather than what is technically a sequel.
There’s less to do around town too. For instance, you can still engage in a huge number of side stories – though they’re admittedly less amusing than those found in Yakuza 0 – but there’s not as much to do activity-wise. You can go bowling, race RC cars, play billiards and take part in some karaoke, but you’ll not be running any cabaret bars or managing a portfolio of properties. As a remake of a game that’s over 10 years old you can’t really fault it, but after the wealth of side content delivered by Yakuza 0 it does feel a bit bare-boned.
The story isn’t quite up to Yakuza 0 standards either, though that’s not to say that it isn’t engaging. Once again you find yourself in the middle of a Yakuza drama – this time after (wilfully) spending 10 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. There are twists and turns and the return of plenty of familiar faces, but major plot advances often feel rushed. The result is that if you head straight through the story you’ll finish Yakuza Kiwami in less than 20 hours, but with a Premium Adventure mode and other extras on offer, there’ll still be plenty of reason to go back.
The real bread and butter of Yakuza Kiwami is its combat, and I’m happy to say that it’s as brutally entertaining as ever. Yakuza 0 players will find that money is no longer used to buy new moves and stat upgrades – this time you earn skill points to allocate by fighting, drinking and eating food. Personally, I prefer Yakuza Kiwami‘s character development; its system feels more logical than Yakuza 0‘s. You begin with four fighting styles available right from the outset, with three of those – Rush, Brawler and Beast – developed with your skill points as you see fit. The development of the fourth – Kazuma Kiryu’s signature Dragon style – ties into Yakuza Kiwami‘s Majima Everywhere system, which is pure fan service through and through.
Given Goro Majima’s popularity after Yakuza 0, it’s understandable that SEGA wanted to increase his presence in this remake, but at times it just feels at odds with the story at large. One minute you’ll be joyously battling with him in the street after a friendly chinwag, the next, facing off against him with regards to a rather serious matter in the main story. It just feels a bit jarring and forced. Still, it is fun to randomly bump into him before kicking his ass to unlock new Dragon style skills and moves, but to fully develop your Dragon style you’ll need to fight him a lot.
Temper your expectations and take on board that Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of a game that’s over 10 years years old and you’ll enjoy it for what it is – more of the same, only not quite as polished and with less to do on the side. Dive into it after playing Yakuza o expecting a similar amount of content, however, and you’re likely to be a little disappointed. Regardless, for its budget price, Yakuza Kiwami delivers more than its fair share of violent crime-filled action laden with a weird sense of humour, and I was glued to the screen for every minute of it.