Original Yakuza was a 2005 open world action-adventure beat ’em up game developed and published by Sega on PlayStation 2. Since its release the game has led to a series that has had 5 main-line sequels, 1 prequel and 5 spin-off titles; and now, after twelve years, it sees a complete remake in shape of Yakuza Kiwami.
One of the reasons why developers decide to a remake a game is to bring in brand new players, who never experienced the original game or the series, and polish up the original game’s presentation and mechanics to modern standards so that it is easier for contemporary gamers to give the game a try. This is certainly the case with Yakuza Kiwami as well.
Despite its popularity, Yakuza series has always been a franchise that appealed to relatively small and niche audience outside Japan. This is less a reflection of the quality of the games themselves, and more a result of localization issues and delays it has traditionally faced in the western markets.
That is why many video game players had difficulty finding original games during their relevance and many are apprehensive about getting into a franchise in its 5th or 6th iteration. The real question is whether Yakuza Kiwami is a good enough remake to allow these gamers to experience Yakuza without fear of being left-out of plot points or experiencing outdated graphics and game mechanics?
That is precisely the question this review seeks to answer. As a person who has never played any Yakuza games in the past, I will not be assessing how Kiwami compares to the original Yakuza game, but instead focus on how Yakuza Kiwami fares as a brand-new $30 PS4 game released in the context of modern game market.
For those not in the know, Yakuza Kiwami is a third-person action-adventure video game, with lots of brawling action and role-playing elements, set in an open-world environment of Kamurocho district in Tokyo Japan.
And while this open-world area is but a small fraction of the size of maps in modern action games like Shadow of Mordor and Batman Arkham series, Kamurocho is a much more realistically proportioned and densely populated than most free-roaming games out there.
Depicting the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, the segment of city depicted as the Kamurocho district has a lot of character; with each of its segments like the Hotel, Downtown and Red-light districts having their own visual flavor in shape of different buildings, landmarks, billboards, hoardings and neon-lit streets filled with hawkers of different kinds.
Each area is littered with its own streets, nooks and crannies with their own landmarks, shops, restaurants, clubs and amusement facilities; where players can buy items and equipment’s, eat dozens of dishes, as well as participate in mini-games that range from batting cages, bowling, pool and gambling to visiting karaoke bars and cabaret/host clubs.
As its name suggests, Yakuza is a game series about Japanese mafia. The narrative in Kiwami is less about the operational mechanics of the Japanese underworld and more about its social impact, the power struggles and relationships surrounding it.
Yakuza Kiwami follows the journey of Kazuma Kiryu as he returns to his old Yakuza stomping grounds and gets embroiled in a conspiracy that involves his old gang family associates and threatens the lives of the people he cares for.
The story is full of twists and turns that take a soap-opera approach to anime/mange-like sensibilities, while exploring personal themes of family, responsibilities and betrayal as well as social themes of Culture, Heritage and Society.
The always scowling, almost stoic character of Kiryu, betrays his good heart that compels him to help others in need, which ranges from his close friends affected by the events of the main story or the residents of Kamuchoro that connect with Kiryu through the litany of sub-stories present in the game.
The sub stories present in Yakuza Kiwami range from short missions dealing with con-artists and hoodlums to multi-stage tasks of helping someone out. However, despite the variety of subject matter, these tasks nearly always end up getting resolved through a brawl with a group of opponents.
While most of these plot devices involve humor that uses lots of Japanese stereotypes, however this is made less/non-offensive due to everything being portrayed in a more self-deprecating nature instead of misguidedly making fun of the culture and being told from a Japanese perspective, complete with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles.
Like all soaps the plots in Yakuza Kiwami have their share of ups and downs, tense encounters, corny bits, emotional and dramatic moments. Even though it often delves into subjects of homelessness, extortion and murder, the story almost never takes itself too seriously, and contains a lot of goofy and campy elements.
Nowhere is this campiness more evident than in the manner Kiwami portrays its main character’s rivalry with the charismatic and acentric Goro Majima, who routinely ambushes and challenges Kiryu to street fights that act as a skill based progression system to upgrade ‘Dragon of Dojima’ fighting style.
Gameplay-wise, the primary focus of Yakuza Kiwami is its hand-to-hand combat. Based on brawler styled gameplay, combat in Kiwami sees Kiryu utilize punches, kicks, evades, blocks, throws and knock-down attacks to battle one, three or even larger number of enemies at a time.
While most enemies can be defeated by sampling mashing buttons and performing easily executable combos, tougher enemies like gang leaders and bosses mix things up with some having quicker, more evasion based, harder to hit movesets and others use slow and powerful attacks that make them absorb damage and become hard to knockdown.
These fights require players to utilize 4 unique styles of combat that are PART OF Kiryu’s arsenal; these styles can be changed on the fly during battle, and are crucial to success in the later part of the game.
First on the list is the aforementioned ‘Dragon of Dojima” Style which is Kiryu’s signature moveset which is accompanied by a red aura, next, depicted by its blue aura, the Brawler Style is an all-round moveset that combines straightforward attacks with ability to doge and counter. Pink aura signals Rush Style, which provides a quick stepping, fast attacks and ability to stun enemies; and finally, accompanied by its yellow aura, the Beast Style allows for a lumbering but hard hitting moveset with powerful charging armored offense and auto weapon attacks.
All of these fighting styles also feature their upgrade tree, which can be used to level up Kiryu’s stats like health and power as well as increase his fighting capabilities which include additional moves, combos and special abilities for each fighting style.
Most of the skill upgrades in the available can be purchased with EXP, which the players can gain from doing different things including eating foods, playing mini-games as well as engaging in street brawls. The game throws loads of random battles at the players, which not only gives them ability to earn lots of experience but also opportunities to experiment and try out the new techniques and moves they unlock.
Experimenting with different skills and moves can be a very entertaining and engaging experience, however it can become a bit frustrating when the game starts throwing waves of armed enemies at the player.
Thankfully combat itself is fun. It has a very visceral feel to it that provides suitable amount of grit and impact to every punch. Moreover, the action stays at a smooth 60 frame per second on both PS4 and PS4Pro and the character models and animations accentuate feel of each fight.
Speaking of 60 fps, as a remake of an old PS2 game, Yakuza Kiwami does not seem to suffer any framerate drops, texture issues, pronounced loading times or other problems that plagued the games of PS2 era.
Yakuza Kiwami takes around 15-20 hours to complete the main story, but can take 40-50hrs to experience everything the game has to offer. The game is filled to the brim with side-missions, mini-games and fight tournaments, as well as loads of collectables including keys to lockers with prize items and trading cards for use in a quirky card based fighting game.
And while there is surely a lot to do in Kamurocho, new players should keep their expectations in check as Yakuza Kiwami definitely does not deliver the level of options or freedom to the player like modern sandbox franchises, and is he variety at hand is not in the vein of games like Far Cry, Just Cause and GTA series.
The game might also not appeal to those that expect a lot of combat variety. If the player doesn’t love Kiwami’s action game mechanics, the constant brawling required in the game can become quite repetitive, the frequency of random battles with gangs and goons can become annoying, and the unexpected mini-boss battles with Majima can become a chore.
Overall, Yakuza Kiwami is a very entertaining action oriented Japanese crime drama. It has an interesting story, engaging game mechanics and decent production values that make it a solid AA game that has more than enough polish and value to justify its $30 price tag.