Originally released in U.S. shores in 2006, the first Yakuza game took bits and pieces of what made Shenmue so successful to make a beat-em-up in 3D that remains faithful to a genre that Sega pretty much dominated in the Sega Genesis days.
More than a decade later, Yakuza Kiwami takes the exact same game and gives it an HD reworking along with nuances that kept the series relevant all these years, pretty much renewing it for players looking to revisit the series and finding new fans at the same time.
What Is It?
Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original 2006 game, adapting virtually all the features that made its prequel Yakuza 0 feel new, making it an ideal place to start for newcomers to the series.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Yakuza puts players in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu, a promising member of the yakuza who went soft after taking the blame for the murder of his head honcho by his own best friend. After serving a 10-year prison sentence, Kazuma finds that almost every dynamic of his life has changed. His family no longer has the respect it once had in the city streets, his clan finds itself missing over 10 billion yen, and his childhood friend Yumi has also gone missing amid his best friend’s turn to darkness. To add insult to injury, the skills he had that made him a fearsome force on the streets have all but deteriorated, reducing him to a washed up former street gangster.
Why Should I Care?
While the original was great in a myriad of ways, part of what made Yakuza a bit of an obscure title during its original release was the fact that it came out extremely late into the PlayStation 2’s lifespan. The Xbox 360 and Wii were severely outdoing the PlayStation 3 at the time, and with a lot third party western titles gaining steam on consoles, it wasn’t surprising to see Yakuza sort of get lost in the shuffle especially when people had already moved on to the next generation.
Those that did give the series the time of day found a solid action-adventure game with an over-the-top mature themed story that seemed to have taken a darker turn than the oft-compared Shenmue. Everything about Yakuza seemed much more mature themed, but it also had a similar quicktime event-based combat system that otherwise didn’t leave much fun to be had.
For what it’s worth, Yakuza Kiwami addresses this with the same system from Yakuza 0, giving players the freedom to switch to various different fighting styles including the brawler, rush, and beast styles. The brawler style is a solid, default, all-around style featuring a good mix of martial arts and speed, in addition to the use of various weapons you can find in the environment. The rush style features incredibly fast melee strikes, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of damage unless you’re fighting weaker opponents who receive every combo. Then there’s the beast style, which is as powerful as it is sluggish. There’s also the awesome Dragon of Dojima style, which is only available to you at the beginning to try out and near the end as that’s what all the training is for.
While adapting Yakuza 0‘s combat system was a welcome upgrade, the game’s overall style really starts to show its age when you’re around two hours in. Sure, it’s fun to grab motorcycles and hit people in the face with them, but it all starts to feel basic pretty quickly. To make matters worse, random gang fights in the city happen more often than I’d prefer, and made going back forth doing favors for random people to make the story move all the more trying. The only good thing aside from moving on is the fact that you get experience points for all the lame stuff they make you do. None of this is bad per se, especially since this was the kind of thing we were used to back in the day, but it’s something for which newcomers should be aware.
Much of the game is spent trying to re-acquire the skills that made Kazuma the feared Dragon of Dojima, and to help get him there faster you have to constantly fight series mainstay Goro Majima, a self-made rival to Kazuma who randomly appears sometimes as himself and other times as a police officer and a showgirl, among other things. While he unfortunately isn’t a playable character in Kiwami like he was in Yakuza 0, he still breathes a lot of fun lightheartedness into the rather dull hustle and bustle of the city.
Speaking of fun lightheartedness, the game is thankfully filled with a bunch of minigames that are both fun and ridiculous. There’s a dumb timing-based karaoke game, dizzying drunk darts, and a solid game of pool among other activities that make the usual favors and fetch quests much more bearable as you progress through the game’s main story.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
There are two kinds of players that Yakuza Kiwami should interest — existing Yakuza fans that want to give the first game a visit, and the gamers who’ve heard great things about Yakuza but never gave it a chance. When it comes to these two audiences, Sega hit it right out of the park with this remake especially with the game’s $30 price point.
Some fights in the game are clearly more endearing than others, but the modernization of the game’s combat system really gives the original game some much needed depth in gameplay–not to mention its dark story still being one of the best in the genre. It’s tough to say whether the retelling of Kazuma Kiryu’s story will bring Yakuza the mainstream relevance it’s really entitled to, but everybody involved knows exactly how great the game and series is, and this 15-hour adventure is the perfect place to start if you don’t–especially with Yakuza Kiwami 2 just getting announced.