Yakuza Kiwami Review
The Yakuza series, popular with fans in its native Japan since its debut title Yakuza was released there in 2005, has remained relatively obscure to players on this side of the Pacific. But that has started to change, largely due to the success of the recent Yakuza 0. Hoping to build on that momentum, SEGA has re-released the original Yakuza as Yakuza Kiwami (“Yakuza Extreme”), and what a treat it is. Much more than a simple “remaster,” Yakuza Kiwami is a complete remake from the ground up, with beautiful new visuals, voice acting, and added features that make this a wonderful new experience for Yakuza series fans.
Yakuza Kiwami’s approximately 20-hour main story picks up where its prequel Yakuza 0 left off. Kazuma Kiryu, after rising in the Tojo Clan enough to be offered his own family to lead, has everything come crashing down when he takes the blame for best friend Nishikiyama’s murder of his boss Sohei Dojima. After serving his time in prison, Kiryu returns to Kamurocho (a fictional district of Tokyo), in 2005 and immediately finds himself protecting the young orphan Haruka as she searches for her lost mother.
Just as it was back on the PS2, Yakuza Kiwami’s story is a thoroughly absorbing experience, thanks to the great writing and voice acting (in Japanese but with subtitles). Real-life crime novelist Hase Seishu helped craft the game’s original plot, and it shows in a gritty, realistic and emotionally impactful tale that could hold its own with the best classic Yakuza movies. This rebuild of the game using the Yakuza 0 engine also adds sumptuous new cutscenes, including 30 extra minutes, enhancing the presentation immensely from the original version. Running at 60 FPS and 1080p on the PS4 Pro, Yakuza Kiwami is a visually stunning game.
“…Yakuza Kiwami’s story is a thoroughly absorbing experience, thanks to the great writing and voice acting…”
As great as the story is, the presentation has the usual little Yakuza annoyances, unfortunately. There are still those parts where you are reading endless text-based conversations between static characters, so expect to be hitting the X button a lot. The wonky camera will drive you nuts, just like in previous Yakuza games. And you also have to endure another car chase scene that seems cut-and-pasted from Yakuza 0 – and feels just as tedious. But still, despite the minor flaws, overall I really enjoyed playing through Yakuza Kiwami’s story.
And then, there are the side quests – called “Substories.” Yakuza Kiwami has fewer of them – 78 – than Yakuza 0’s 100. But once again, they are a highlight of the game. While the main plot is a serious drama, the substories are a diverse assortment of vignettes that run the emotional gamut from humor to genuine pathos. In my play-through of Yakuza Kiwami, I did everything from saving a sick child to winning an RC car racing cup, and I found these smaller moments to be some of the game’s strongest. Oh, and let’s not forget, your old “friend” Goro Majima will frequently drop in to fight you out of the blue, in an ongoing series of encounters that makes “Majima Everywhere” feel like a substory in itself.
Aside from the main quest and the substories, Yakuza Kiwami has the huge open world that the series has become famous for. If you’ve never played a Yakuza game before, imagine something like GTA V, but smaller. You can eat at restaurants, sing karaoke, play video games at Club Sega, and even visit fully-functional Hostess Clubs like Jewel and Shine. There is also the Insect Queen card game, a version of Yakuza 0‘s Cat Fight mini-game. It might seem like a lot of the city is closed off at first, but this is actually not true – many of the interactive elements, including whole neighborhoods, are opened up as you complete the requisite game objectives. Go to the right place, at the right time, and say the right words, and you’ll discover back-room casinos, underground fighting arenas and more. Yakuza Kiwami is like a puzzle-box of mysteries and hidden secrets that truly encourages hours of exploration.
However, if you played Yakuza 0, it would be impossible not to compare the two games. In many of the game mechanics, just like with the visuals, Yakuza Kiwami looks pretty much identical to Yakuza 0. Fun and brutal street combat is still the meat-and-potatoes of the experience, and you still have 4 fighting styles to choose from, although you use EXP instead of cash to unlock upgrades (and the Dragon of Dojima style is upgraded by training and fighting Majima). There are still CP (Completion Points) awarded for doing various tasks, and you buy and equip weapons and armor in exactly the same way as you did in the previous game.
“Even if it can’t quite measure up to Yakuza 0’s near-perfection, Yakuza Kiwami is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience for series veterans and newcomers alike.”
Thus, Yakuza Kiwami feels very much like a second helping of Yakuza 0 – but there are a few differences. Yakuza 0’s world had, in a sense, double the size of Kiwami’s since it had Majima’s Sotenbori as well as Kamurocho. Kiwami is, unfortunately, also missing one of Yakuza 0’s most fun parts: the Real Estate Royale and Cabaret Club Czar side-quests, in which you got to build your real estate or cabaret club empires in fun and deep mini-games. I enjoyed these two parts of Yakuza 0 as much as the main quest – maybe even more – and I sunk many hours them. So it was a disappointment to see that they, or some equivalent to them, were not included in Yakuza Kiwami.
But even if it can’t quite measure up to Yakuza 0’s near-perfection, Yakuza Kiwami is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience for series veterans and newcomers alike. Whether you’re playing it as a sequel to Yakuza 0, or just want to see the original game in its newly-polished state, you’ll find it is packed with great stories, interesting diversions, and cool surprises – and all of that at $29.99 US. This series just keeps getting better and better, and with Yakuza 6 coming up in 2018, it’s a great time to be a Yakuza fan.
** A PS4 code was provided by the publisher **
- Gripping, well written main story
- Tons of great substories
- Big open world to explore
- No Real Estate Royale or Cabaret Club Czar
- One very irritating car chase sequence