I wasn’t very familiar with the Yakuza franchise until recently, when I played Yakuza 0 for review. Taking place at the very start of the now seven game long series, I rather enjoyed it. However, I was a bit hesitant to return to the original Yakuza game, as it originally released in 2005 on the Playstation 2. Thankfully, SEGA has been cooking up a complete remake of the original game in the form of Yakuza Kiwami, a top down overhaul of the game that started the franchise. Although the graphics get a huge upgrade, and some modern tweaks are placed over the existing game play, it’s still a game from 2005. Does Yakuza Kiwami still offer as much fun and variety as Yakuza 0, or is it a disappointing return? Let’s travel to Kamurocho and see how we hold up.
The Criminal Underground
Yakuza Kiwami primarily follows the story of Kiryu, an established and feared member of the Yakuza. Although the main narrative deals with large ripples in multiple yakuza families, the game also focuses on Kiryu and his close friends. The game has an extensive cast of characters, all woven into a somewhat cohesive narrative. This all hinges on a mystery surrounding a young girl named Haruka, a childhood friend named Yumi, and 10 billion yen.
At times, the story is confusing, mainly due to the multiple crime families and amount of relevant characters. However, it also has a habit of getting a bit derailed. Some of the game’s 13 chapters can be redundant, or focus on content that I would personally delegate to a side mission. While not a huge deal, the game’s story is often told through extensive amounts of cut scenes and dialogue. This means that you might have to sit through a few chapters of uninteresting side stories, afraid to skip cut scenes in case the main plot pops in. Since there’s no English voice work, you’ll be doing quite a bit of reading as well. That’s right, Yakuza Kiwami is completely told through subtitles. This doesn’t bother me, but it’s a fact worth noting in case it matters to others.
The overall story is serviceable, albeit a bit predictable and overtly melodramatic at times. The characters stood out the most for me, and the side quests contained in the open world embraced these characters the most. The best part of Yakuza Kiwami‘s narrative content is often hidden in silly side missions, while are luckily just as plentiful as they are enjoyable.
Master of Combat
In addition to being a generally likeable guy, Kiryu also holds the nickname “The Dragon of Dojima”, earned by his proficient skill in beating people up. Much like Yakuza 0, you have four styles of fighting to choose from, and can switch on the fly. Weapons play a role as well, but the focus of combat is mastering these styles and upgrading your powers via skill trees.
The fighting feels both brutal and satisfying. In addition to knocking enemies around with extensive combos and unlocked moves, there’s notably violent special moves activated in a super-powered “Heat” mode. These feel really great, and reach comic book levels of violence (smashing someone with a whole motorcycle). The aforementioned four styles are also distinct in their feel. There’s the mobile Rush style, the well-rounded Brawler style, bulking and wild Beast style, and the Dragon style.
Extending Your Arsenal
As you fight and complete missions, you’ll gain experience which you can then spend on skill trees. Here, you can increase your health and attack power, learn new moves for your fighting styles, improve your special meter, and generally become a massively powerful fighter.
The Dragon fighting style is arguably the most unique, having its own dedicated skill tree. However, you cannot upgrade the Dragon fighting style using experience points. Instead, you have to battle the eccentric Yakuza member Mojima. He pops up throughout the story and while roaming the open world, with no other purpose than to fight Kiryu. I enjoyed the surprise appearances of Majima, mainly due to his wild personality, but eventually lost track of his sub plot. Unfortunately, this meant my Dragon fighting style stayed quite useless, and ultimately unused.
Content, Content, Content
Although Yakuza Kiwami is a much shorter game than Yakuza 0, it still carries a significant amount of content to play. The main story will organically introduce you to several aspects of Yakuza’s open world, but a lot of fun stuff is left to be found by those willing to explore. The map of Kamurocho isn’t very big, but it’s well populated with shops and locations to visit. There’s a wide variety of mini-games to take place in, and these are impressively complex as well. Play billiards, throw darts, race pocket cars, sing karaoke, visit a cabaret, go to an underground casino, and even visit an adult video store.
There’s reward beyond the experience though, as there’s a massive “completion list” as well, which rewards you points as you hit milestones in the game. Eat everything at a diner? Earn a point. Beat the puzzle challenges in the billiards mini-game? Earn a point. Defeat a certain amount of enemies with the Rush style? Earn a point. You get the idea. These points can be traded in for powerful armor and weapons, as well as boosts to your sprinting abilities and items that help you find collectibles.
Side Quest City
One of my favorite parts of Yakuza 0 was the “sub stories”; brief side quests that popped up organically or as I explored. These were often quirky, unexpected, and surprisingly well written in comparison to the melodrama of the main story. This sentiment rings true for Yakuza Kiwami as well, as some of the most memorable moments I had in my 30 hour adventure were in these small stories.
There’s 78 sub stories (at least from what I could see) to find and complete, and I stumbled across at least 25 of them while normally playing. As both a great distraction from the critical path and a smart incentive to encourage exploration, the sub stories remain my favorite part of the Yakuza franchise.
The Bottom Line on Yakuza Kiwami
Having never played the original Yakuza, it’s hard to comment on whether or not it’s a faithful recreation of the original. Regardless, it’s a lengthy, content-heavy experience that’s great for fans of the action adventure genre. Sure, it’s not as chaotic as Grand Theft Auto or Watch Dogs, but the Yakuza franchise separates itself with satisfying combat mechanics and endearing stories.
The beginning of the game is also a bit rough, and you don’t get true access to Kamurocho in entirety until the fourth chapter. They say patience is a virtue, though, because once Yakuza Kiwami opens up, it’s a great time and a rewarding experience. There’s well over 50 hours of content for completionists, as well as a New Game + and Free Roam mode that unlock after beating the main story. The game does a great job making you feel like you’re inhabiting a living world, and for a game from 2005, that’s a huge compliment. It’s weird, it’s violent, and it’s totally worth your time.