Yakuza Kiwami is a more intimate experience than Yakuza 0 in the best way possible. The smaller-scale story works perfectly with the enthralling characters that inhabit the world of Yakuza, with Kiryu standing out as an exceptional main character. The gameplay, both in combat and in minigames, is varied enough to occupy you for hours on end.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
MonsterVine was provided with a PS4 code for review
Earlier this year, Yakuza 0 served as my first foray into Sega’s hyperviolent and incredibly silly fictional version of Japan. I was immediately enthralled, largely thanks to the fantastic characters and deep story that mixed serious themes with silly fun. I went into Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza, with high hopes, all of which were met and surpassed. To clarify, it is in no way necessary to play Yakuza 0 before Kiwami, as Yakuza 0 was made after the original Yakuza.
Yakuza Kiwami’s story is one that focuses on brotherhood and betrayal. After Yakuza 0, everything’s coming up Kiryu. Things are going well with the woman he loves, numerous members of the Kazama family look up to him, and he’s going to become the patriarch of his own family. When Nishikiyama, Kiryu’s brother in everything but blood, kills the head of their sect of the Yakuza, Kiryu takes the fall to protect Nishiki and his ailing sister. After a ten year stint in prison, Kiryu returns to a changed world. Nishiki, after a series of depressing events, is a darker and more cruel man, the chairman of the Tojo Yakuza Clan has died, and it seems like the world wants Kiryu dead. After taking in a lost orphan girl, Kiryu sets out to find answers. It’s a thrilling story from the beginning to the end that drags your emotions through the mud more than once. Characters die, friendships are made and shattered, and tears are shed. It’s rare for me to get truly emotionally invested in stories, but Yakuza Kiwami managed to grab me and never let go.
The major character change Yakuza Kiwami makes from Yakuza 0 is streamlining the story by making Kiryu the only playable character. Majima’s absence as a playable character isn’t a problem, however, as the plot’s focus on Kiryu would make such an addition jarring. Majima works even better in a supporting role, serving as a playful antagonist to the stern but caring Kazuma Kiryu. Jumping between being a silly annoyance and a genuine obstacle, Majima’s wacky demeanor keeps the story from getting too melancholy, but in a way that doesn’t betray the tone of the overall story. The addition of “Majima Everywhere”, a feature in which Majima can show up anywhere on the map to fight you, is both hilarious and helpful, as it provides some solid experience points and is a ton of silly fun.
“It’s a thrilling story from the beginning to the end that drags your emotions through the mud more than once.”
Speaking of which, Kiryu’s characterization in Kiwami greatly builds upon his Yakuza 0 personality, showing how Kiryu grows through the more tragic events of Kiwami. Kiryu’s struggles carry a real weight to them as he is forced to come to terms with how his brother has changed over the last decade, and how that’s only one of his many pressing issues. Kiryu’s growth as a character and as a person is a highlight of the game, and it cements him as one of my favorite video game protagonists of recent years.
The gameplay of Yakuza Kiwami is similar to other Yakuza games, primarily divided between playing minigames while roaming around Japan, and battling thugs and other enemies. Most of these street battles are optional, and easily avoided. The combat is the real focus of the game, with Kiwami having a near-identical system to Yakuza 0. While it could be viewed as derivative to have these systems feel so similar, it’s hardly an issue when the core combat is so solid that little change is required. Kiryu has four different fighting styles at his disposal, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The Rush style, for example, is fast and difficult to avoid, but its damage output and the inability to grab makes it less practical than the slightly slower but stronger Brawler style. Each style works best in certain conditions and can be switched mid-battle with the press of a button, successfully encouraging players to swap between them to experiment on different foes. It’s a system that is deep enough to be enjoyable for hours, without getting bogged down in extraneous mechanics.
The minigames are an essential part to any Yakuza title, and for the most part they’re as fun as ever. A number of card games and mahjong are all present, but I’m personally more of an “karaoke and arcade” kind of guy. Karaoke is glorious as expected, but unfortunately, the arcade only has the UFO Catcher claw machine, which is as fun and addictive as ever, and a new beetle-fighting game that is more or less a slightly altered version of the catfight minigame from Yakuza 0. While the included games are a lot of fun and a good way to gain more experience, I miss the ports of Space Harrier and Outrun, and the possibility of other Sega games being available was exciting to me. The minigames aren’t typically necessary for progression, but a bit more variety on the arcade front would have been ideal. The side-missions typically make up for it, as they range from breaking up scam rings to buying alcohol for drunk businessman out of pity. Side-missions are always a highlight of the series, so I’m happy to report that a great deal of them are littered around the world of Yakuza.
“While it could be viewed as derivative to have these systems feel so similar, it’s hardly an issue when the core combat is so solid that little change is required.”
Visually, Yakuza Kiwami is strong in most areas. The overall quality and detail is impressive, especially since the game was developed originally for the PS3 alongside the PS4. While this keeps it from looking as good as it possibly could, the graphics are still impressive, especially in the pre-rendered cutscenes. The in-game faces can still be kind of janky, but they’re fitting and subdued for the most part.
Kiwami has top quality voice acting and fitting music, typically delegated to being a background score. Outside of karaoke, the music isn’t overly memorable. It’s fitting when used and can greatly elevate a scene however, so the memorability isn’t a major issue. The voice acting is nothing short of excellent, with each actor giving it their all. It’s worth noting that there’s no English dub, and that the entire game is in Japanese with subtitles. Nonetheless, these performances really sell the emotions each character conveys, further elevating the stellar story.
The Final Word
Yakuza Kiwami is a polished and exceptionally fun game with a fantastic and moving storyline. Though there are some minor visual issues, they don’t take away from this absolutely extraordinary experience.
-MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great