Yakuza Kiwami Review
The Man Who Never Lied
The funny thing about remasters is that there is always this lingering expectation that a developer is going to fix something. Sometimes you get remasters that rework a lot from the ground up, sometimes it’s mere graphical touch-ups, and then you have cases like Yakuza Kiwami where everything feels in-between. The original Yakuza is easily my least favourite game in the series, excluding Dead Souls, so it was interesting to go back and see how well it has aged. Unfortunately, even with the upgrades provided in Kiwami, it’s still a hard one to recommend.
Taking on the role of Kazuma Kiryu, players are introduced to the seedy underbelly of the Tojo Clan, the top dogs running the show in the neighbourhood of Kamurocho. Kiryu witnesses his best friend, Nishikiyama, murdering their boss in cold blood, and chooses to take the fall for his comrade’s action, spending ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. After serving his time, Kiryu returns to the streets only to find out he has been expelled from the clan, ten billion yen has gone missing, and the Chairman of the Tojo Clan has been murdered. Nishikiyama’s star has also been on the rise, and then there’s the question of the mysterious little girl who has a larger connection to all these events than even she can imagine.
Years later the story is still one of the better parts of the game, even if it has some holes in it. While it shows its age in some respects given the frequency Haruka, Kiryu’s adopted daughter, gets kidnapped borders on ridiculous, and some of the larger plot holes still go unresolved, it’s hard not to love the tone of Yakuza. It’s wacky and serious, but does both with finesse. There’s still certain twists and turns that remain some of the best parts of the game, and it’s fun to watch how all the different connections and relationships unfold in the grand scheme of the story. While not every plot point works, there’s something to be said about how compelling this soap opera truly is. Parts of the story, particularly the sections regarding Nishikiyama, have not aged well; having now viewed the game through a much clearer lens, his motivations as a villain are far shallower than I once realized.
It’s also wonderful that the game has such a great localization and doesn’t have the horrendous English dub that the PlayStation 2 version had. Having the original Japanese voice work brings back the authenticity of the series, and it’s noticeable how much love and care has gone into the localization and ensuring that the story makes sense given how convoluted the yakuza hierarchy system can seem. While the voice work is at its strongest in Kiwami, there’s not a lot of additional soundwork outside of the authentic sounding background noises that make Kamurocho come to life, and the forgettable ambient music in the background, which fits nicely during plot points, but adds very little.
Kiwami, for the most part, is a straight HD remaster. It is supposed to fix a lot of the original game’s problems including load times, frame rate, resolution, and texture problems, but it’s far from perfect. While it’s a noticeably cleaner looking game, there are still instances of frame rate and texture problems, particularly during combat sequences where objects constantly get stuck in walls or when Kiryu is holding large items next to other structures such as walls and buildings. The camera also still has some awkward moments, especially in narrow corridors, but these issues are not game-breaking. Some of the better additions include new story content that links Zero and Kiwami together, and it makes some clearer connections for later games in the series as well.
One aspect that is a major step up is that Kiwami has Yakuza Zero‘s combat system. During battles, Kiryu can simultaneously switch between four different styles of combat: Brawler, Rush, Beast, and the new style, Dragon. Kiryu can once again, through the process of smacking foes around, charge his Heat gauge in one of these styles to create some epic smackdowns. There’s also a ton of new Heat Actions introduced in Kiwami, each more violent than the last. Borrowing from Zero, enemies will emit a specific colour to indicate the type of combat style they are using, which makes it much easier to counter enemies with the correct combat style. Combat, regardless of which style is being used, is very fluid and refined, and it takes all the stiffness away from the original Yakuza. One addition from Zero that remains present here is that bosses can regenerate their health when they are charging up in a particular battle stance. It’s annoying, but easy to counter with extra beatings. If players find combat too easy or too difficult, the challenge level can be adjusted in the options.
Using experience points gained from combat, completing side-missions, and eating food, Kiryu can upgrade his Mind, Soul, and Body, which grants him more health, new combat skills, and other perks to keep him regulated and ready for battle. One of the pitfalls in this system, however, is how expensive purchasing new skills can be, and grinding for experience points becomes a must if players want some of the more expensive and usually useful new abilities.
Dragon style is unique to Kiwami and it cannot be upgraded by using experience points. Rather, the only way to upgrade this combat style is by beating up Majima. Repeatedly. Enter one of the newest additions to Kiwami: “Majima Everywhere.” Yes, it’s exactly as it sounds. Majima will appear, and every time Kiryu beats the snot out of him, more of his Dragon style is unlocked. Majima always appears at random, sometimes in a new costume or using a different style of combat which comes directly from Yakuza Zero. This addition is hilarious and silly, and beating on Majima, regardless of how repetitive it can get, is always a ton of fun.
Much like previous iterations in the series, Kiwami features tons of minigames and substories. The minigames continue to be a bone of contention as most of them still control horribly, while some like the crane game are still bizarrely fun to play. One new minigame included in Kiwami is MesuKing, an insect collecting card game where players send out sexy insect babes doing risqué poses to defeat other insect babes in a rock-paper-scissors style showdown. It’s dreadful and creepy, and thankfully players are only forced to play it once unless they continue the chain of substories related to it. Substories in Kiwami are good, but far less memorable than what was present in 5 or even Zero.
Yakuza Kiwami is a very modest remaster with very little new content. What is new is swell, but it’s nothing groundbreaking or even necessary. It’s more like nice little bonuses to a game that hasn’t entirely aged well story-wise and graphically. Still, it was nice to come back and see where the series started without all the rough edges of the original PlayStation 2 release. I will say that Kiwami made me love the first Yakuza a touch more than I did when I originally played it years ago. As a crazed fangirl for the series, even though Kiwami is a solid effort, it still doesn’t hold a candle to later games in the franchise.
Majima Everywhere is hilarious
Versatile combat system
Story is full of twists and turns...
...though it hasn't entirely aged well
Minigames are hit or miss
Not a lot of new content