The Video Gamer’s Experience – Yakuza Kiwami Review

My introduction and eventual fandom for the “Yakuza” (or “Ryū ga Gotoku” as it’s known as in Japan) series is a saddening reminder just how influential brick & mortar video stores were to my gaming habit. In 2006, I just decided to rent a game for the next few days, but had no idea what was available that I hadn’t played yet as my primary gaming console was still the Playstation 2 – a console whose new releases were drying up thanks to its successor about to hit the market. Walking through the aisle one game cover caught my eye that I hadn’t seen before – “Yakuza”. I didn’t even bother reading the back cover and just gave it a shot. To my surprise, “Yakuza” felt like a 3D side-scroller beat-em-up featuring a fantastic story and pretty enjoyable dub. I poured a great amount of hours into “Yakuza” before seeing the epic ending. Two years later saw the western release of “Yakuza 2” and forced me to pull out my semi-retired Playstation 2 to play through another fantastic entry in this underrated franchise. While there were arguable quality dips during the Playstation 3 era (consisting of three mainline games and a spin-off), my hopes were incredibly high for the next “Yakuza” game that took things back to the series’ unseen beginnings featuring two of the franchise’s most pivotal characters, “Yakuza 0”. My expectations paid off in grand fashion and I found myself even more excited over the remake of my original “Yakuza” experience utilizing the “0’s” engine, “Yakuza Kiwami”.


Did I Complete “Yakuza Kiwami”


Having essentially played this game over a decade ago (and its sequels), I definitely knew what I was in for in regards to the qualifications to succeed in total completion. Thankfully instead of being just a visual remaster, “Kiwami” gives the player more than anyone could’ve envisioned the game could handle on the PS2 thanks to the ideas from its sequels (and predecessors to “Kiwami”) including mini-games, co-op modes, and even additions to the story through thoughtfully crafted extra cutscenes and substories. After nearly fifty hours I witnessed the credits roll and the information that I had completed nearly seventy percent of the game including all the substories and a special design addition exclusive to “Kiwami”, “Majima Everywhere”. Like “0”, my playtime with “Yakuza Kiwami” is slowly coming to an end as playing “Climax Battles” (a mode where the player fights enemies under various limitations or stipulations), and buying stuff for a little orphan girl just doesn’t have the same flair without a real story keep things interesting.


Did “Yakuza Kiwami” Live Up to the Hype?


As noted above, having been a fan of the franchise for over a decade, my expectations of what was to come from this latest iteration were not only high, but to a certain extent reasonable thanks to the greatness of the original game “Kiwami” is crafted after and the engine that powered it’s most recent predecessor. And one of the main reasons for “Yakuza Kiwama’s” success as another mostly fantastic offering from Sega is its story. Not only does “Kiwami” perfectly retell the story from “Yakuza”, it also adds sequences via cutscenes to expand on the plot that couldn’t be done until the lore started playing out more & more with each game that followed. “Yakuza Kiwami” picks up nearly ten (and eventual twenty) years after the happenings of “Yakuza 0” with the focus solely being on the franchise’s overpowered poster boy and lead protagonist throughout every game (essentially the equivalent of Goku in the “Dragon Ball” universe), Kazuma Kiryu. The fifteen-hour main story starts off with a bang (literally), yet settles into an intriguing narrative of love, corruption through power, abandonment, and revenge mostly thanks to the introduction of a little girl searching for her mother, Haruka. With the PS2 being so limited during “Yakuza’s” creation and the end result of “Kiwami”, it’s amazing to see just how much of an emotional story they packed into such a small package compared to the works seen nowadays without a series of extensive cutscenes (it only gets cutscene heavy during the very end) and long-winded talking sessions between characters.



The gameplay is both mostly unchanged and incredibly different from what was seen in the original. Kiryu can mix light and strong strikes with the touching of the square and triangle buttons in a timed sequence, grab and potentially toss opponents courtesy of the circle button, and evade with the X/cross button. Kazuma can block attacks and even counter with well-timed attack button presses. With each successful attack dished out by the main character, the “Heat Meter” located under the protagonist’s health bar will rise so the player can unleash a brutal “Heat Action” that can range from a series of body punches to pro wrestling style attacks including a suplex across a steel traffic rail. Beyond the fundamentals are the drastic changes to fight styles implemented from “0”. For those who played the previous games, the innate sense in regards to how Kiryu plays is completely wrecked when one is introduced to the fact Kazuma has four different fighting styles that forces the player to switch things up from battle to battle with the touch of the d-pad when the fists, feet and weapons start flying.

Kiryu’s styles include one based around counterstrikes (“Brawler”), a fast-paced, low-powered kick boxer style relying on evasion (“Rush”), the heavy hitting, weapon-based, yet unwieldy & slow third style (“Beast”), and the style that is essentially the same one from every previous “Yakuza” game (“Dragon of Dojima”). In every previous “Yakuza” game until “0” the player would quickly become accustomed to each character having one way of fighting and adapt to that style. In “Kiwami”, the player must adapt to the fight and plan what abilities will help the Kiryu in the long run. Unlike “0”, money isn’t the basis of battle style evolution as experience points return – being awarded following every successful fight or substory – yet the Kiryu doesn’t feel as underpowered a fighter in “Kiwami” from the start like he did in “0”. But that doesn’t mean his abilities aren’t useful.



The game’s biggest addition to set it apart from any other game in the franchise is definitely “Majima Everywhere”. Kazuma’s fellow protagonist in “0”, Goro Majima, moves back into his antagonist role that made him one of the franchise’s most pivotal characters. But rather than simply being relegated to a couple of battles and stupendous cutscenes like in the original version, Goro spends a majority of the game hounding Kiryu by chasing him and forcing him into (mostly) random fights. Each successful fight sees a ranking meter fill up that usually leads to a memorable battle featuring Majima donning random personas including a zombie or a break dancer when the meter is full. The Majima fights are essentially this game’s version of the “Mr. Shakedown” confrontations from “Yakuza 0”, just without the loss of grand amounts of money if Kiryu suffers defeat. The rewards for besting Majima are all connected to the Dragon of Dojima fighting style as completing “Majima Everywhere” (as well as series of training substories) can grant Kiryu some of the strongest maneuvers in the game. While “Majima Everywhere” is beneficial to the gameplay, it does get a little too long-winded & annoying around the time you reach “S-Rank” (which is two ranks below completion).



As per the norm, “Yakuza Kiwami” is chock full of stuff to do outside of the main story including nearly eighty substories that can feature everything from Kiryu fighting a shotgun-wielding man in drag, to chatting it up with cabaret girls, to playing pocket racing featuring the same level of customization as “0’s” pocket circuit racing without the randomly generated parts collecting. Even some of the poorly-implemented mini-games from “0” like betting on girls wrestling in bikinis is redone to provide a quicker, more satisfying experience featuring a card collecting mini-game within the mini-game. Plus, with every mini-game playing a part in the 100% completion checklist the game demands completionists to try out everything (and, at times, be really good in the process). Outside of the main game are several modes for single players and online aficionados with the latter based around the mini-games and the prior focusing on combat, but don’t feel extraordinary or memorable unlike the main game.



While “Yakuza Kiwami” does have some problems (the lacking graphics thanks to the “0” engine and a head-scratching addition to the battle system where bosses can recharge their health until they’re either satisfied or Kiryu uses a “Heat Action” to stop them), the overall experience is something to behold considering it’s simply a remake using the same engine of a game that hit western shores less than a year ago.


Should You Play “Yakuza Kiwami”?


Like its successors and predecessors alike, “Yakuza Kiwami” proves to be a genre bending experience – part beat-em-up, part RPG, part party game that, while somewhat overwhelming thanks to the various amounts of things the player can do without progressing the story, still feels tight and not bloated to the point of exhaustion (even more so than “0”). Fully immersing oneself in the world of “Yakuza Kiwami” can bring forth a wealth of different experiences both negative and positive, but the overall feeling is nothing short of satisfaction thanks to a memorable narrative, more mini-games and substories found here than in the original version, and a battle system taking advantage of what “0” did right when trying to innovate while keeping the foundation solid. Being half the price of a typical video game release just makes “Kiwami” that much sweeter of a deal. If you enjoyed the original PS2 version or “0”, “Kiwami” will prove to be incredibly satisfying as well. “Kiwami” definitely gives players a taste of the enormity that would become the franchise’s norm without sacrificing the overall experience due to hardware limitations like “Yakuza” did in 2005.


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