Reed Pake ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When the original PS2 Yakuza game came stateside in 2006, North American audiences were introduced to the iconic Kazuma Kiryu, a hardboiled gangster with a heart of gold. Ever since, the franchise has gone on to garner a cult following outside of Japan due to the series’s compelling crime drama narratives, wacky side activities, and Kiryu’s complex character arc. Earlier this year, the series received a shot of adrenaline with the excellent Yakuza 0, prompting Sega to release Yakuza Kiwami, a complete and faithful remake of the original Yakuza title from 2006 running on the Yakuza: 0 engine. Thanks to a full graphical overhaul and some major gameplay tweaks, Kiwami breathes new life into the PS2 original and is the best way to experience this chapter in the Yakuza saga.
For the uninitiated, Yakuza Kiwami is an action-adventure game set in the fictional Tokyo financial district Kamurocho. After spending ten years in prison, paying time for a murder he didn’t commit, Kiryu returns to his old stomping grounds to find that the world he once knew has completely changed during his absence. The story is an engaging crime drama with tons of twists-and-turns to keep you engaged. It is definitely worth playing Yakuza 0 before this one to see how the characters mature over the span of the two games. Nishiki, Kiryu’s best friend, has a particularly compelling arc that has a stronger impact if you’ve played the prequel.
Players spend most of their time exploring Kamurocho’s rain-slicked streets, and pummeling thugs in street brawls. The combat in Yakuza Kiwami is very similar to the refined fighting seen in Yakuza 0. Kiryu beats up his foes with four devastating fighting styles that are all unique enough to keep combat feeling fresh. After every brawl, Kiryu earns experience points that can help level up his fighting abilities. Unfortunately for newcomers, the game does expect you to have played Yakuza 0, as Kiwami does not have an in-depth tutorial explaining the nuances of each fighting style like 0 did. Thankfully, Kiwami’s combat is very easy to get the hang of, but it may take some practice to completely master.
Outside of fighting, Kiwami and its district of Kamurocho are packed with a variety of diversions. The Yakuza games are known for their mini-games and Kiwami is no exception. Players can spend their time bowling, playing darts, singing karaoke and more. Although the mini-games are amusing and sometimes even hilarious, Kiwami’s silly and often heartfelt side-quests, known as “substories,” are even more memorable. These mini-episodes range from finding medical assistance for a young child in critical condition to delivering toilet paper to man in distress in a public restroom. Funny, moving, and, sometimes, downright bizarre, substories flesh out Kiryu’s character by displaying how he responds to a variety of situations.
Kiryu’s flamboyant and insane rival, Goro Majima, also shows up to challenge the player in mini-boss fights randomly throughout Kamurocho. These zany encounters are fun at first, but quickly become tiring as they tend to grow same-y after a while.
Kiwami’s melodramatic crime story and wacky side-quests blend together to create an experience that players won’t find anywhere else. If Yakuza 0 was your first foray into this brilliant series and you want more, this $30 remake is more than worth your time.
You can also read our review of Yakuza 0 here.