Yakuza Kiwami is a crime/action-RPG set in Japan which follows the exploits of fallen yakuza lieutenant advisor Kiryu Kazuma and is a remake of Yakuza, a PlayStation 2 game released in 2005 in Japan and 2006 worldwide. Published by Sega, and distributed by Sega of America, this is the second release of the “10th Anniversary Project” to come to the US and is exclusive to the PlayStation 4.
The Yakuza series has always been story driven, and this game is no exception, cutscenes can run longer than one might expect but these scenes are necessary for building the world of the game and developing the characters that inhabit it. They also add a lot to the pacing of the game, especially with some new scenes added to this remake, which is consistent with the acting of most yakuza based films (as a matter of fact, the original Yakuza was adapted into the fantastic film Like a Dragon directed by Takeshi Miike). Periods of quiet and dialogue are followed by intense bouts of violence, in the game, these take the form of beat-em-up style matches in which Kiryu fights anyone that gets in his way.
As for the story itself, it’s one best experienced when knowing as little as possible but the basics are as follows: In 1995, yakuza lieutenant advisor Kiryu Kazuma is arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. In 2005 he gets paroled and reenters the yakuza underworld which is in disarray after the disappearance of ten billion yen. For the most part, the story plays out in an open world which occasionally has areas gated off during story missions. However, that said, Yakuza Kiwami is not “Japanese Grand Theft Auto” but rather a unique combination of elements from various genres, such as beat-em-ups, role playing games, and open world action games.
An immense amount of freedom is given regarding fighting too, with four available styles for the player to choose from and cycle through. Those four methods are Beast, which is a heavy hitting but slower style, Rush, which is quick both in terms of dodging and hitting but does less damage, Brawler, which is a more balanced mode, and Dragon, which is Kiryu’s signature style. Each style has its pros and cons and a unique set of Heat moves which can be pulled off during certain fights. The Heat system is essentially the equivalent of a meter seen in most fighting games; once it’s filled, Kiryu can perform a special move that does a significant amount of damage.
Each fighting style (with the exception of Dragon style), the Heat gage, and Kiryu himself can be upgraded, via a menu option, once Kiryu has gained enough experience points. Dragon form is only upgradeable by fighting and beating Majima during the new “Majima Everywhere” events in which Goro Majima, a rival of sorts to Kiryu, will surprise and challenge the player to a fight.
Substories are also prominent here, as they were in previous Yakuza titles, and usually, involve helping people that can be found roaming the streets. These side stories have more humor to them than the main narrative and usually only take a few minutes to complete. There are distractions which allow the player to play short mini games such as a batting cage game, Pocket Car racing, and UFO Catcher style crane games as well as various casino games (some of which can be found in an underground casino).
Unlike the original Yakuza, this remake does not feature English voice acting, retaining the original Japanese audio track with subtitles. Most of HUD has been redesigned from its somewhat blocky version seen in the PS2 original into a more streamlined version similar to what was seen in Yakuza Zero. Likewise, couple characters, including Reina a bar owning friend of Kiryu, have been redesigned to fit the look of the game better and these are good changes. Visually, Kiwami looks vastly superior to that of its 2005/2006 counterpart as it should be, and runs at 1080p at a stable 60 frames per second. One of the minor negatives is that, while the main characters are highly detailed, some of the non-player characters look a little plain sometimes, as they lack the same amount of detail. And, of course, if you’re someone who doesn’t like to read subtitles or lengthy dialogue boxes, this is probably not something you’d like.
With both a digital, stander physical and steel book release, each $29.99, Yakuza Kiwami is a great deal for fans of the series and a great place to start for those trying to get into the series or those willing to try something unique and different.