While Sega could have done a basic HD remaster of the original 2005 Yakuza game and gotten away with it, they thankfully did a great deal more with a full-on remake running at 1080p and a pretty solid 60fps. Yakuza Kiwami is a total hoot that, while packing in a few old-school problems, makes for quite a hilarious and always entertaining game experience.
From over the top (and none to complex, thank you) combat to plenty of mature content snipped from the earlier North American PS2 version or added specifically to this version, it’s just good to see this game hold up as well as it does and remain mostly a blast to play. “Mostly” gets a point here thanks to the camera getting wacky in tight places and a few instances where the older game’s plot wonkiness step into the update and keep a few elements a bit confusing. Overall, though – the game is makes for a really great time from its opening moments.
The story is a pretty complex one that starts off in 1995 with up and coming gangster Kazuma Kiryu killing arrested for killing his boss (he’s taking the fall for another character in order to protect him). After ten years, he’s set free and finds many changes have taken place including plenty of strife among the yakuza families fighting for power. There’s also the matter of a missing ten billion yen, a little girl looking for her missing mother and a whole lot of people out for Kazuma’s blood.
However, the “Dragon of Dojima” has lost his skills after his time in jail and while he can still fight fairly well, his main combat style has declined. Yakuza Kiwami actually goes a few extra miles by including the three fighting styles from Yakuza 0 while adding an absolutely crazy subplot that features one-eyed (and single-minded) nutso yakuza Goro Najima “assisting” Kazuma in recovering his Dragon style by popping up everywhere and challenging him to fight. This “Majima Everywhere” feature makes merely going from one spot to another during the game pretty darn tricky but a heck of a lot of fun.
Granted, you can easily beat him down provided you’re packing enough healing supplies or can take him out without taking much damage. But as the game also features more than enough street hoods, yakuza and other thugs coming at you on a regular basis, you’ll be noting the locations of nearby convenience stores and restaurants just to replenish health if you run into trouble. Actually, prepping for combat becomes second nature because you learn very soon that you’ll simply enjoy the combat more if you’re surviving. Yes, targeting is a bit whacked, sometimes you’ll take hits from enemies with firearms or throwing knives and (boo!) some bosses regenerate health if you aren’t laying the pressure on constantly. But overall, the fights are pretty enjoyable and even really funny at times.
There’s a lot to do here and the game revels in giving you so much to keep track of while mostly allowing you to go where you please. Some areas are blocked off in the early going and certain tasks can’t be attempted until the plot advances past a few main points. But once the leash is off, the game world is almost overwhelming despite not being as massive as say, a Rockstar game. You’ll get 78 side missions, casinos, hostess clubs and arcades to pop into for entertainment and more. The side missions actually start early on and while most take a few minutes to conclude, a few will stretch out a bit as certain people might need items you won’t acquire for some time without a guide or walk-through.
Then again, that’s the best way to play a game like this in my opinion. If you know where everything is at the get-go, the game will hold nothing but plot and Majima-related surprises. Boo to that crap. Half the fun is running around and running into trouble, beating the crap out of said trouble and moving on with some nice experience and some cash for your troubles. One of the great things here is the game doesn’t let you forget it’s a game despite the serious angle it takes with its main story.
The game does another interesting thing well in that you get a bunch of Japanese culture tossed in your lap and there’s none of the hand-wringing and odd censoring from days of old. It’s great to see this series finally become one of the more uniquely oddball franchises in its consistency at being so Japanese without tip-toeing around certain content. Want to date hostesses, warble at a karaoke joint or pop in at a seedy (non-nude) bikini club? Go right on ahead. Want to play as many videogames as you can at arcades (including a kooky card battle game for kids that involves scantily clad women), race HO-scale cars, play cards, billiards, and darts until your controller falls apart? Go for it.
The overall map is large enough to hold all those entertainment options, but not too large that you won’t find favorite shortcuts or taxis to shuttle you around if you’re that lazy. You’ll definitely want to explore on foot as much as you can as locker keys can be found that can get you some pretty awesome rewards. Even if some of the more obscure game options are tough to grasp, each mini-game or event is worth trying just to see how they’re played over there. Trying to “master” Shogi isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s a very fun game to try here.
There’s a LOT more to tackle here, but it’s a case of me only getting about 37 hours into a game with about 50 or so hours of gameplay. Hey, my schedule is nuts, but what I’ve played I’ve wholly enjoyed. That and I very much doubt the game will fall apart over the next few hours as I’ve played the PS2 original a few times and all despite flaws in that particular ointment, I loved it back in the day. Amusingly enough, with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life coming out in 2018 (the Japanese version has been out since last December), it seems Sega’s most mature series is finally finding a comfortable home as a worldwide hit.
Here’s a thought, though: can the still in progress Shenmue III even begin to capture what this series has done over the last few installments? I sure hope so, as for a few of us, each new Yakuza game makes for quite a compelling experience that’s more interesting that Ryu looking for sailors and driving a forklift. Given that Sega has wisely released Kiwami at a budget price point (even if you that beautiful Steelbook edition), this one’s another no-brainer must-buy as well as yet another solid PS4 exclusive.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review code provided by the publisher