I’ve never played a Yakuza game before, so when the opportunity appeared to review the remaster of the first game in the series, I jumped at the chance. I’ve heard countless recommendations concerning the zany humour of the series and the addicting combat, but I’ve never had the chance to actually sink my teeth into one. Expecting a quality action game, what I was met with really knocked me for six.
Yakuza Kiwami is a full remaster of Yakuza, a game that came out in 2005. Whilst you would expect that the developers might keep the same engine or assets and just polish them up, this isn’t the case here. The game has been fully built again in the Yakuza 0 engine. Whilst the core narrative and gameplay are similar, it has all of the fancy looks of Yakuza 0 and carries some of its new features.
I find this level of passion humbling and it’s awesome to see a real remake in wake of some shoddy remasters found in recent years. Looking up comparison videos on YouTube, you can see how much of a complete overhaul this is. Fans of the Yakuza series would be foolish to miss out on it if they enjoyed 0 and perhaps weren’t able (or old enough) to play the PS2 game when it came out all of those years ago, as this is easily the definitive experience, with 1080p 60FPS to boot!
In regards to the plot, you essentially play as Yakuza member Kazuma Kiryu, who takes the fall for his friend’s crimes, spending ten years in prison, only to realize that everything has changed when he gets out of the pokey. Life now categorically sucks for Kazuma. There are money troubles, and he needs to protect a young girl, among other clan tribulations.
Whilst the narrative certainly didn’t grab me or strike me as anything special, I didn’t feel like it needed to when you see what the game has got for you in the core feedback loops. The combat is so satisfying. Kiryu can switch between four weighted fighting styles that all result in a distinct encounter each time. Sometimes you’ll find another environment object to whomp thugs heads off of or deliver a gutting finishing move that gives you that swish adrenaline jolt.
Switching between ‘Rush’ and ‘Beast’ mode and becoming a maestro with each style led to an incredibly fun time even when some guys came to wail on me in the street.
There is an enormous upgrade system also, allowing you to tinker with Kiryu and turn him into a weapon of kick-ass destruction. You can choose to put points into defence or focus on your Dragon style, learning new moves to devastate opponents.
Whilst the combat is a highlight, I also found the world to be alluring and fun to explore. When you’re finally let loose in the city you can always find a side mission on nearly every street corner, ranging from exploitative couples to kids with insect cards. It’s zany and absurd, but it’s a ton of fun. You also upgrade your character using CP points by visiting a man with clown makeup on. For no real reason, honestly.
Speaking of the Insect kid, I stumbled upon a SEGA Cafe, which I believe is based on a real location in Tokyo. Once inside you can play on the UFO grabber, or take part in a very weird fighting game based on Rock, Paper, Scissors, where you pit scantily-clad women dressed as bugs to fight against each other. I don’t know either, but the dedication to the metagame in Kiwami is oddly strong. There are activities to do pretty much everywhere, and this is all inside a pretty strong narrative based action game, which is certainly admirable. You can even go start a romance at the host club if you want, too! Just make sure to wear your best cologne.
Majima Everywhere mode is also a new addition to the core Yakuza experience. Fan-favourite antagonist Goro Mijima appears out of nowhere during the game to whoop your ass and train one of your fighting styles. It’s actually bordering on scary the means by which this guy can enter your life. You probably think you’re safe just wandering but nope! Mijima can and will jump out of nowhere and test you when you’re least expecting it.
I found it especially funny that when I tried to leave a room without killing all enemies he was there to punish me for my actions. Class act.
The boss battles are also all pretty fun, and the characters are engaging. Most of all the visuals are really impressive. Textures are gorgeous and often resemble IRL Tokyo. The music is also there, nothing to blow you away but nothing bad by any stretch, just complimentary to the gameplay. I enjoyed how everything sounded akin to the opening theme of Tekken Tag Tournament during tense battles. True PS2 era synths.
Honestly, there’s a lot to love about Yakuza Kiwami. Fans of the original or the recent release of this iconic series will find awesome combat, a tight narrative and gorgeous visuals, with a bunch of absurd humour in the mix, just for kicks!
This copy of Yakuza Kiwami was provided by Koch Media PR on behalf of SEGA. Our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Oloman spent 13 hours pretending he was hard as nails and failing to get the Tails plushie.