Yakuza Kiwami review: Where it all began

Reviews
7

Good

Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.

Following on from the recent Yakuza 0, a prequel to the existing series of games, we now find ourselves right back at square one with Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the very first Yakuza game that first appeared on PS2 back in 2006.

Using the same engine and visual updates of Yakuza 0, Kiwami is a full-blown overhaul of the first game in the series, once again telling the story of Kazuma Kiryu and his rise to become the one and only Dragon of Dojima.

Mostly by way of kicking.

If you missed the game the first time around, or you’re new to the Yakuza series in general, this is a game packed full of Japanese gang violence and politics, wrapped up in an open-world action RPG that features a very heavy focus on martial arts combat. Basically, it’s GTA without the cars and guns, and with a typically Japanese twist and quirky style.

Set in the series’ constant central haunt of Kamurocho, a fictionalised recreation of the real Kabukicho in Tokyo, Kiwami retells the original game’s story, considered by a vast majority of fans as the series’ best. It sees the fall, and eventual rise, of the series’ main protagonist as he becomes embroiled in a complex plot deep within the Tojo clan, one of the largest organised crime syndicates in the country.

The furrowed brow of a man deep in a complex plot.

The writing and direction of this hard boiled crime story is among some of the best you’ll see in gaming, and it’s a testament to the quality of it that it returns after all of these years and sequels, and still remains as good as it always was. It’s also one of the most focused stories of the series, dealing solely with Kiryu as the main character whereas many sequels, as well as the prequel, focus on multiple characters.

In terms of the game itself, Kiwami looks and plays identically to Yakuza 0 as it uses the same engine. The combat is still as solid, if again bordering on repetitious due to the amount of combat in the game and sparse move set. Even with the games multiple styles, all of which are great, don’t get me wrong, it’s to easy to simply button mash or rely on the same handful of basic moves to get you through the game, even on the highest difficulty.

The upgrade system returns to an EXP-focused model, rather than using 0’s cash-based system, and although there are some essential upgrades, such as more health, attack power, and a couple of useful moves, truthfully, you’re basically well equipped enough from the beginning to tackle most things.

And look mighty snappy while doing it.

An exception to this, however, is Kiryu’s own ‘Dragon’ fighting style. Due to circumstances out of his control in the game’s opening, he soon becomes a little rusty, and loses his fighting skills. So, with the help of his ‘friend’, Goro Mishima, who forms the backbone of a major side quest, he has to train to get them back, restoring his skill and knowledge of his most powerful technique.

Other than this, much of the game’s core mechanics are as to be expected. Combat is the focus, but there’s a vast array of diversions, side stories, amusements, and other hidden mini games to find in the relativity small, but dense open world.

This is a place where exploration leads to rewards as you can find all sorts of extra content. Yakuza’s various side missions, or ‘substories’ offer a break from the main story’s serious drama, with these quests often courting the bizarre and comedic. They’re all fun, and often form some of the game’s best moments. Alongside these you’ll find all sorts of gaming venues, from arcades and gambling dens to RC racing tournaments and underground fighting arenas. There’s always something else to do, and although the region is heavily locked-down at the beginning of the game, it soon opens up and allows full free roaming exploration.

Although why you’d ever leave the model race car mode is beyond me.

What’s key here is the attention to detail put into every aspect of the game. This has always been a strength of the Yakuza games. Although other open world games, such as the aforementioned GTA, have always had additional mini game content and bonus missions, none have done them quite as well as Yakuza. Here, every mini game is almost a full game in itself. Take the pool game, for example. This is no simple, tacked-on extra. Instead the pool game is actually better than most actual pool games out there. The same could be said for other mini games. It’s impressive, and it all comes on top of the main game.

Of course, comparisons to other games in the series are inevitable, especially Yakuza 0. It’s here where some may find Kiwami to be a little lacking. Indeed, the game here is certainly on a smaller scale, doing away with multiple characters and locations. Whereas Yakuza 0 had not only Kamurocho, but also an equally-sized Sotenbori, Kiwami has only the main location to explore. Some of the more elaborate side missions of 0 have also been omitted, most notably the hostess club and property management features that offered hours of content on their own.

Some may find this off-putting after the size and scale of 0, but remember, this is a budget title, released to celebrate the series’ 10 year anniversary. In this regard, Kiwami succeeds in recreating a classic PS2 title for current hardware, and brings with it a rock solid and enjoyable open-world scrapper that has arguably the best story of the series.

Good

  • Strong story blessed with great writing and VO
  • Kamurocho is full of things to do and discover
  • Combat is meaty and fun, as always

Bad

  • Smaller in scale than its prequel
  • Combat still needs some work to make it more flexible and varied
  • The story opening is very restrictive, closing off a lot of content until later

Summary

As a fan of the Yakuza series from the start, playing the original game again on current hardware with a new engine is great. I'd argue that more work needed to be done to bring it in line with the technically superior prequel, but Kiwami achieves its goal, and that's to retell the original story with new tech. It manages this at a budget price, and if you've never played the original, this is a perfect time to start, especially as a remake of the second game has also been announced.

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7

Good

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