Some games are fun because of the warm fuzzy feelings they offer, others are are engaging thanks to tight refined mechanics, so what makes a Yakuza game fun?
Oh it’s all about the macheesmo. I kid you not, I could feel the hair on my chest growing each time Kazuma Kiryu spoke. His calm unwavering demeanor was the driving force behind my adventure to uncover the ever growing corruption within the organized crime world that he belongs to, and I feel a couple times manlier after experiencing it from his prospective. Kiryo is a protagonist with a very strong personality. He’s a straight shooter, very direct, but rarely rash. He never backs down from a fight no matter odds, and though he may be a member of the criminal underworld, he is a man of honor.
When we’re first introduced to him he’s on the verge of gaining his own Yakuza Family, a huge step for anyone in the Yakuza. However, through a series of unfortunate events involving his best friend Akira Nishikiyama, and the girl that he loves Yumi Sawamura, Kiryo gets sent to prison for 10 years. The game truly begins after a time-skip with the opening hour or so serving as tutorial. When kiryo released from prison he attempts to track down both Yumi, and Nishki; however, It’s been 10 years, and a lot has changed. Nishki has gained his own Yakuza family in that time, and Yumi has gone missing. With the help of an adorable little girl that appears to be Yumi’s niece, a close friend, a corrupt cop, and a few other unique characters, we begin to uncover the mystery of what happened during the time that Kiryu was behind bars. The more you learn the murkier it gets. This game’s plot is filled with lots of twist, darkness, and comical charm, especially when Majima is involved. Oh, and I know those three things don’t sound like they go well together, but somehow they do.
Plot aside, Yakuza Kiwami is an easy to grasp action beat-em-up placed in a modern Japanese style sandbox environment. Some people like to think of the Yakuza games as the Japanese GTA, but they’re not. Yakuza Kiwami, like the other games in this series are devoid of what makes a GTA game great. They’re great by their own means, with the only similarities being that they both belong to the same genre, and both have exceptional writing that create an almost believable setting. The city of Yakuza Kiwami consists of a very Urban environment made up of tall buildings, alleys, and tight crowded streets. This environment doesn’t allow for car thief, and chases like the aforementioned GTA games, it’s more direct. In Yakuza games you walk, and fight using your fists, and melee weapons like knives, bats, and other items in your environment. This close ranged combat makes Yakuza Kiwami feel much more like sleeping dogs, but with a lot more complexity, and style. This is achieved by the game’s leveling system and its accompanying skill tree that allows you to focus on how you’d like to make Kiryo fight. He has four fighting styles, and each has their own style, perks and flaws. What this means is that an enemy may be good at defending against kiryo’s brawler style, but may struggle against his rush style. Knowing how to fight each enemy, while making sure to do so stylishly for more XP is important. I came to understand this pretty soon after picking up the game, and augmented my play to match this style. Players who have played Yakuza 5 or Zero will get the hang of all of the fighting mechanics immediately, while newcomers will need to pay attention to the tutorials, and practice against the cities many little 3 person gangs littered in streets and alleyways.
As for when you’re not in combat, well that’s where this game gets weird, Japanese weird. The city is filled to the brim with activities to complete. These may involve playing mini games that simulate real life games like darts, or it could involve defending a hostess who is being harassed by some random thugs. What makes this all weird is that the way many of these side story elements occur is a direct contrast to the mostly serious tone of the main plot.
Graphically Yakuza Kiwami takes the world of the first Yakuza title, and remasters it for the PlayStation 4. The game looks great during the gameplay sections, and distinguishably better during the pre-rendered cutscenes. This is something that I noticed in both Yakuza 5 and Zero, and it’s the same for this entry. It’s not a deal breaker in anyway, but it is noticeable enough to get a mention.
As for the audio, well the voice acting is all Japanese with subs, and the music is very fitting for the scenes portrayed in the game. The city sounds as alive as it looks, and when partnered with the amazing Japanese voice acting, especially Kiryo’s voice actor. You get a compelling plot that will grip your attention from beginning to end.
When thinking of flaws for this title I can only remember a few minor ones. Like: the tutorial database not being as detailed as I’d prefer, and… hmm… I can’t think of anything else. Oh well…
I greatly enjoyed my time with Yakuza Kiwami as I did with its predecessors, and I strongly recommend it to fans of the Yakuza franchises, or the action sandbox genre. The story of the game can easily keep you invested for numerous hours, and that’s not counting the many side quest, and other random things Kiryo can get up to during the game. Yakuza Kiwami is a perfect recreation of the first game in the series, which leaves hope for other games in the franchise to also be lovingly remastered in the same way.
The copy of Yakuza Kiwami used for this review was provided to us by SEGA.