31st Aug2017

‘Yakuza Kiwami’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail


For fans of the Yakuza series, things have been rather rosey lately. In Yakuza Zero (launched earlier this year) the series finally brought together complex fighting, interesting plot, visual appeal and lasting challenge in a package that appealed to gamers the world over. Enter Yakuza Kiwami, which clearly intends to build upon the success of Zero, and is effectively a complete rebuild of the original Yakuza game.

Yakuza Kiwami tells the tale of Kazuma Kiryu, lieutenant and leader-in-waiting of the Dojima clan, and it follows on pretty much immediately from where Zero left off. You don’t need to have played Zero to enjoy Kiwami, as this is after all a remake of the original game, but to have done so does make sense (from a story perspective) now that Zero exists. There are clear hooks between the two games, and the visual style that was perfected in Zero is used to great effect in enhancing Yakuza Kiwami. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on further remakes of Yakuza 2 and 3 following in the same style.

The game begins with a relatively gentle sequence of tutorial missions that also serve to show Kiryu’s relationship with various other people. His best friend Nishikiyama, love interest Yuna and rival/friend Majima Goro all feature, but there are also a range of Yakuza captains, enforcers and family heads to keep track of. I actually found this intro surprisingly palatable considering how badly many of these grand soap opera type games handle similar introductions.

It’s no spoiler for me to say that despite his promising career as a Yakuza lieutenant, Kiryu soon finds himself in prison for a crime he did not commit, and it will be ten years before he returns to the streets of Kamurocho where the game takes place. Much changes in this time, and with his friends either estranged or missing, the clan leaders up in arms over a large sum of missing money and turmoil on the streets, Kiryu’s story (and his fight to regain his position) begins.

Yakuza Kiwami is built around a semi open world structure which must have seemed impressive at the original release, but which is quite restrictive by GTA V standards. Players can explore more or less where they want, but Kiryu will often call a halt at certain junctions depending on how far the story has progressed. Similarly, there’s a clunkiness to the way the game world is made which means Kiryu can’t pass between objects like a traffic cone and a rubbish bag in order to run onto the street, meaning that there is a distinct early noughties feel to certain aspects of the game.

Thankfully, whilst these slightly archaic features remain, there are many modern upgrades that go above and beyond a graphical overhaul. For starters, Yakuza Kiwami uses the multiple-art fighting system that was perfected in Zero, meaning that Kiryu has access to fast, balanced and heavy fighting styles in addition to his trademark Dragon of Dojima moveset. Following his release from prison, Kiryu is weak and has forgotten many moves, and the game uses a feature called Majima Everywhere to allow him to retrain.

This basically involves being attacked – often when you least expect it – by Majima Goro. Goro is a strange and unpredictable man, and usually Kiryu must defeat him under some disadvantageous circumstance, but if he does, he’ll unlock new moves. This feature was never part of the original Yakuza, and it makes a welcome and interesting addition as part of Kiwami. Another welcome feature is the inclusion of complete dubs in either English or Japanese, with subtitles as needed. My preference was undoubtedly to use Japanese for a more authentic experience, but it’s nice to have the option. The game also features a selection of 2-player mini games, which is a strange but welcome new feature.

Undoubtedly the best reason to play Yakuza Kiwami is the story however, and it remains among the best in the series – after all, this is the game that kicked it all off and earned Yakuza a legion of hardcore fans in Japan, the US and Europe. The story is absolutely want you want from anything related to the Yakuza, and it features blood, sacrifice, betrayal and revenge, plus more than a few twists and turns. There are a lot of names to remember, but thankfully distinctive character designs mean that it remains easy to follow.

The combination of classic story combines perfectly with a thoughtful remake that not only looks fantastic, but also corrects almost all of the slightly clunky gameplay limitations of the original. Features like the expanded moveset and the Majima encounters change the pace, and there are still a myriad of interesting distractions to explore around Kiwami‘s bustling streets. Any fans of Yakuza simply must dive into Kiwami, whilst those who are unfamiliar with the series would do well to start with either Kiwami or Zero, with a view to grabbing the other if they like it. Yakuza Kiwami itself is excellent, with very few flaws, and as a budget release, it offers much better value than many AAA titles.

**** 4/5


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