By being able to revisit the original Yakuza game that started a brilliant series by remaking the entire game in the Kiwami Engine, allows for a new generation of gamers to see why Yakuza is such a beloved series. My own experience starts with Yakuza 3, a game that launched right around the time of Final Fantasy XIII, a game that took me away from many other games I was committed to at the time. Since that game, I’ve followed each release up to date (still bitter about Yakuza Black Panther on PSP not coming over!) and have been waiting to see how the series started.
Kiwami was remade in Yakuza 0’s game engine, which released earlier this year, and right away you notice how visually stunning Kamurocho is in, with the entire city coming alive. Visually, this is an identical game to 0, with updated character models, as well as the city getting an update. Kiwami stands for “extreme,” and features 30 minutes of new cutscenes to flesh out the story, and tying up plots from Yakuza 0, as well as new minigames, hostesses and more. This is also the first-time Yakuza features authentic voices, as the original release was in English on PlayStation 2.
The story behind Yakuza Kiwami picks up as a sequel to Yakuza 0, here, Kazuma Kiryu, the protagonist of the series, has been released from prison after taking the blame for a murder he did not commit. Returning to the world after a ten-year stint behind bars, he returns to an unfamiliar world, and here he must protect a young orphan named Haruka, who is searching for her mother. The story was groundbreaking in 2005, and while the series has evolved over the years, the story is dialed back compared to newer titles, and for the better I’d say. Spread out over 20-hours is a story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster, all thanks to the top-quality voice acting and superb writing. There is a gritty feeling to the story, which was co-written by famed true crime writer, Hase Seishu.
Bringing in features from prequel Yakuza 0, the developers incorporated the same fighting system found within 0, featuring the multiple fighting style system I grew to love in Yakuza 0. The battle system allows Kiryu to switch between Brawler, Beast, Rush, and Dragon. It is the same great battle system but with minor tweaks that I feel improve the gameplay. Combat has never felt better, been more violent and most importantly, been more satisfying to engage in.
Majima Everywhere is my favorite addition to the series, as starting and finishing this quest line grants Kiryu access to the Dragon fighting style. During your playthrough of Kiwami, Majima will randomly attack you throughout Kamurocho – he can be anyone and you wouldn’t expect it. Majima can be a school girl, a police officer, a taxi driver, and that’s only some of his disguises as he tests Kiryu’s abilities.
A big part of the success of the series is how well thought out the characters are. Protagonist Kiryu, for example, is caught up between two lives, his Yakuza lifestyle and the civilian lifestyle and thanks to meeting Haruka, you can see how hard this is on him. The writers have put together stories that ask the player to pay attention, a feat that is no easy task, more so with today’s culture, and this remake has helped expand on threads there were perhaps not explained enough in 2005.
Some issues that popped up include game design choices that stem from the original release – for example the opening hours are a drag (I can confirm this as a new player – it is definitely a drag) as well some flaws with the story structure jumping back and forth between the past and present seemingly out of nowhere, often causing confusion in regards as to what is happening in the story. With Sega reworking the established story, I’m confused as to why this wasn’t looked into, as this is a section that needed some work to line up with the superior sequels.
Sega understands the love Yakuza gets from gamers around the world, and the series deserves every bit of love for how well the series has been doing for 12 years now. With engaging stories, interesting characters, a city full of life, you can’t miss the game that spawned an iconic series like Yakuza. While not as good as other entries in the series, you’ll find gold with Yakuza Kiwami thanks to such good writing and characters that come alive.