Yakuza Kiwami Review – A Flawed Remake
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
Release: 29th August 2017
The Yakuza franchise is one of my favourite video game series of all time. Being introduced to it through Yakuza 3, I played almost every game. Unsurprisingly, I was very happy to see, how Sega begins to bring these great games to the west, once again. After Yakuza 0 was an outstanding experience, Yakuza Kiwami revives the original Yakuza 1, making it finally playable on modern hardware. Is the original always the best?
Once again, the game´s told from Kiryu´s perspective, who goes into jail for a murder his friend Nishikiyama committed. Yet, when Kiryu is finally free, he quickly learns, that nothing stayed the same during his ten years in prison. Be it Nishikiyama who betrayed the Kazama family or the disappearance of the Tojo´s clan ten billion yen and Kiryu´s precious Yumi.
Yakuza Kiwami continues where Yakuza 0 left of, telling a grim gangster story about friendship, betrayal and family. Even the first game, originally released in 2005, succeeds at telling a captivating plot around believable characters nowadays. Following the main storyline around Kiryu, a mysterious child and the different schemes between the Tojo Clan function as well as in every other Yakuza. However, most importantly, Yakuza Kiwami can achieve this masterful balance between dark, grim plot and funny moments or dialogues. Enhanced by the constantly referenced Yakuza 0, which already bonded us to the characters, Yakuza Kiwami can fully use its potential as the beginning of a great series.
Yet, without the previously created character attachment in Yakuza 0, a lot of side characters or even Majima, remain flat and one-sided. Overall, Kiwami isn´t a masterpiece of a story, some climaxes or twists are simply cliché-y or unspectacular compared to the modern games. It´s obvious at certain points, that they remade a 12 years old game, that marked the early beginning of an amazing series.
There are also some quite huge flaws to be found. On the one hand, it´s by far the most condensed game, offering an average playtime of around 15-20 hours. Compared to Yakuza 0, the plot unfolds much quicker and is paced far faster, than later games. Making it a perfect fit for unpatient players but lacking the depth of other Yakuza games. Sadly, it also suffers from some unnecessary side plots, implemented into the campaign for no particular reason. The events around an info broker´s son and his girlfriend were brought up for one hour and forgotten in the next, lacking any kind of real impact. For a such a “short” game, it always leaves a bitter side taste. Same with certain characters, that are introduced earlier on and almost forgotten in the end, only occurring to achieve a sentimental death.
Additionally, Yakuza Kiwami recycles a lot of Yakuza 0´s assets as well. The biggest example would be the open world itself, which is nearly the same as in Yakuza 0. Some buildings might be new but the most parts are nearly untouched, making it a far less interesting environment. Considering how often Kiwami references its predecessor in dialogues or side stories, the open world gameplay inevitable suffers, if you played 0. While the graphics still look as amazing as in Yakuza 0, it´s the same engine after all, and the overall presentation can still hold up to modern standards, the cheap reuse of assets gives Kiwami a unecessary “cheap” sidetone.
Especially, because the actual side stories and activities don´t need to hide from other entries. Offering 78 side stories ranging from a few minutes long dialogues, to engaging little plots. Enhanced by an overall funnier writing style, great surprises or just little trolls, side stories can give Yakuza Kiwami´s open world the illusion of a living city once again. Combined with the sheer amount of available free time activities, already known from Yakuza 0, like karaoke or hostess clubs, Kiwami leaves no wish open, except an interesting worlds for “veterans”.
The Majima Everywhere feature, one of the big new features of Kiwami, is yet another thing, that gives Kamurocho a whole new layer of believability. Every now and then Majima will show up, challenging us to a battle in either a rather “normal” way or in different costumes, making every appearance somewhat different. Particularly the ones hidden away in little set-ups were exceptional funny. Being invited to a drink by a nice woman only to find out that Majima will be our barkeeper was a great moment and Kiwami offers dozens of them.
Besides a guarantee for funny moments, Majima Everywhere is a rewarding unlocking system too. Compared to Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami features nearly the same combat system, only slightly enhanced. Featuring the three main styles, between we can switch freely, each with their own weakness and strength like the fast but weak Rush style and an easy to learn but hard to master combo system. Unique systems like the Heat gauge or different finishing moves always gave Yakuza a unique, fighter-like combat system. Topped by a giant skill system ranging from health boosts to whole new moves.
However, in contrast to Yakuza 0, Kiwami offers a whole new fourth style as well, called dragon, the fourth is by far the strongest and most versatile. Unfortunately, Kiryu lost its skill in it, after his ten years in prison, meaning the dragon style became basically useless. Only by fighting Majima it´s possible to regain previous moves and rebuilding the ultimate style to its proper form, Majima Everywhere is a skill tree in itself, if you will.
On top of all these new and old things, Yakuza Kiwami can even add a little new finisher system, called Kiwami moves. Certain bosses are now able to regenerate health when their health is low, making them vulnerable for special unlockable finisher moves, customized for each style. Dealing massive damage for consuming the complete Heat gauge they quickly become an essential part of the moveset and add up to the strategic layer behind Kiwami.
Yakuza Kiwami is a prime example of a remake because it doesn´t only port the game into a modern engine but adds everything the series accomplished so far. From the latest combat systems, to the new Majima Everywhere feature that caught the spirit of the Yakuza series in its very soul. It plays like any other modern Yakuza game.
On the other hand, the story draws heavily from Yakuza 0 nowadays, too flat and uncharacterized are the characters too live up to our modern expectations, making Yakuza 0 an almost necessity to experience Kiwami´s full potential. Combined with the heavy asset and world recycling of Kiwami, which presents already known places from 0 in nearly untouched ways, Kiwami constantly leaves somewhat of a bitter side taste. Besides these flaws, Yakuza Kiwami is still a damn fine game and shouldn´t be missed by anyone, even 12 years after its initial release.
[A Review Code was provided by Koch Media on behalf of Sega]