Reviews// Yakuza Kiwami

Posted 31 Aug 2017 17:02 by
My introduction to the Yakuza series came with the release of Yakuza Zero earlier this year. Although the games had always intrigued me, especially as a fan of Shenmue, to my shame I had never played one before.

In a year that has seen the release of a surprisingly large number of excellent games, Yakuza Zero still stands out. As a prequel to the mainline series the game was intended to provide some background for the series main protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu and the unpredictable Goro Majima. As a newcomer the game expertly outlined the origins of these two characters and left me wanting more.

I found Goro's story, in particular, most satisfying as his experiences throughout the game drastically changed his character, turning him from a regular member of the Yakuza into something altogether different.

Kiryu's story, although perhaps a little less dramatic was also engaging and I enjoyed exploring 1980s Japan with the two characters tremendously. The game had so much to recommend it, a fascinating main story, engaging side stories that provided light relief, mini games that could easily have been expanded into games in their own right, and a well designed, although fictional, recreation of areas of Tokyo that provided an incredible sense of atmosphere.

I was slightly surprised that Sega had decided to return to the world of Yakuza so soon. Although I had finished the main game I still didn't feel entirely done with Zero. There was still so much to do and experience. Nevertheless, I was intrigued as to how Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the first release in the series would compare to the highly polished Zero.

Originally released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, the game was a commercial success in Japan and formed the basis for what has now become a series that has lasted for over ten years. The western release of the first game was, however, rather less successful.

Sega spent a great deal localising the game, including employing a voice cast of well-known actors in place of the games original Japanese cast. The result was not universally popular, with many fans bemoaning the lack of Japanese audio track in the final release, arguing that what made the series special was the way in which it allowed players to immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

Sega did not repeat such extensive localisation with later releases in the series and with Kiwami they have instead created a celebration of not just Yakuza but also of Japanese culture in a similar way to the recently released Yakuza Zero. However, whereas Zero had the benefit of drawing on design experiences from the entire series, Kiwami, as a remake feels rather more limited.

Visually the game is virtually identical to Yakuza Zero, making Kiwami feel a little like downloadable content rather than a full on new release.

However, such an appraisal would be rather unfair. Although the game certainly does not have the breadth of content as its immediate predecessor, there is still plenty to do. Rather than shifting between two characters, Kiwami instead focusses solely on Kiryu as he struggles to do what is right despite the unfortunate actions of his closest friends.

His story is far more engaging here than in the previous game and my initial concern, that he wouldn't be able to carry the whole game, was completely unfounded. By the story's conclusion I found myself thinking about his struggles when I wasn't even playing the game, although my desire to get a matching Dragon tattoo was severely criticised by wife.

The relationship he builds with Haruka, a young orphaned girl, was heartfelt without feeling tacky or emotionally manipulative. However, the supporting cast are perhaps less well fleshed out than its predecessor with characters largely existing to support Kiryu's story rather than feeling like people with their own tale to tell. It is for this reason that I felt less likely to go back to Kiwami after I had finished the main story, the world simply feels slightly less well realised.

Combat in Kiwami generally follows the same structure as in Zero, although experience points are now used to unlock new techniques and expand on heat abilities rather than the way that money was utilised before. As the game only focusses on one character the number of techniques and fighting styles is consequently a little more limited, although Kiryu is still able to change between brawler, rush and beast styles at will during fights.

In addition, by fighting with Goro Majima at specific points in the game more moves can be learned for Kiryu's 'dragon style.' Sadly this is the only time that Majima really features in the game and although this method of acquiring moves is interesting it does feel like rather a waste of his screen time.

Interactions between the rather straight-laced Kiryu and the seemingly insane, but principled, Majima are some of the strongest parts of the game, I just wish there had been more of them. Overall the combat is still extremely enjoyable, it is possible just to string together simple combos and succeed but unlocking higher tier techniques makes encounters with large groups of enemies extremely satisfying.

Yakuza Kiwami does not quite match the experience I had with Yakuza Zero, largely because, as a remake, the game does not have quite the same background to draw on as the prequel. Nevertheless it is still an excellent game in its own right and although lacking the depth of later games in the series I would still highly recommend it.

The speed at which Kiwami has been released following Zero and its visual similarity gives me hope that we may see other games in the series be given the same remake treatment. I would particularly like to see the PlayStation 3 games re-released as they received a rather limited run outside of Japan. Yakuza is a series that deserves an even wider audience and with releases like Kiwami I am sure that it will find an even larger and more devoted following.

Pros:
+ Engaging story.
+ Extremely atmospheric.
+ Satisfying combat.

Cons:
- Goro Majima is a bit part character.
- Supporting cast are rather two dimensional.
- Side stories lack diversity.

SPOnG Score: 8/10
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