Yakuza finally managed to gain some traction in the west earlier this year when Yakuza 0 launched for the PS4 and won a lot of hearts. And it makes sense, too- these games are quirky, charming, and weird in the best sorts of ways, backed with some incredibly high production values, and some compelling gameplay and arresting narratives. Yakuza 0 just happened to be the first time most people got exposed to the series’ penchant for high quality experiences.
Now, less than a year later, Yakuza Kiwami launches. It’s a pretty natural follow up to Yakuza 0– as a full fledged remake of the original Yakuza game, it basically chronologically continues the story from that game. And what a story it is- while the original Yakuza game was pretty rough in terms of how it played, its now classic story of Kiryu, who ends up being arrested for a murder he did not commit to protect his friend, and returns 10 years later to find that friend, and the Tojo clan that he worked for, in disarray, has been redone here, and it is every bit as captivating as it was in the original game. The story of the game will take you through many twists, turns, and weaves, as it delivers a yarn that ends up in places you may not have expected from the setup. The story will never win any awards, but it is a hugely satisfying crime drama, and will endear itself to newcomers and series fans alike.
That story is the immediate impetus to keep playing the game once you start (and indeed, it is hard to stop once it gets its hooks in you), but it also helps that Yakuza Kiwami is incredibly fun to play. Part open world crime adventure, part RPG, and part 3D brawler, the game puts you in an authentic recreation of Tokyo, where you’ll end up running around, gathering information, participating in fun minigames and side activities with quintessentially Japanese flavor, and take part in fights and brawls- a lot of fights and brawls, in fact.
"That story is the immediate impetus to keep playing the game once you start (and indeed, it is hard to stop once it gets its hooks in you), but it also helps that Yakuza Kiwami is incredibly fun to play."
The core gameplay loop in Yakuza comes down to the fighting- you brawl just about everyone who as much as looks at you funny (or who thinks you looked at them funny), and you take them on with nothing but your fists (and whatever else you can get your hands on). The fighting system is fast, and just nuanced enough to allow for variation and depth- there are multiple styles you can switch between on the fly, tending towards speed or raw strength, there are ultimate moves you can unleash, there are QTEs and prompts, context and environment sensitive moves to pull off, and more.
Your prowess in battle gets you CP, which in turn you can use to unlock more abilities for Kiryu, and make him more proficient and accomplished in battle. You also end up in multiple fights with a former mentor meets rival, who helps unlock more abilities for your character with each ‘test’, by helping you remember your former strength before you got imprisoned.
Combat itself feels satisfying, even though, as mentioned before, it has the minimum amount of depth- generally speaking, it is fast enough that it never wears you out, in spite of just how much of it there seems to be in the game. But truly, the reason that Yakuza will keep you engaged will not be because of the combat, but it will be because of its stronger narrative, and because of its intrinsically Japanese sensibilities, which extend to the game’s world and characters, and the atmosphere that it weaves, that drips with Japanese authenticity.
Much like Yakuza 0 and Persona 5 earlier this year (both also Sega games, amusingly enough), you can just lose hours walking around in the game’s recreation of 2005 Tokyo, listening to the NPC chatter, taking in the period perfect technology, vehicles, and fashion, and just generally enjoying the game as a great form of virtual tourism. The game’s setting is the perfect backdrop for the dramatic story that unfolds, and the story and the setting share a synergetic symbiosis, each benefitting from the other.
"Much like Yakuza 0 and Persona 5 earlier this year (both also Sega games, amusingly enough), you can just lose hours walking around in the game’s recreation of 2005 Tokyo, listening to the NPC chatter, taking in the period perfect technology, vehicles, and fashion, and just generally enjoying the game as a great form of virtual tourism."
The setting is also brought to life by great all around production values. In Japan, Yakuza Kiwami was actually a cross gen game, also on the PS3 (though only the PS4 version was localized), and those last gen roots do show in this game- it looks great in general, but sometimes, the textures are rough, and in general, the geometry and lighting doesn’t have the complexity you can expect from a PS4 game. That said, the game manages to look good thanks to a really cohesive artstyle.
Those graphics are backed by some excellent music (especially for the action sequences, where the music can get your pulse racing), as well as incredible voice acting, which is possibly the strongest part of the overall package. Yakuza Kiwami does not have an English dub, but the sheer quality of the Japanese voice work manages to work far better than a dub would have. The English translation, which appears as subtitles, is sharp, witty, and never seems to be at odds with the anatomy of a scene.
Yakuza Kiwami is an incredibly strong action game, with a compelling story, tons of side quests and activities, an authentic atmosphere that drips charm, arresting characterization, great production values, and kinetic gameplay. For fans of the series, the game is like a loveletter, taking Kiryu’s first story, and reimagining it with modern sensibilities. For newcomers, this game represents the best place to jump in- it’s a far better product than Yakuza 0, which was great in and of itself to begin with, and at just $30 new, there’s not much reason to hesitate anyway.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
A strong, cohesive art style, with an arresting story, captivating characters, great music, and superlative voice acting; dripping with charm and atmosphere.
The graphics are rough, the combat lacks nuance given how much of it there is in the game.
For fans of the series, the game is like a loveletter, taking Kiryu's first story, and reimagining it with modern sensibilities. For newcomers, this game represents the best place to jump in- it's a far better product than Yakuza 0, which was great in and of itself to begin with.
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