It’s been a long time coming for fans of the Yakuza series. The series is big in Japan but in the west, it fails to meet the sales mark to the point where getting a localized release of a game was almost a dream. Yakuza 5 came out in 2012 but took years of outcry for it finally get localized in December of 2015. After that reveal at the PlayStation Experience in 2014, every year since has seen an announcement of a new Yakuza title being localized. With Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami both released in 2017 and Yakuza 6 being announced localization before it even released in Japan, we can just say things are looking up for this fantastic franchise.
Yakuza 0 was released on January 20th to a mostly positive reception by both fans and critics. Newcomers got to dive into the series with a well made prequel and fans got to go back to a time where Yakuza characters were in their prime before the downfall that is the original story. I played it back in 2015 and would tell you it ranks up with Yakuza Ishin being one of the best in the series. It was an amazing celebration of the 10th anniversary of the series and they had also announced they would do a remake of the very first game. What I seen was serviceable, they were clearly using the same engine as they used with Yakuza 0 butI figured it would be great as a nice two-part way for them to ease newcomers in as Yakuza 0 was the first Yakuza released in China. I played Yakuza Kiwami back in 2016 and the game is soon to be released on August 29, for $29.99. What you want to know is does it hold up as a great remake or are you just better off going for the original on PS2 instead?
The story in Kiwami is mostly unchanged from the original. You still play as Kazuma Kiryu but they did decide to add some additions such as what happened to Nishiki, Kiryu’s sworn brother, after Kiryu took the fall for killing the leader of the Dojima family landing him in jail for 10 years. None of it feels out of place really and the new scenes involving Nishiki’s original voice actor feels more raw than ever. The difference in the cut scenes from the original Yakuza to Kiwami are night and day but the main issue is that they retain the same animations from the very first game. In the first scene you meet Majima in they actually use a new scene to contextualize the a new system and the quality shift to a new and more smooth style and it just feels like it was slapped together. If you wanted a faithful remake then this is it.
You only are in Kamurocho in this game but one thing I always commend Yakuza for is having so much of their games take place predominately in this district but managing to make every experience unique. To many long time fans, this is the most basic form of Kamurocho but those diving in after Yakuza 0 may be intrigued by how much has changed since the 80’s. The town isn’t as green and much more industrial and while being really colorful with many unique lights, not as full of life like in the 80’s. This was after the Bubble Era so it makes sense historically. Now there still are some signs and businesses kept from then to now so if you are familiar with Kamurocho, it’ll be like coming back home. The substories from the original are back, some extended and some new additions which have you catching up with characters that were introduced from the prequel. A lot of the new ones are as entertaining as the standard of this series measures and some of the extended stories make them more impact to longtime fans. Pocket Racing is back and sports a new substory to go with it. The underground fighting ring has been moved to a arcade version in Club Sega but it’s the only arcades available besides the UFO Catcher, which is pretty disappointing. Visuals here are obviously much more enhanced while running at an unlocked 60fps though there are some weird pop in such as the trees when you go down Nakamichi St and some slight drops. I wouldn’t be that upset about it but really this is the most basic form of Kamurocho and I really just expected it to be flawless since they been using this city and engine for a long time now.
Kiryu has all his moves from Yakuza 0 with some new Heat actions but now he starts out with a more expanded upon Dragon of Dojima style which was an unlockable style in Yakuza 0 right out the gate. You lose all the essential moves after the starting level similar to Metroid to give the player the sense of how a prime fighter would be after locked up for 10 years. Why didn’t Kiryu just train in the joint? The leveling system is gone from using money but from straight up experience. The skill tree actually doesn’t give the styles their own tree this time but back to the Heart, Technique and Body skill tree which makes things kinda confusing for those coming from Yakuza 0. Best upgrade is being able to switch styles more seamlessly than in Yakuza 0 by default (if you never acquired the Quick-Change Clothes) The Dragon of Dojima style has it’s own skill tree and actually doesn’t use skill points to progress but by tournament fights and the Majima Anywhere system.
That’s right! Goro Majima is back but as the unpredictable bomb he was known as throughout the entire series. He appears as a random encounter on the street, in traffic cones, as a cop, as a stripper, in burger shops, outside the convenience stores, in the arcade, etc etc! He’s like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, and just about as life threatening. This was likely their answer about the whole situation in Yakuza 0 where they never met. Though this isn’t just for no reason, Kiryu and Majima do have history, it just wasn’t as explored in Yakuza 0 which was the biggest punch pulled but this is their haymaker. Majima could appear with all his moves from 0, even the Mad Dog of Shimano style making a lot of the fights as emergent as nothing else seen yet in the series. I found these fights extremely engaging but some players may find this annoying as Majima can be very difficult and can’t be denied a fight. If you don’t want to waste items you’ll need to be on your toes or just throw the fight. While I do enjoy the loving company of the Mad Dog I do think his personality wasn’t THIS crazy in the original or any other entry. He always had an unpredictable way of doing things but he did it with a very confident and stern attitude. He doesn’t come off as a typical wacky-random character like other stories though. His personality is Yakuza Kiwami matches his style from the zombie spinoff, Yakuza: Dead Souls. The cover of this game should have had Majima instead of Nishiki because you interact with Majima in this game more than most other characters in this game. They even change a situation in the story to fit this system. If this game was called Majima Kiwami it would still be just as acceptable.
A new feature to all the boss battles is the regenerating health which is where you use a specific Heat action to stop it from continuing. It serves just padding to the fights, if you don’t have any Heat in the meter and no items to increase you have to just whack at the enemy to increase and most of the time you do they already have recover the amount they needed. There is a considerable amount of boss fights in this game that are just reused assets such from Yakuza 0 and even Yakuza Ishin which is just kinda lame especially coming off of the amazing fights from Yakuza 0. Events such as the Tojo HQ escape and the car shootout which were in the original Yakuza 0 as a nod to the original feel like coming full circle which can be nostalgic to some, but too familiar to others be standout. The soundtrack is where I have the biggest gripe. Yakuza has held to some absolutely phenomenal tracks and they’ve also remixed some of their most iconic tracks in other entries to fit the situation. The remixes here are hit or miss. Some songs are just filled with a lot of electronic mixing it can kinda sound really flat such as the Funk Goes On remix. For Who’s Sake actually was a highlight and sounded better than the original. Fans of the series are familiar with reused assets with how frequently the games come out but a lot of the assets used in Yakuza Kiwami feel way more off especially with how close this released to Yakuza 0. The recycled assets never overpowered the original content like this.
Experiencing some of the most iconic moments like the Shangri-la fight, the first Millennium Tower climb and the Snake Flower brawl in this new coat of paint was nostalgic in the end. While there are a lot of upsides to Yakuza Kiwami such as it not having the original English dub, sub stories, improved combat and the $29.99 price tag, the price tag really tells a lot about Kiwami – it’s half of Yakuza 0. You don’t play as Majima and you don’t go to Sotenburi. We can certainly recommend Yakuza Kiwami with the generous price tag, not having to spend all the money on a copy of the original, or the superior Yakuza 1&2 HD remaster on PS3. I still prefer the grittier aesthetic of the original but Kiwami also technically has the best combat system in the series. If you haven’t played Yakuza 0 before this then we sincerely recommend that instead before jumping into this one. Let’s just hope they treat the inevitable remake of Yakuza 2 with a lot more care.