We sit in the gaming lull of the year, although personally that lull has been for quite a while. Not an incredible number of games have been on my purchase list. While that doesn’t mean good games haven’t arrived, none of them have really captured my attention enough to warrant my hunting them down.
And I blame Yakuza 0 for that.
The start of 2017 was one of the best ever for gaming in my opinion. Not only did I have Yakuza 0, a game which came out of nowhere to become a stunning success but it was followed by Nier: Automata and Horizon Zero Dawn straight after. While I did love Nier and Horizon, Yakuza caught me in a way I didn’t expect: I wanted to put more time into it to do everything. The game was a blend of strong story, unusual side missions and just sheer lunacy and I wish I could wipe my brain just to experience the joy I had playing it first-hand again.
So when Sega announced Kiwami remakes of the first two games I was immediately scrawling them onto my purchase list. I picked up others in the middle ground, mainly 3 and Dead Souls, but I was hyped for an experience on par with 0 in a new setting. But this also means that bar is very high, I’ve romanticised Yakuza 0 a lot, and Kiwami has a big set of shoes to fill.
In essence, Kiwami is a remake of the original Yakuza, released for PS2 in 2005. Rather than porting, Sega has pushed the story into the new engine, giving the feel of the newer games but retaining most of the narrative from the original. For those who have not played Yakuza before, this means you take on the role of Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Tojo Clan who spends far less time being a yakuza than you would think in a game with the word in its title. After taking the fall for a murder which he did not commit he spends 10 years in prison, coming out into a world which has not waited for him. Throw in a small child, a missing friend, 10 billion yen and Majima and you have the set up for the same style of experience as 0: Serious story with lunacy on the side.
That side is where you’ll spend most of the game: Kiwami is again quite linear and you will want to take time out to go looking for side missions. Most of these have been brought over from the original but Sega has taken the time to add new ones to the mix. People who have played 0 will be happy to see the return of Pocket Racing, fleshed out and harkening back to the original though far more difficult than before; and will probably have mixed feelings over the return of the cat fighting, reskinned into an arcade game where fairies dress as bugs and fight each other and you can earn no money off it.
This all takes place in the fictional area of Kamurocho, which looks as good as ever thanks to the new engine porting running at a near-consistent 1080p at 60fps. Bright neon lights intermingle with large crowds and Christmas music and coming from 0 I feel right at home here. With a few changes thanks to the 10 year prison stint there is enough new to explore and discover without anything being too hidden away. During your jaunts around you’ll be finding side missions, collecting locker keys to unlock interesting items, collecting cards for the aforementioned cat fighting clone and most importantly fighting.
Fighting is pretty much the same as 0. Kiryu brawls his way non-lethally through most of the male population of Kamurocho during the game, and the ported mechanics give you plenty of ways to do so. You are given the three main fighting styles from 0: Brawler, a rounded style able to do most moves and having no real focus; Rush, a weaker style focused on speed and number of hits while sacrificing damage and the ability to throw items; and Beast, a slow style focused on tanking attacks to you and using environmental objects of any size to cripple enemies. You also gain the dragon style, a hidden unlockable for completing the real-estate portion of 0 but now Kiryu’s main attack style. The problem is you won’t use this style often, at least not in the early game as thanks to your ten years in prison you have gotten very rusty at any sort of violence. While you can upgrade the other three styles using experience levels in their respective trees dragon requires a special upgrade system locked behind probably the weirdest addition to the game: Majima Everywhere.
Those of you who have not played Yakuza before will not know the significance of this system. Goro Majima is a character staple throughout the series. He is a driven fighter, willing to do anything to get his way. What that way is? Who knows, because tied with being a powerful fighter is the fact that he is utterly mad. Early on in the game Majima makes it known that he wants to battle Kiryu, but after 10 years in prison Kiryu is not ready for this. Therefore he plans to help Kiryu reach a level where he can have the battle he so twistedly dreams of.
That means Majima is everywhere. Literally everywhere. Majima is a battle you cannot avoid, and if he catches you he will battle you. He can be wandering the streets, hiding under oversized objects, in disguise as a policeman, pole dancing at a cabaret club and even will just jump in fights you have with other people. This means you require a small level of permanent preparedness with this game, that being having a stock of healing items on hand just in case he jumps you. The more times you battle Majima, the stronger he gets, and the more abilities you gain for the dragon fighting style. This does mean that Majima’s role in the story has changed a lot. He is far more present, and his requirement to be anywhere has changed a core element of the original game’s story to suit this. But unless you have played the original you really will not notice.
This issue of the original game is the one thing I have found which hold back this game. If we harken back to a short time ago to when Crash Bandicoot: The N’sane Trilogy got released the requirement to stick close to the original meant that the game had some difficulties, particularly with the change to the jump and hit box. Kiwami suffers somewhat too from this attempt to stick to the original particularly with side missions. There is a clear divide between the quality of the original side missions and those which have been added in later. A large portion of the original side missions either give small rewards or require rather simple tasks and have a lacking in depth made even starker by the addition of the newer, shinier side missions. When pointed out, it also becomes more obvious where anything has been ported over. This will be seen particularly in facial animations, with mouth movement looking nothing like what the character is saying.
Kiwami offers a lot in a £30 game with a relatively small size (20GB approx.) Besides all that has been mentioned above you can sing Karaoke, go to hostess clubs, play a variety of casino games, play a variety of card and tile games such a Mah-jong, collect all the completion points and compete in an underground fighting ring. The lack of a second storyline with Majima like in 0 means that the game has shoved in plenty more detail, and added far more pre-rendered cutscenes than before. But despite this it is far shorter, only about a third of the length of 0 which may explain the price drop.
The more I played Yakuza Kiwami the more it felt like additional content for Yakuza 0. If you want to get into the series I recommend starting with 0 and moving on to Kiwami. You’ll have a far better understanding of not only the story but also all of the characters you’ll meet along the way. Kiwami itself will probably not beat the original for die-hard fans thanks to changes in the story but for a late comer like me it gives me a chance to see where it all began with a shiny new coat of paint despite the limitations of sticking to the script. For that Kiwami earns a 9, and probably far more of my time than I should give it against my university work.