Yakuza Kiwami review: The Dragon and the Koi, revisited

Sega has taken the origin story of Kazuma Kiryu and taken it to the extreme with Yakuza Kiwami; an excellent holdover title until the saga’s final chapter.

Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA of America
Platform: PS4
Release Date: August 29, 2017

There was once a time that Western fans of the Yakuza series feared they would never receive another title again. With sales flagging outside of Japan, the gap between original release and localization grew larger as time moved on. Who knew that in 2017 not only would North America receive the 80s origin story, Yakuza 0, but also receive a PS4 remake of the original PS2 game in Yakuza Kiwami?

This game marks the beginning of Kazuma Kiryu’s story as he takes the blame for the death of the Dojima Family patriarch. Ten years later, after paying off his prison sentence, he returns to the organized crime world of Kamurocho to discover he has been betrayed by former best friend, Akira Nishikiyama, amid his torrid rise up the ranks of the Tojo Clan.

There are no Miracle Johnson-tier adventures in this title.

Since this is a (mostly) faithful adaptation of the origin story, Yakuza Kiwami is a markedly scaled down adventure. You only play as the main protagonist, and most of your time is spent exploring the same town, both day and night. That doesn’t make Kamurocho any less vibrant of a location, as it still embodies the same breathing, dynamic city exhibited in recent entries.

It’s odd to think of a 30-40-hour game as a “step down” for a title, but Yakuza Kiwami offers a shorter story and truncated sub stories. There are still dozens of distractions within, but they aren’t nearly as elaborate or complicated as those seen in previous titles such as 0. The majority involve you fighting a bunch of scrubs or solving somebody else’s problems by beating them up. There are no Miracle Johnson-tier adventures in this title.

Yakuza Kiwami screenshot

SEGA

The introduction of the Majima Everywhere system, however, does expand upon the gameplay options. Goro Majima has completely lost his mind since the last game, and now he will pop up all over town in order to challenge Kiryu into a fight. Sega is quite literal when they mean “Majima Everywhere,” as you will fight off against the Majima Family patriarch in a wide number of different circumstances.

However serious Yakuza Kiwami seems to be, there are always equal and opposite moments of silliness.

At one moment, he’ll jump into a random fight you have in the street. At other times, he may dress up as a hostess and make you take him on a date. He’ll change up his battle style every time, sometimes swinging a bat or break dance fighting like he’s from the set of Zoolander. These battles progress in difficulty as the game moves along, but these fights are crucial to restoring the Dragon of Dojima to his former glory. They keep you off-kilter, too, making you learn that a tough fight is always around the corner.

More than a decade later, Yakuza Kiwami shows a stark production upgrade over the PS2 classic. The visuals, frame rate and gameplay mechanics have been modernized for the PS4, but the most important change comes in the voice acting. The original game received a terrible dub from some legitimate voice acting talent (including Mark Hamill, Eliza Dushku and Michael Madsen), yet this game features the original Japanese cast with subtitles, doing justice to an impeccable story.

Yakuza Kiwami screenshot

SEGA

However serious Yakuza Kiwami seems to be, there are always equal and opposite moments of silliness. The added MesuKing: Battle Bug Beauties in-game card action game, where scantily-clad women dressed up as bugs do body slams to each other, highlights this superfluously. The tonal dichotomy has always played to the series’ strengths, and I’m glad to see the tradition ring true in this remake.

That said, I can’t help but feel like every aspect of this game is slightly subdued. This is a budget title in North America, coming in at just half the price of a full title, and you see the screws tightened in the lack of depth. The combat is not quite as varied, the combat scenarios are fairly predictable, the gameplay mechanics are a bit simplified, the soundtrack is not as varied and it’s not quite as outrageous in its entertainment value as some of the highlights from the previous 2017 Yakuza release.

You can tell that Yakuza 0 lays the groundwork for Yakuza Kiwami down to the foundations in the game engine, and you can’t help but feel like you’re playing the same game with a different story. That said, the predecessor was quite excellent, and Kiwami is leaps and bounds better than the original version North American fans were treated to. Even a less-than-premium pizza is better than no pizza, even if it’s not as “extreme” as advertised.

Yakuza Kiwami screenshot

SEGA

 

What remains true in Yakuza Kiwami is the strong sense of characterization. With 30 minutes of extra cutscenes, this remake better explains the motivations and personal drives of the many players of this story than it did years ago. It’s an important distinction, as this game sets an entire franchise’s intricate story in motion.

With New Game +, Premium Adventure, two-player minigames and a collection of new gameplay modes, players can expect to play Yakuza Kiwami for dozens of hours on end. Completionists need not worry about a lack of things to do, as my full playthrough took about 40 hours and I completed about ~55% of the game’s progress. You definitely get your money’s worth, and then some.

Some may find the lack of meaty sidequests such as running loans businesses or cabaret clubs in Kiwami a bit disappointing, but the core focus on excellent, compelling, complicated character remains the focus. Sega doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel here for fans to enjoy themselves, as Yakuza Kiwami sets forth a decade’s worth of fun adventures on, ultimately, a solid footing.

Yakuza Kiwami

SEGA

8

Yakuza Kiwami represents a solid reimagining of the Kamurocho of old. An expanded story, the refreshing Majima Everywhere system and plenty of minigames do their best to stave off familiar standards the series has brought forth this year. It’s not quite as extreme as its predecessor released earlier this year, but for what it’s worth, the game packs a wallop at its price range and is leagues better than its original localized version.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.