The gangster with the heart of gold and fists of diamonds.
I was actually a big fan of the first Yakuza back in 2005 when it first released on the PS2. I feel like I’m one of the few that actually bought it and played through it when it first came out. Back then, it was a niche title that many had never heard of in the West. Over the years, it has grown into a pretty big franchise, and with the success of Yakuza 0, people are really getting into it now. Yakuza Kiwami is now here to tell the first story of Kazuma Kiryu in a remake of the 2005 game.
The story is actually a pretty well told one. In 1995, Kazuma Kiryu is an up and coming Yakuza lieutenant who is thinking of starting his own family in the Tojo Clan. When he takes the fall for the murder of one of the clan’s bosses, he gets sent to prison for 10 years. Cut to 2005, Kazuma is now out of the slammer and back on the streets seeing how the Yakuza has changed. He decides to get back in the saddle and try to maintain balance between the families, as well as try to figure out what is going on with his childhood friends, but with many still thinking he is the boss’ killer, that’s not going to be so easy.
Price I’d pay: $29.99
Yakuza Kiwami is a brawler in most senses. It has some RPG elements as well as some open world aspects, but at its core, it is a beat ‘em up. Taking a few things from the previous games, like the stance mechanic that allows Kazuma to change up the way he attacks for either heavier hits, faster blows, or a more balanced style, he also has his ultimate stance that can only be upgraded a specific way. I’ll get to that in a little while. During most of the fights, Kazuma can pick up weapons like knives and swords or go with more impractical things like street signs or even motorcycles. Yeah, you’ll learn very quickly how ridiculous this game can get. Kazuma can dash dodge, block, and string combos together to build up his heat meter; when close to full he can then use finisher moves that can devastate an enemy. It never devastates too much and the combat can feel a bit button mashy at times, but the look and style of the combat really sells it.
Winning fights and completing quests offer up experience points that can then be used to upgrade Kazuma. These upgrades include more health, new attacks, faster heat meter gain, and much more. And with four upgrade trees to go through, it’s going to take a decent amount of time to fully upgrade him. Now, another new thing I mentioned is Kazuma’s best stance the “Dragon of Dojima”, which really is the best style in the game. It can only be upgraded by training with the insane Goro Majima. There is a mechanic called “Majima Everywhere” where the player will be just doing random things like buying items in a store or walking down the street and Majima will comically show up out of nowhere to challenge Kazuma to a fight. Beating Majima during these times will result in upgrades for the Dragon of Dojima, so fully upgrading Kazuma takes even more time, but it’s well worth it.
Now, there are a few issues I have with Kiwami. The first being that as many side things to do in Yakuza 0, I would have thought there would be a lot in Kiwami. Unfortunately, Kiwami is nearly a shot for shot remake of the very first game. I’m talking cutscenes and everything. Now, that’s not to say it’s bad, but Yakuza was a bit bare bones compared to the amount of things to do in previous games. Sure, there are a good amount of side quests to take on, but nothing like the open worlds of Yakuza 3 or 4 or even 0.
The next issue I have which has always been an issue for me in the series are the boss fights. These are some of the most tedious fights I have seen in a brawler. The bosses always seem to be able to dodge perfectly and block practically every attack I could throw at them, and then two hits from them would usually knock Kazuma down and give the boss a free shot. It was and still is annoying, and let’s not even get started on enemies carrying guns.
For the most part, Kiwami is a good retelling of the very first game and arguably has the best story out of the entire series. The visual upgrades are nice, and the addition to the modern combat engine is most certainly welcome, but original fans as well as people who jumped into the series later on need to keep in mind this is a remake of a 2005 game that didn’t have as much content as the later entries. Still, I have to recommend this game to both fans of the series as well as people wanting to get into it. It’s a fantastic jumping in point for the story, and while the boss fights are annoying, it tells a fun tale while still being very entertaining gameplay wise, and at the price point of 30 bucks, you really can’t go wrong.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.