Yakuza Kiwami is this year’s second release from the series. Sega started the year in North America with the release of Yakuza 0, a prequel to the main events of the series. Several months later, Yakuza Kiwami, the remake of the first game in the series, has been localized and released as well: in full 1080p HD at 60fps.
If you’ve listened to our podcast at all, I’m not shy about calling Yakuza 0 my game of the year. I talk about it a lot. It is, without a doubt, an amazing experience. It serves as the baseline for my view of the entire series, and how the other games are constructed. And if that’s any indication, then Kiwami is good.
Both games run on the same engine: and as Kiwami 2 is localized and released (likely late next year, after Yakuza 6), it will run on the same engine as well. That being said: a lot of the hangups I had will carry over from 0.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, this review is entirely spoiler-free! Read on with confidence.
Yakuza Kiwami isn’t at all subtle in its introductory missions. The game remains locked up for the first hour-ish as it sets up the story. After this, players are totally free to do whatever they please. For instance, my first 15 hours was comprised of little to no story, aside from the main introduction. This may not be the case for everybody, but I went pretty deep into sidequests, which I’ll cover later.
The main meat of the game is its combat system. Unlike 0, which had you literally invest in yourself by buying upgrades, Kiwami runs on an EXP system. At first I thought this would hinder advancement, but as I continued, I had no issue with leveling every skill tree to its maximum potential.
The combat system itself is nuanced, and provides opportunities for an almost countless number of combos, environmental attacks, and item attacks. The base four fighting styles each have their strengths and weaknesses. Brawler is balanced, rush is build for speed, and beast is slow but puts out a lot of damage. Dragon, the fourth style, named after Kiryu’s title within his yakuza family, is a blend of all three, and eventually the most powerful.
Heat actions are the main component of each style. As you attack an enemy, you build up heat. As the bar fills up, you’re able to perform different types of high powered attacks depending on what you’re holding, how an enemy is rushing you, and what style you’re in at the moment.
Unfortunately, my only pitfall with the heat action system is how hard they can be to pull off in certain situations. This goes hand-in-hand with my one critique of the battle system itself: enemies have the power to block and dodge out of your combos no matter what hit you’re on, but if you get caught in an enemy’s combo, it’s a one-way trip to getting knocked flat on your back. Early on, it made sense. Later in the game, it just became a nuisance.
One thing I really enjoyed about both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami are their stories. Yakuza 0 does an incredible job of prefacing the series and pacing out its story very well, while tying up loose threads from its events.
Yakuza Kiwami, while it does fall prey to some trope-y story beats, didn’t fail to get me invested, either. Many of the main story events coincide with sub-stories and side missions. Advancement of each fighting style feels like it had a purpose, and made me want to get stronger. Even fully upgraded, the final missions I played felt like they were on par with my abilities.
Kiwami also has some small nods to 0: there are several lines of dialogue that call back to things that happened in the previous game. Although it’s not necessary to have played 0 to understand them, I think it’s a nice touch from the developers.
To round out story discussion, it feels like everything that happened in Kiwami has a purpose. Every story beat is intentional, and it feels like every character, even side characters, had an immense amount of motivation. It’s rare to see such character depth in an action-adventure beat ‘em up, and I really enjoyed it here. It caught me off guard at times in the best way.
Another element of Kiwami’s story having such an impact is its pacing. It frontloads a lot of family politics, important timeline events, and backstory into its first couple of hours. After opening up, the story beats were spaced out well.
Very few things feel rushed, and if they do, they have a purpose for being told in such a way. Again, this game’s story has a purpose. Everything is intentional. The story unfolds at a very reasonable pace, and builds up its dramatic tension well.
A large component of Yakuza Kiwami is its side stories. There are 78 in total, and many are short. Others are a bit more involved, and had six or seven individual substories attached to them. These did a good job of balancing out the story’s serious tone with silly things, like getting very into racing toy cars as Kamurocho’s Fastest.
I would, at least in part, count filling out character advancement part of a substory of its own. Filling out dragon style advancement requires dedication, wit, and fighting a lot of Majima.
Majima Everywhere isn’t a main story beat, but becomes part of the story regardless. Between 0 and Kiwami, Kiryu and Majima have become nemeses, and Majima takes it on himself to help Kiryu achieve his potential— by watching his every move and fighting him at frequent intervals.
Many of the events in Majima Everywhere are triggered by fighting Majima a certain number of times, fighting one of his many personas, or checking emails to see where he’s hiding. Instead of a haphazardly placed system where Majima just appears, Sega did a nice job of tying his appearances and in turn, your advancement, into the main storyline.
Sega’s localization team for Yakuza Kiwami is A-1. Thankfully, there’s no option for English dialogue, and instead subtitles are provided. Compared to the original 2006 release in America, we didn’t just get lucky. We got a localization that didn’t (as far as I can tell) lose any of the original intent, intonation, or delivery of the original Japanese lines.
Any joke that was made that could have been specific to Japanese wasn’t at all forced. Often, phrases, idioms especially, don’t transfer over between languages. Yakuza Kiwami, fortunately, had no hangups on that.
Most of all, characters’ voices felt like they matched the person they were coming from. When I said that everything in this game has intent, localization is no different. Not to rag on Mark Hamill as a voice actor, but he just doesn’t fit Majima. It’s just another gem from that 2006 release.
No game is perfect, and as much as I want to say this one is, I did have some larger issues with it. The first is that a lot of story beats fell into tropes. Then again, this is a story from the mid-2000s. That being said, I was astonished at the writing. It felt like a game from recent years in that respect.
Some of the side stories can feel draining, and those are clearly developed with a male audience in mind. One entire sub-story sequence features a trading card game featuring women in bug-themed lingere-like outfits. Kind of unnecessary in my opinion, but it’s there, along with a couple of cabaret club minigames.
In addition, Majima Everywhere has its pitfalls as well. I get that Kiryu’s part of the yakuza and yes, we agreed to this fighting-out-of-nowhere arrangement, but can I walk around Kamurocho in peace for once? Early on it’s not an issue, but as Majima gets more powerful, the fights tend to drag on, especially after being combo’d down from full heat. It happens.
Cover image via God is a Geek.