It feels like just yesterday when SEGA wasn’t willing to localise Yakuza games after Dead Souls did terribly when it released in the West. Fast forward to January of this year and we got a game of the year contender in Yakuza 0 that is a fantastic experience for fans and newcomers to the franchise and one of the best action adventure games in a long time. While 0 was a prequel to the franchise, the first actual Yakuza game was Yakuza on PlayStation 2. SEGA has taken the learnings of 0 and remade (not remastered, literally remade) Yakuza for PS2 to give us Yakuza Kiwami.
Kiwami means extreme and having completed Yakuza Kiwami it is extreme in almost every way. The visuals and performance are drastically improved over the subpar experience by today’s standards you would find on PS2 with Yakuza. Gone is the fixed camera and we now have a free camera with a more modern control system. Combat for Kiryu now utilises his styles in 0 keeping things free. The localisation has also been redone with the same quality seen in 0 in both english Text and Japanese voices. There’s also a lot of extra content in the form of mini games or a brand new in game mechanic called Majima Everywhere.
You play as Kazuma Kiryu throughout here. There’s no switching between Majima and Kiryu like in 0. Kamurocho has changed and we’re no longer in the 80s. Kiryu even has a cellphone and yes that has allowed for saving anywhere as opposed to looking for telephone booths to save. The booths are still at regular locations in Kamurocho but you can save anywhere. Without getting into spoilers, the story here has some dramatic twists, betrayals, deaths, and more. You also meet Haruka for the first time here and she plays a very important part in the games following this release including the upcoming Yakuza 6: Song of Life in 2018. There’s very little wrong with the actual story and the top notch voice acting keeps you immersed even though it is in a language you probably don’t understand. This just shows how good the voice direction and delivery is in Kiwami. Some of the main story quests have issues with structure throwing off the otherwise good pacing. Some of them even feel like boring side quests where you just run around town looking for a few gangsters but later realise you missed out on triggering an event earlier which results in a lot of wasted time.
Kiryu ends up in prison early on and makes it out 10 years later. This has him quite rusty when it comes to combat and thankfully Majima is here to get him back into shape. This involves you battling Majima at regular intervals across Kamurocho. The best part is, you can never predict when these battles will happen until much later on in the game. Majima can jump out of a trash can and ambush you or even be waiting for you pole-dancing in a club. Expect him anywhere. He replaces Mr Shakedown from 0 and rewards you with a lot of experience when you defeat him each time. You also learn a new Dragon skill with each victory.
Since this is built on the Yakuza 0 engine, Kiwami runs at 1080p 60fps with almost no issues. There are some sections where screen tearing is present near the top of the screen and other areas have some pop-in issues for objects in the environment. These aren’t terrible but they should have been fixed given the game released on both PS3 and PS4 in Japan while only making it to PS4 in English. There’s also a lot of asset reuse from 0 so things might feel too familiar while running through town for some people. I’d even go so far as to call Kiwami a standalone major expansion to 0 for someone who started the franchise with 0.
Aside from the visuals, all the audio has seen changes. The soundtrack has been redone and rearranged in some cases but everything is new or remixed here. It is a step down from 0 but still very good all things considered. My big complaint is the lack of a great boss fight theme here. Fighting Kuze in 0 even in the beginning had a super hype building tune.
Two boss fights here and one of the main story segments felt far too annoying compared to everything else. I had to brute force one of the battles with stamina drinks because it was so poorly designed. Car chase sequences are definitely the weakest points in Yakuza games and there’s one here as well which feels like something you’d skip on a PS2 game. I know this game has its roots on PS2 but when they make everything feel modern, I wish they went all the way and eliminated some of these poor sections. These could’ve been accomplished in a cutscene instead of some dumb shooting sections.
Overall my 35+ hours with Kiwami have been absolutely worth it. More so when you consider this is releasing at a much lower price (at least digitally) than any AAA game does here. I still find myself going back and doing the remaining side stories or triggering a random Majima encounter just to play some more. If you’ve wanted to jump into the Yakuza franchise, I’d recommend 0 but Kiwami is definitely a must play release this year and I’m glad SEGA is finally back to localizing this franchise leading up to Yakuza 6 this March.