Like Yakuza 0 before it, it’s almost impossible to overstate just how frequently Yakuza Kiwami oscillates between the wacky and the serious. In one scenario, you might find yourself hurrying down to the local shop to purchase some pocket tissues for a wayward CEO who finds himself stricken with the liquid poops in the brilliantly named “Crisis on the Crapper” side mission. In another, you could discover an old man who, owing to the tragic loss of his son and the subsequent mental trauma that follows, believes that you are his lost lad and allows you to roleplay as such in order to preserve his fragile emotional state.
By straddling that spacious divide between the downright absurd and the super serious, Yakuza Kiwami continues the good work wrought by Yakuza 0 in once more crafting an experience that deftly marries its exceedingly unique far eastern cultural sensibilities with tried and tested JRPG game mechanics and a bucketload of over the top violence to boot. Of course, for those players who have long since had the series idiosyncrasies ingrained into their psyche, Yakuza Kiwami will prove welcomingly familiar and in a classic case of not being able to have too much of a good thing, Sega’s latest looks to effortlessly uphold the impressive calibre that the series has shown thus far.
A remake in the truest sense
Given the gulf of time that exists between Yakuza Kiwami and the 2005 PS2 release of the original title upon which it is based, it was clear that the former was always going to require a remake from the ground up, rather than the mere touching up of the audiovisual assets to cut it in 2017. As a result, Yakuza Kiwami employs the very same game engine that was utilised in Yakuza 0; giving rise to much higher detailed and populated environments, radically overhauled character models and quite pleasingly, a liquid smooth framerate as well.
Encompassing much more than just a visual upgrade, Kiwami makes good on its ‘full remake’ promise by tearing out whole gameplay systems from the PS2 release, adding in new content and making subtle changes to the narrative so that falls in line with the origins plot established in the wonderful Yakuza 0. Combat too, also builds upon the foundations lain in Yakuza 0; allowing the player to not just switch between four different fighting styles, but also maximise the effectiveness of these fighting styles and other abilities through the game’s progression system which is now developed through experience points, rather than cold hard cash as before.
Likewise, the act of putting fist/foot/knee to face also feels reassuringly familiar and solid, too. With the various fistic combos and selection of weaponry allowing you to pull off some remarkable feats of violence, it’s really the finishing moves enabled by the Heat system that remain a visceral highlight; sandwiching the skull of some horrible cretin in between a car door before slamming your boot into it still endures as a particular favourite.
Another change from the original game is the new ‘Majima Everywhere’ mechanic. Effectively replacing the roaming Mr. Shakedown encounter from Yakuza 0, in Kiwami, frequent Kiryu rival Goro Majima can literally appear on the streets and challenge you to a fight at any point. More than just a set of random encounters, the whole point of besting the crafty, eye-patch wearing Yakuza is to unlock unique moves and abilities from the ‘Dragon’ skill tree; an array of ultra-devastating attacks that can put down even the most hardened combatants with ease.
Separating itself from its immediate predecessor, Yakuza Kiwami centres on the trials and tribulations of a single character; long time series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and in doing so eschews in the process the dual character and multi-location setup which defined Yakuza 0. Though this invariably means that Yakuza Kiwami is a leaner offering than its predecessor, the fact remains that with over seventy side-missions, a wealth of story content, minigames and other distractions to get stuck into, it’s clear that Sega’s latest effort still fares extremely well on the old bang for your buck ratio given that it retails at a semi-budget price point (the game can be found for $29.99/£24.99 or less in most places). And will have free DLC!
Never has ‘more of the same’ felt quite so good. Indeed, though Yakuza 0 seems to be the deeper, more ambitious effort of the two at this point (a perhaps somewhat unfair comparison given that game’s clean slate with which to work from), Yakuza Kiwami still looks to provide hours upon hours of Yakuza mashing, bizarre side-quest fun that’s all wrapped up in that delectable sense of place that only Toshihiro Nagoshi and his talented team can provide.
Without a doubt, if you’re a fan of the Yakuza franchise then you’re already excited and you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for. If on the other hand you’re not, well, then it’s time to hop on the bandwagon, as Yakuza Kiwami looks like it’s going to carry the torch one of this year’s most fascinating Game of the Year candidates with ease.
Look for our full Yakuza Kiwami review on Monday, August 29.