Whilst I’ve played and completed games in the Yakuza franchise, I’ve never actually got around to playing the original game on the Playstation 2. Back in the day I saw it got a lot of praise, but I just never got around to trying it out myself; given the fact it was only available on a long-gone console, I never expected to be able to either without forking out a fair bit of cash.
Night Trap isn’t the only game to get a remastered release this month though, with SEGA bringing out Yakuza Kiwami – a complete remake of the original game with prettier visuals, all-new enhancements to the gameplay, and re-imagined audio with newly recorded voice acting.
SEGA actually revisited the series’ roots earlier this year but in a more unconventional way, with Yakuza 0 giving players a look at the origins of the story and its main cast before the first game. It gave gamers a chance to immerse themselves within the story, offering an all new foundation for the characters you’ve learned to love throughout the franchise. It was an interesting idea and something that worked well, with Yakuza 0 proving popular with both critics and gamers alike. It seems the perfect time then to release Yakuza Kiwami and allow players to witness what is considered the true introduction to the franchise.
Yakuza Kiwami starts in 1995, with fan favourite and series protagonist Kiryu Kazuma taking the blame for a murder he didn’t commit. After serving a tough ten years in prison and getting banished from the Tojo Clan that he represented, he comes back out of the slammer to see a city that has completely changed. With the repercussions of the crime still hanging over his head, Kazuma has to re-adjust to these changes all whilst trying to move on with his life in his own way.
That’s really simplifying it, mind – the Yakuza series has never been one to shy away from offering an in-depth narrative that’ll really hook you in with plenty of twists and turns, and it’s exactly the same with Yakuza Kiwami. There are so many different characters that play a big role in the tale though that trying to go into it in too much detail here would simply be a nightmare to both write and read. Let’s just say it’s your classic Japanese gangster affair, with a ton of action matched up with some tense and often emotional scenes. It’s fantastic, and knowing that there are plenty of sequels to play through after it makes it all the more enjoyable to get wrapped up in the experience. It’s like loving the first season of a TV show that your best friends have been raving about for years, and then realising you’ve got another four seasons to plough through after it – pure bliss.
Kazuma has three different fighting styles to use in Yakuza Kiwami, with the Rush, Brawler, and Beat move sets returning from Yakuza 0. This adds a decent amount of variety to combat, with you able to freely switch between the three – it adds an extra degree of variety to the almost brawler-like combat mechanics, offering you a bit more diversity in how exactly you take down your opponents. There’s also the use of weapons, of course, as well as the heat attacks which add a bit more flair to your powerful moves. It’s all fun and works really well in-game, ensuring that each showdown is not only great to take part in but also incredibly accessible too.
Whilst the combat is enjoyable, it could be a little bit lazy at times with the game depending more on throwing a ton of enemies your way rather than setting up creative encounters. The up-close brawling nature of the game does actually lend itself well to this, but it does get rid of some of the challenge; it almost falls into mindless button-mashing territory at times. It’s not a massive flaw given that the combat is slick as a whole, but having played some of the later games I’ve been able to see how much more developed it has become in time. Still, after checking out clips of the original Yakuza on YouTube it still looks a hell of a lot better than what returning gamers would’ve been used to.
Outside of the three you’re equipped with throughout the game, you’re also able to use Kazuma’s Dragon fighting style. However, you have to earn it through a fairly long (but enjoyable) process. You all know Goro Majima, right? You know, Yakuza’s lovable one-eyed gangster? Well, he’s got a fairly big role in Yakuza Kiwami following his exploits in Yakuza 0 and will show up on a regular basis to test Kazuma’s combat skills, with each showdown helping Kazuma grow more proficient in his Dragon fighting style. It’s an interesting way to have Kazuma adapt to the skills he had previously, whilst Majima’s eccentric style offers an interesting and often humorous approach. The encounters with Majima were always a treat to come across, and whilst they didn’t always make sense you can guarantee they’ll always bring a smile to your face.
Yakuza Kiwami’s RPG-like elements are emphasised with the ‘Side Stories’, a series of side-quests that see you engaging in optional missions for the eclectic citizens of Kamurocho. This adds an interesting and often light-hearted approach to the game and shows you a side of the world that is absent from the main story, though it’s a little difficult to find yourself completely engaged in the gameplay that comes with each one. They all typically follow the same pattern of simply going to a specific location and beating up some bad guys. Whilst RPGs are often guilty of throwing a ton of different fetch quests your way, Yakuza Kiwami is all about beating down bad guys in an on-going process. The game’s combat is competent and enjoyable to partake in, but the repetitive nature of each Side Story will makes it hard to get completely absorbed into them. It’s nice to have these extra side endeavours on offer, but it would’ve been even nicer if there was a bit more creativity to them.
One thing that the Yakuza series has always been prolific for is offering a host of mini-games for you to take part in across the city. Whilst a lot of these mini-games simply revolve around gambling, there are a few more creative (and enjoyable) ones like bowling, karaoke, darts, and – my personal favourite – the Scalextric-like Pocket Racer. There are plenty more on offer than that, but it’d spoil the hidden treasures of Kamurocho if I went into too much detail – let’s just say the world of Yakuza Kiwami has a lot more to it than simple knuckle busting fights.
You’re going to spend at least twenty odd hours in the world of Yakuza Kiwami, though you can expect that to be a much higher figure if you invest yourself in the many side endeavours you find in the city. None of the time you spend in the game will feel like a drag though – whilst I’ve mentioned the Side Stories aren’t that engaging from a gameplay perspective, the pay off with the story development makes them more than worthwhile. Yakuza Kiwami just offers a hell of a lot of bang for its buck, with the twenty five pound price tag a real bargain when you consider the size and quality of the game you’re getting for it.
I’m sure there are a lot of gamers out there (myself included) who didn’t get to try out Yakuza when it originally released on the Playstation 2 back in 2005, so Yakuza Kiwami’s release makes for the perfect opportunity to finally give it a playthrough. The updated visuals and new additions to the gameplay make for a more refined experience, whilst the slick combat mechanics and the inclusion of Majima’s comedic showdowns ensure that you’ll have plenty of fun throughout your twenty hours plus adventure through Kamurocho.
It’s not quite perfect and anyone who has played some of the newer releases in the series will be able to see where improvements have been made over time, but those who never got the chance to play the original game or simply want to re-visit it will certainly have fun with Yakuza Kiwami.
Release Date: 29/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4