When it comes to long-running series, whether that be film, television or games, it can be a little difficult for fans to really explain to newcomers what’s kept them loyal for so long. Take Game of Thrones, for instance – as someone who’s never seen the show or read the books, I don’t really “get” it; explaining the big hook in a recent GoT episode to me would be about as effective as me trying to explain the key points of one of my favorite game series.
Sometimes you need an effective means of getting people started if you want them to really immerse themselves in an expansive series. Yakuza Kiwami is a great example of how to do that, taking the original PS2-era Yakuza game and updating it for a modern audience.
Kazuma Kiryu had it all…well, in a manner of speaking. He had it all if we’re talking about the life of a hardened criminal. After years of working with the family – years that we saw and experienced in the prequel Yakuza 0 – everything comes crashing down when Kiryu takes the heat for a murder committed by his best friend. Our hero does ten years of hard time and is released to a new world, one where the family has fragmented and is currently in turmoil over a massive sum of stolen money. In true Kiryu style, he’ll have to fight, train and minigame from his lowest point back up to the top.
Kiwami owes much more to recent entries in the series than it does to the game it’s remaking. While the plot is all Yakuza 1, of course, gameplay is most closely related to Yakuza 0 and 5. Kiryu has various fighting styles available and can switch between them mid-battle to meet your needs; after doing ten years in the slammer he’s gotten more than a little rusty, of course, so you’ll have to re-develop his skills through various skill trees. As always, combat is visceral and brutal, particularly when it comes to environmental-based Heat Actions that have Kiryu using weapons and objects in the surroundings to deliver crushing blows to enemies; I did find that Kiwami’s fights had a little less “impact” than other recent titles, though, which made the crushing feel a little less painful and somewhat softened the experience. One key new feature is the Ultimate Heat Action, a high-powered special move used against stunned bosses that tends to be visually impressive while dealing an enormous amount of damage; it’s a nice touch that will hopefully return in future installments.
Naturally, there’s plenty to do other than fight in a Yakuza game, and Kiwami adds even more onto the original game’s framework. You’ve got minigames on minigames all over the place, ranging from pocket car racing to hostess clubs to bug battles and more; if you need an excuse to take a break from the plot and do whatever you feel like, well, that’s as available as ever in Kiwami. If battle’s what you’re after, though, fan favorite character Goro Majima takes center stage as an ever-present annoyance; he’ll randomly pop up and challenge Kiryu to fights, so you’ll need to be ready for unexpected boss battles. It’s a nice touch that adds a little tension to running around the city, since Majima is, as always, quite the combatant and beating him is a little more difficult than taking on your average mook. Victory against Majima allows Kiryu to power up his signature Dragon combat style, featuring such classic moves as the beloved drop kick.
As you’d expect, Kiwami’s presentation is leaps and bounds above the original game as well. We’re not just talking about graphics, either, though those have certainly been improved. The most important change here might be the fact that we’re no longer assaulted by awful English dubbing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to launch into a tirade about the superiority of subs vs. dubs, but the fact of the matter is that the original Yakuza’s dub was absolutely horrendous and getting rid of it is a huge step in the right direction. Kiwami looks, runs and sounds great, as we’ve come to expect from one of Sega’s flagship series.
My bottom line remains the same with Yakuza Kiwami as it usually is when it comes to Yakuza titles: series fans don’t need me to tell them that this is worth a buy. Newcomers might appreciate this one as well, both because it’s not a full-priced game and because it’s the technical “start” of the series – though the chronological beginning would be Yakuza 0, an equally acceptable first game. Either way, Sega’s Yakuza continues to be one of the premier brawlers out there, and if you haven’t at least tried one of these games yet then you’re doing yourself a disservice.