And now it appears that the Yakuza series is next on the drawing board: Yakuza 0 saw a western release in January this year, and a Kiwami (translation: Extreme) version of Yakuza 2 will hit Japan in time for Christmas. The question is: was the remake worth SEGA's time, and will it successfully attract new and returning players alike? You could be forgiven for calling Yakuza SEGA's Japanese answer to Grand Theft Auto, but in reality, it's rather different to that- at least, it's leagues apart from what we know as GTA today. Yet games like GTA and Sleeping Dogs are likely Yakuza's closest competitors, so comparisons are inevitable.
Yakuza Kiwami is available now on the PlayStation Store for £29.99.
Yakuza Kiwami begins its story in 1995; you play as Yakuza member of the Dojima family, Kazumi Kiryu, who on the eve of him acceding to head his own clan, the Kiryu Clan, decides to cover up for his best friend, Nishikiyami Akira, who murders the head of the Dojima family (their boss) in a fit of rage, after he violates their close friend Sawamura Yumi. As Nishiki has an ill sister in the hospital, our gallant protagonist decides it would be better if he takes the fall, and so lands himself in prison for 10 years, under the pretence of being a murderer (which we may well be, but not for the death we were accused of).
After 10 years of being a goody-two-shoes, Kiryu gets out, only to discover he has been banished from the clan, while 10 billion yen has been stolen from the Tojo Clan's vaults, and their third Chairman, Masaru Sera, has been assassinated, leaving much of the Yakuza in disarray. On top of this, Yumi has gone missing, and Nishiki is a changed man, now head of his own renegade clan. Yeah, it's a lot to take in, even when you're playing. I still have a headache, a week later.
It's not long before Kiryu gets accused of another murder while attending Sera's funeral, despite being sat next to him and the Grandmaster clearly being shot by a sniper through a now-broken window. It gives the lasting impression that most members of the Yakuza seem to be, for wont of a better term, utter dipshits.
The remainder of the game thus primarily consists of figuring out what has happened to the money, Yumi, and your former best friend, who is now somewhat of a psychopath. Flashbacks help to enlighten you on things that happened during your imprisonment, while one of the added features different from the original is that another apparent lunatic, Goro Majima, a rival Yakuza member who appears at random intervals to attack you for no other reason than he seems to be bored. Maybe someone should buy him a PlayStation- or, more preferably, a tranquiliser.
While there is a lot to the story, it actually takes a while to get going fully; the first hour or so of the game largely consists of living your pre-prison life, completing an extortion job (by hitting people over the head with a chair), then buying a birthday present for Yumi (and subsequently attempting to rebuy it, as it is immediately stolen the second you leave the shop, buy a pickpocket with a tendency to hide behind vending machines. Despite spending the vast majority of his life behind soft drink dispensers, he still has time to pawn the ring to a dealer who continues to raise the price each time you enter the store. It's all rather slow and infuriating- you're here to play Yakuza Kiwami, after all, not Yakuza Member Life Simulator.
Eventually, however, the game does open up, and you are free to follow the story at your own pace while completing side missions (called substories), which range from defending yourself against molestation accusations, finding a new pocket racing commentator, and actually listening to a spam caller, for once. (Maybe it's a cultural thing?)
The game is fundamentally an action-adventure game set in an open world; however, the vast majority of the game will be spent in combat, which often comes down to lengthy button-mashing brawls worthy of Street Fighter 2, back when arcades were still a thing. Kiryu has four different fighting styles to master; Beast, Brawler, Rush and Dragon. Each style is suited to different situations and they all have their own advantages and weaknesses; the Brawler style is a more well-rounded combat set, while in Beast mode you sacrifice speed and manoeuvrability for damage. Each style has different moves and abilities that can be unlocked through experience points, with the exception of the Dragon style, which can only be mastered by defeating Majima whenever he appears for his latest instalment of Let's Stop Kiryu From Doing Something Productive.
Each battle begins with its own mini-cutscene reminiscent of games like Tekken or Mortal Kombat, which instead of setting the tone often makes them feel rather like a pantomime, especially when you factor in the giant capital letters that appear on-screen spelling out who you're fighting against (in case you hadn't been paying attention). Fights occur in this game for literally any reason under the sun; defending someone's honour or self-defence against a boss trying to turn you into to mulch is perfectly valid, but the game takes things to ridiculous levels- early on, you can't enter a nightclub without first beating up one of the patrons. In my experience, that's how you exit a club- very swiftly, and very uncooperatively.
There's also a high likelihood of street thugs running over and starting a fight, which generally resorts to mashing the square button as fast as possible to get it over with. It becomes very tiresome, very quickly, and there isn't really a way of avoiding them unless you run quickly away- the game plays almost entirely on foot.
Even the boss fights can get rather repetitive; they are typically enemies with larger health bars and signature moves, which you must successfully dodge or block unless you want your health to disappear faster than a PC gamer's money when the Steam Summer Sale starts. If you struggle with a particularly difficult fight (or are simply crap at the game), you will be presented with the option to temporarily decrease the difficulty, to save at least a fraction of your dignity.
If punching people until they fall over does get slightly tiring, there is a selection of other "weapons" you can use; some are purchasable, like throwing knives, while others are simply conveniently sat next to you when you begin the bout- when it comes to bludgeoning items, there is a veritable smorgasbord- office chairs, billboards, decorative statues- you name it, Kiryu doesn't mind smashing it to pieces over the heads of his enemies.
Thankfully, the game is full of distractions to help break up the story mode, including minigames like pool, darts or, new to Kiwami, pocket car racing (which seems to be the non-proprietary name for Scalextric). The fact that you'll have to fight five gazillion thugs on your way to said entertainment, however, is still infuriating.
The mini-games themselves are certainly amusing distractions; there is a single-player billiards variant, or you can play against an AI player, whose difficulty you can pick; while they're not strictly in-depth, they are solid, and fun to play. You don't always see your opponent, however, which can make victory feel rather hollow, no matter how many cushions you manage to fluke the 9-ball in off.
Graphics and Sound
The game is set in Japan and hence, understandably, everybody speaks Japanese. But whereas many games might, as with anime, replace the original dialogue with a sub-par localised dub, SEGA has maintained the authenticity and feel of the game by retaining the original Japanese audio, and simply adding subtitles, allowing the player to gain some semblance of understanding (although, sans captions, we'd still get the gist of angry members of a Japanese crime syndicate punching people at any given opportunity).
The graphics are, to be blunt, what you'd expect from your average PlayStation 4 game, at most- the original remake was released in Japan for both PS3 and PS4 in January 2016, and it certainly feels more like an upscaling of a PS3 game than anything else. In terms of character animations and overall appearance, there's no effort towards photo-realism, or true-to-life movement as seen in titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn; the extent of characters' expressions are made entirely through their fists.
There also seems to be a tendency for objects in the distance, both inanimate and moving, to appear blurry, giving the distinct sense of Kiryu being myopic. It's not distracting, but it is a little disappointing; it feels more like you are looking through an auto-focusing camera than being present in the moment; it's most prominent when speaking to NPCs, whose faces will be clearly visible, but everything behind them will appear as if looking through a wormhole into the PS2 era. All in all, it's less than breathtaking, and honestly one of the worst facets of the game. Don't get me wrong, though- in no way does the graphical quality limit the experience, just as the original didn't back in 2005.
Yakuza Kiwami adds several new features to expand and improve upon the original release on the PlayStation 2 seventeen years ago; cutscenes help provide context, the graphics have had a complete overhaul, and extra gameplay has been added which should provide enough reason for Yakuza veterans to pick up Kiwami (as in players, not actual crime lords, though I'm certainly not going to stop them buying the game), while new players may well enjoy following Kiryu's journey in a well-crafted and interesting plot almost worthy of a movie- once you get past the mind-numbingly dull hunt for the ring in the prologue. God, that was a drag.
Four free DLC packs have been integrated into recent patches; the extent of these are new outfits, usable items and pocket car parts, however, which puts them in my mind on a par with some of The Witcher 3's DLC packs; a nice touch, but nothing amazing.
The game certainly suits a certain type of player; if you love action-adventure games full of fighting, then Yakuza Kiwami is perfect. If you're a fan of stealing cars, hitting random civilians, robbing stores, listening to the radio while driving around in a stolen sports car, or trying on multiple badly coordinated outfits, then sadly, this is not the game for you. Seriously- in the ten years Kiryu spent in jail, not one person has changed their clothes. It's rather distressing, thinking how unclean they must be, especially with all that spilt blood, so in a way the free DLC is a godsend for your sanity- but only to the extent of Kiryu. Unfortunately, you're stuck with Majima's awful fashion sense for the duration of the entire game.
|+ Good story||– Slow start|
|+ Authentic feel, not dubbed||– Repetitive gameplay|
|+ Lots to do with fun mini-games||– Limited variety|