Yakuza Kiwami Review

By Shawn Collier on November 13, 2017

After a lot of hard work by publisher SEGA, their crime-dripped action series Yakuza has finally started to get some traction outside its home territory of Japan, a place where it's a high-seller but up until 2017 hasn't been able to replicate that overseas. There's numerous factors at play that could have been at cause, such as a wide delay in localization time or releasing on an older platform, but this year's earlier Yakuza 0 was the franchise's first "big" release in the west. So with that game being at the start of the series, it's quite fitting that Yakuza Kiwami lets western fans get another chance to play through the original game in a revitalized HD format. Even in this era there's been both superb and subpar HD remasters, so how does this one fare?

If you played Yakuza 0, you'll feel very much at home as this game uses that exact same engine. This is a good thing for the most part, as this fixes many of the issues the original PS2 release had. PS2 owners might remember the game's constant load times mixed with the at times odd camera angles, due to the fixed predetermined camera the game employed. Load times are kept to a near minimum in this PS4 remaster, along with having much more control over the camera.

Yakuza 0's battle system is also carried over into Kiwami, which gives Kiryu three different styles to choose from during combat. There's a fourth optional style which reflects his combat techniques from the PS2 original, which is tied to the new "Majima Everywhere" mechanic exclusive to this remaster. Those who played Yakuza 0 will know this character full well, and you'll need to track him down in various outfits and disguises to be able to fight against him to unlock more of this combat style's prowess.

The one minor issue I had is that while the back story you get by doing this is great if you're a fan of the character, it can be odd if you encounter certain scenes where he was present and acted or did a certain thing, yet does some completely different in the "Majima Everywhere" scene. It's also hard to track him down at times unless you're purposefully trying to do so, so unless you're a completionist you may not see all this style has to offer.

Additionally, combat at times hearkens a bit too much to its 2005 original source material. Granted the combat has never been this series' focus to say the least, but it loves to resort to the "beat X amount of enemies" cliche to a somewhat irritating degree. Bosses also feel like damage sponges at times, where it’s less about skill an execution and instead waiting it out until the game stops from auto-blocking you and giving you a few-second window of time to wallop on them. This mechanic works in a series like Dark Souls because the boss can and will punish you for not watching for their tells, but in Kiwami there many times isn’t a deterrent to doing so except for nulling out the damage.

One thing the series has always been known for is its narrative, and this is something that the original, and thus this remaster, succeed in. The Yakuza series has always been a crime drama-influenced series, and this game follows series staple Kiryu Kazuma, a young up-and-comer moving up the ranks who in the beginning of the game is arrested for the murder of a high-ranking official within the Tojo Clan. Of course, those who know Kiryu know he didn’t do it, as the truth is that he’s covering up for his best friend Akira Nishkiyama who accidentally committed the murder in blind rage. Two years later, he’s released back into the city of Kamurocho and things have changed quite a bit in the criminal underworld.

There’s a fair bit more to the narrative as you progress through the game, but as the main focus of the game is built on this factor, spoiling much more would be a disservice. While those who played this year’s earlier western release of Yakuza 0 will have a better idea of some of the characters featured in Kiwami, it isn’t required to enjoy this entry.

If you played the original, the cutscenes in this HD remake will look quite similar — especially if you recently replayed the original PS2 release. The developers reframed the remaster almost shot-for-shot in this version, and there’s new additional scenes to help flesh out scenes that were either hinted at or not fully realized in the original. There’s also some tweaks to the script overall, as well as re-recorded voice acting — which means some areas that didn’t have voice acting in the original now have it in this version.

Final Thoughts

While I didn’t find it as enjoyable as this year’s earlier Yakuza 0, Kiwami is still an excellent remake of the original Yakuza entry and brings that release to fans who came in later, brand-new fans, and those who were there from the start but want to return without playing through the archaic mechanics of the original. The story narrative length might be a tad bit on the short side compared to other entries, but the plentiful amount of side quests makes up for it if you search them out. The reduced $30 price point doesn’t hurt, either. Whether you are a fan new or old, it’s never been a better time to return to Kamurocho.

Yakuza Kiwami was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by SEGA. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Story is held to the same high standards one expects from this long-running series.
The new cutscenes and voice-overs help flesh out the original game's narrative without feeling forced in.
While there's some minor camera issues, the greatly reduced load times compared to the original alongside the camera from the newer games makes for a markedly different game than the original.
The new Majima Everywhere mechanic, while unique with its rewards, has implementation issues that drags it down from what it could have been.
Enemy grunt and boss battles have noticeable repetitiveness flaws that pop up fairly often with how they're implemented.
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