I’ll admit it. At one point in my life I thought the Yakuza series could be boiled down to ‘GTA in Japan’ if someone asked me to describe the series. However, I’ve found now that the game is so much more than that. It’s more than just bashing in dude’s heads with bicycles or gunning down mobs of people just for fun and sport. Yakuza 0 started the year with a brand new game in the series and now just a few months later Sega has released its first remake in the series, Yakuza Kiwami. Let me tell you right now if you’ve never played a Yakuza game before Kiwami could be the perfect place to jump in and see just what the series is all about and here’s why.
The game begins a few years after the events of Yakuza 0. It was originally the first game in the timeline taking place when series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is 27 years old. His long time friend Nishki ends up killing a high ranking official in one of Japan’s yakuza families. However, to protect his friend, and the woman he loves, Kazuma takes the fall for the crime and spends 10 years in prison. In that time Nishki takes advantage of the situation earning himself a position as the head of one of the yakuza families, a position he’s clearly not ready to handle. Kazuma meanwhile gets wrapped up in the drama of the family because of the appearance of a young child whom he befriends and protects, and learns is the child of someone very close to him.
The combat from Yakuza 0 makes a return. Kazuma, the only playable character this time around, has four different fighting styles that all vary in speed and effect. The range from the brawler style which is a more all-around fighting style that lets you use grabs and take downs as well as objects in the environment to fight with to Rush, which lets you move very quickly and evade opponents. You’re more vulnerable if you get hit, but it makes you harder to hit. An aggressive stance turns you into a walking tank able to take lots of damage, and a fourth special Dragon style. Changing fighting styles on the fly can happen very quickly with the push of a button and each one has a skill tree that you can level up as you earn experience to make them more effective and learn new moves to add to your repertoire. The tutorials this time around aren’t quite as effective at teaching you about the best situations to use them in so a little experimentation will be key to learning the best times to use each style as they’ll all be important to learn and keep upgraded.
The world is fairly small. Many people like to call this an open world game because once the story opens up you’re basically free to do whatever you want whenever you want. It’s up to you how quickly you progress through the story. Unlike most open world games though the size of the world itself is pretty small. Everything is contained inside Kamurocho and you can easily travel from one end of the map to the other in just a few minutes. I’ve never timed it, but barring any interruptions you could probably run from one side to the other in as little as five minutes. However, the world is packed with so many things to do.
People on the street will request things from you. You’ll have opportunities to rescue people who are being harassed by thugs. Groups of gangsters will try to scam you into thousands of yen every few minutes. People are packing the streets going about their daily lives oblivious to the activities going on around them. Children will need your help and series favorite Goro Majima will be waiting around every corner to try and attack you.
That’s actually one of the more interesting parts of this game. In Yakuza 0 half the story was told from Majima’s point of view. This time around you only play as Kazuma, but don’t think Majima didn’t find a way to steal the spotlight. Now he’s trying to show how tough he is and will come up with numerous schemes to try and get Kazuma to fight him. They range from ridiculous, such as him dressing up as a police officer or a hostess, to serious, where he’s involved in kidnapping a girl just to get your attention. These fights are worked into your progression as you earn experience that can be used to level up the Dragon fighting style. I found myself laughing at his antics more often than not.
All of the things you’d expect to do in a Yakuza game, outside of playing the story are present. You can visit the batting cages to take a few swings at baseballs. You can go bowling. You can sing karaoke in timed button press mini-games. You can visit hostess clubs, buy things at all the shops around town, even adult video stores. You can go to a pool hall for a game of billiards or darts. You can even visit Club Sega. I have to admit, though, I was a tiny bit disappointed as all I was able to do in them was the UFO catchers, but I got ALL the Monkey Ball plushes. There’s a good chance all these side games could keep you occupied for hours outside of the main quest of the game.
I also found myself sucked into the story from the beginning. After playing through Yakuza 0 I really enjoyed hearing more about these characters stories. For most people playing this they’re probably seeing the story again after it being their first experience with the series. For me it was a great continuation to what was my first game. I was surprised by Nishki and how he was acting throughout this game. I was heartbroken as Kazuma broke down in front of Haruka at one point. I was laughing at Majima, most of the time. There are some points where you may have a hard time remembering what point in the story you’re in as there are a lot of jumps in time, but overall I found myself invested in this story being told in front of me. Kazuma is such a likable character it’s impossible not to root for him every step of the way. He’s surrounded by a cast of highly memorable characters that range from absurd to serious and they all fit perfectly into this puzzle that is Kamurocho.
I’m so glad I finally jumped into this series with the release of Yakuza 0 earlier this year and now getting further into the story of these characters I can’t wait to see what happens next. Yakuza Kiwami was an incredible game from start to finish and one I couldn’t recommend enough that people check out.
Review copy of the game provided by Sega
Played through the full story and numerous side quests.
Total Play Time: 19 hours