Yakuza Kiwami (2018)

Yakuza Kiwami is the remake for the first Yakuza game that was originally release in 2006 for the PS2. That extra decade plus really has had a profound improvement on the original game. Sega finally got it’s act together and realized that there was a great untapped market for a crazy bloody violent epic story about the underground world of the Japanese Mafia told in a decades spanning tale of love, betrayal and everything in between.

Remakes are so common now, that when it originally was announced and the game came out, I didn’t think too much of it. Partly because I was already in the midst of playing the prequel and knowing the 6th game was also being finished up too… it just felt like an oversaturation of the series, one that I wasn’t fully into yet either.

While technically this is a ground up remake of the first Yakuza game, it really is now the second game in the ever spanning story; And it’s how I played it. Since Yakuza 0 was the start of the story of Kiryu, and the first one really available for me to play, I finished up Zero and went straight into Yakuza Kiwami.

Kiwami takes the same game engine made for Yakuza 0 and throws the first game into it. Everything is updated, shinier and more colorful. While also adding lots of new content and dropped content to flesh out the story a bit more. One of the biggest differences from the original, at least for those who actually played the PS2 original, is that everything is fully voice acted in Japanese. I didn’t think about it at first, but going back and watching original footage, the game takes on a much less serious tone with the american voice acting (which I usually don’t care much about in the first place). It just goes to show how these games were treated when shipped to America. That’s not to say that I don’t think the voice actors just did a bare minimum job, but it definitely isn’t on the same level.

The story now picks up with Kiryu now a well known member of the Yakuza’s Kazama family, one night changes his entire fate. Nishkiyama, murders the head of the Dojima family in a act of rage, as he finds out his sister has been taken. A yakuza killing the head of a clan is serious, so for whatever reason Kiryu steps in and takes the blame for Nishki instead. Once upon his 10 year sentence, Kiryu now finds himself expelled from the Yakuza family, but not the lifestyle.

One of the newest additions to Kiwami is the “Majimi Everywhere” scenario, where Goro Majima, everyone’s favorite weirdo stalks Kiryu throughout the game and fights him  at any given opportunity. Majima will dress as a Police Officer, Hide in trunks or even pop out of manhole covers just to get the drop on his on-again off-again friend/rival. Their dynamic is the standout part of that really makes the game feel special. The over the top acting just elevates the characters from forgettable to infamous. The random nature can be troublesome if you are just wanting to complete other activities and keep running into him, side tracking you into several fights in a row, but items will allow you to have a heads up warning and be able to change paths and figure out a way around him. It never felt too bothersome and was always a welcome challenge.

Having the backstory of Yakuza 0 really helped me understand the lore and motivations for everyone in the Kiwami update, and doesn’t hold your hand with needless worldbuilding to introduce the characters. It’s already in full swing.

One thing I already knew going in was that Kiryu was in jail for 10 years and didn’t really understand how that would have worked with the gameplay, but really the passage of a decade in the game is mostly a cutscene with a brief single jail fight taking place in a lunch room. Not much is explored with Kiryu’s 10 year lockup, and I felt that it could have been dragged out over the course of  the game, but I appreciate it not wasting time if there was nothing interesting to be gained.

Nishkiyama, Kiryu’s brother from the orphanage, plays a huge role and without giving much away, it was really interesting to see how Nishki grew and changed from Zero to Kiwami. Since Zero explored so much of their friendship, they don’t really spend too much extra time on it, and I would love to see maybe a 30 minute dive into the differences between the original and remake. I could go on and on about this storyline, but again, the most enjoyable part of these games is really the story, and spoiling it would be a disservice to the hard work everyone has put into these games.

While beating the living crap out of anyone who even tries to pick a fight with Kiryu is extremely entertaining and laugh out loud brutally hilarious, the side stories are really just and enjoyable, if not more entertaining than the combat. There are just so many different side stories, some of which are just a few minutes long, but with a ton of different characters to come across, I found myself B-lining straight for every single side story I could find. From helping out a old friend find love to giving a girl a crash course education of the 80’s. Every single sidequest that is given out and character Kiryu helps is memorable and heartfelt, if not sometimes odd, strange and even gross as times.

Originally I didn’t see the need for a remake of a old 2006 PS2 game, but after playing it, I see that this remake wasn’t just a good idea, it was needed. It ties the series together into a really well told and crafted Epic, and gives a much more serious and important tone to the overall series. Yakuza 0 got me initially into the story, but Kiwami fully cements my love for the games and gives me a better understanding why these games have such a lasting legacy.