Yakuza Kiwami is the name for the HD remaster of the original Yakuza. Released in 2005, the Yakuza series has been an almost spiritual successor to Shenmue. While the series has developed a cult following, it hasn’t achieved mainstream success, and why Sega is essentially doing a redo for new fans. If you didn’t like Yakuza Zero, Kiwami won’t change your mind, but this is definitely more than just a repackaging.
Yakuza Kiwami follows through the original game’s storyline. Kiryu is sentenced to 10 years behind bars to cover for his friend over a murder. After being released, he finds himself pulled back into the Yakuza world.
As with Zero, gameplay consists of exploring a recreated version of Kabukicho; getting into fights, and loads of optional content. Given the evolution of the series since the original release, Sega has definitely gone above and beyond with Kiwami.
While the story and structure remains consistent, Yakuza Kiwami features across the board changes compared to the original game. From the outset, the game makes use of the updated engine last seen in Yakuza Zero; bringing the graphics up to HD quality.
The original dub has been replaced with the series’ trend of staying in Japanese with subtitles. New cutscenes and dialogue have been added to help expand the story and tie things to Yakuza Zero.
Yakuza Kiwami returns to using experience points for leveling up, but features the skill tree system seen in Zero. There are also more mini-games and side content to find while exploring.
But what may be the biggest and most surprising change is the inclusion of the brand new mode: “Majima Everywhere.”
Series’ fan favorite and bad-ass Goro Majima may not be a playable character in Kiwami, but you will get your fill of seeing him. Once the game begins proper, Majima makes it his mission to test Kiryu and bring back his fighting skills.
To do that, Majima begins stalking Kiryu throughout the entire game. “Majima Everywhere” will unlock new moves and abilities for Kiryu’s Dragon stance as you reach certain milestones. Before anyone says it, that title is completely apt. Majima will stalk you on the streets, at the bowling alley, and even while you’re trying to eat. For fans of Yakuza Zero, Majima will make use of all of his styles seen in the game.
The game certainly mixes old and new elements together, but it’s not without the return of some of the franchise’s issues.
Yakuza Kiwami despite being a remake of the game that started it all is not as good of a jumping on point compared to Zero. The game does a poor job of bringing new players up to speed on the intricacies of combat.
Instead, the game commits the cardinal sin for new players of burying its information into the help topics several UI screens deep. If I didn’t play Yakuza Zero, I would have had no idea about the differences of the various styles. This becomes even more frustrating when the game introduces a new element compared to Zero.
During boss fights, the enemy can recover health after enough time has passed. The only way to counter it is to use a specific heat move that relates to the color of the enemy’s aura. The problem is that despite the importance of this action, the game gives a new player little information as to how critical it is to unlock those moves.
The pacing issues continue into the overall combat. Yakuza is a game built on peaks and valleys of difficulty. You’ll spend minutes wandering around beating up goons easily, to getting crushed at a boss or special encounter.
There is depth to the combat in terms of knowing what style to use, how to read your opponent, dealing with hyper armor, and the advanced unlocked abilities, but none of that is referenced in-game.
As for the story itself, Yakuza Kiwami starts out slower compared to the first game. Many side quests and diversions don’t become unlocked until a few hours in, and the game also has point of no returns locking you into fighting sections. Again, for fans of the series, these quirks should be nothing new, but it can be frustrating for a new player jumping in.
I did like the new cutscenes that flesh out how Kiryu loses his friend. One important note, the hostess and real-estate side quests of Zero are not a part of Kiwami. Overall, it feels like there are fewer things to do in Kiwami compared to Zero.
Yakuza Kiwami is a weird game to look at. As it stands on its own, it’s another good title in the franchise. However, as an attempt to get new people interested in Yakuza, the game fails in that part. With Yakuza 6 coming in a few months, I’m curious to see how many people who played Zero and Kiwami will try jumping into the latest game in the series.
If you are someone new looking to play Yakuza, I still completely recommend Zero, but despite moving forward, Yakuza Kiwami feels like a few steps back.