Kiryu for Prison
While the original version of the first installment of Sega’s Yakuza series, known as Ryū ga Gotoku (“like a dragon”) released in Japan in 2005 and the following year outside the country, I didn’t hear about the franchise until recently, with this reviewer starting his venture into it with its first and thus far only prequel, Yakuza 0, and resulting in a general positive impression. A remake, Yakuza Kiwami, released for the PlayStation 3 and 4 in Japan in 2016 to commemorate the franchise’s tenth anniversary, with a worldwide release only for the PS4 occurring the following year, and again giving me a good impression of the series.
Kiwami opens with protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza lieutenant, spending a decade in prison due to taking the blame for a murder caused by one of his criminal brethren, before seeing his release on parole. Upon his exodus from imprisonment, Kazuma discovers that the real murderer, Akira Nishikiyama, has become a powerful yakuza boss, his childhood friend Yumi is missing, and everyone is seeking ten billion yen stolen from the Tojo Clan. Kazuma also has a rivalry throughout the game with Goro Majima, which generally ranges from serious to comical.
The narrative is generally well-told, feeling like a Japanese Godfather or Grand Theft Auto, having a likeable cast, plentiful meaningful development, interesting subplots, good twists, and clear direction. There are some occasional story clichés such as amnesia and a few fetch quests, but these hardly mar an engaging storyline. The localization luckily doesn’t hamper the plot, with cohesive spelling and grammar, and little Engrish, with the decision to leave the voices in Japanese definitely creating an authentic feel of a Japanese criminal drama, although not everyone will appreciate the Nipponese honorifics.
Fortunately, the gameplay backs up the narrative, with Kazuma regularly encountering street thugs who wish to take him on, in which case he can use four different fighting styles with their own strengths and weaknesses. Subduing antagonists rewards Kazuma with experience the player can use to increase his abilities and move set, with XP further acquired through actions such as eating food at restaurants (although he can’t do so when his health is full until players acquire a reward for acquiring a number of capacity points sometime into the game).
A prominent quirk of gameplay is in-game achievements alongside the PlayStation Trophies, with CP rewarded for things such as subjugating enough adversaries with specific fighting styles, the player able to use these special points for new equipment or abilities such as increased dashing capacity without becoming tired. Kazuma can equip one weapon, one piece of body armor, and two accessories; whilst weapons have a certain limit of uses before becoming unusable (in which case they luckily don’t break), players can repair them with special items. Kiryu also gains yen from defeating enemies he can use to purchase consumables to recover health.
As Kazuma fights, he builds up “heat” to execute super-powerful moves against enemies, and while one can find it difficult to track the different heat moves he can use at points, there is satisfaction with beating the tar out of foes through such means, and combat is enjoyable. There are only a few minor issues with the targeting system, which requires players to hold the R1 button and doesn’t automatically adjust the camera (although the player can turn it towards Kazuma’s current direction through another button), and players might find higher difficulties to be daunting, given some potentially cheap foes.
Control is generally solid, with Kiwami being semi-open world, with tons of side content such as helping victims of street criminals and a fighting arena where Kazuma can acquire points to spend on things such as special scrolls that can unlock more moves in his Dragon fighting style, not to mention plenty of minigames, some of which aren’t half-bad. The ability for players to save their progress mostly anywhere is a definite boon, as well, the menus are easily navigable, and there is largely clear direction on how to advance the main storyline. The only shortfalls are the unskippable text during cinematic cutscenes and inability to see the attack and defense stats of equipment before purchase.
As mentioned, the English version of the game leaves the voicework in Japanese, with mostly solid performances, and no voices ever sounding out of place. The sound effects, as is expectant of any title in the game’s generation, are superb as well, and there are some occasional good tracks such as the battle themes and occasional instrumental of “Joy to the World” played in convenience stores. Part of the ending theme, moreover, is a vocal of “Amazing Grace,” and while most of the soundtrack’s remainder is generally unmemorable and there are plentiful silent portions, the aurals serve the game well.
The visuals are lightyears beyond those in the PlayStation 2 version, with a realistic style that largely utilizes the PS4’s graphical capabilities, believable character models containing a great attention to detail with things such as clothing textures, facial stubble, and so forth. The environments look nice too, with great water, reflection, and shadow effects, realistic colors, and plenty blood and gore during combat more squeamish players can mercifully tone down through a menu setting. There are occasional framerate issues and poor collision detection at points, but otherwise, the remake looks superb.
Finally, the game isn’t terribly lengthy, with this reviewer finishing in a little under twenty hours with a decent chunk of sidequests partaken, although there is plenty more to boost playing time such as completing all in-game achievements, completing sidequests, and a replay mode.
In the end, Yakuza Kiwami is for the most part a superb remake that largely hits the right notes regarding its engaging combat, tight control, excellent storyline, great sound, solid visuals, and plenty side content and reason to come back for more. There are only some minor hiccups such as the occasional fetch quests in the storyline, lack of a memorable soundtrack, and the localization decision to leave in Japanese honorifics, but otherwise, the game is sure to pacify gamers of all skills with its adjustable difficulty, and was a great lead-on to Yakuza 0 that convinces me to have every intent on playing its sequels in the future.
This review is based on a playthrough of a physical copy purchased by the reviewer.
+Tons of side content.
-Occasional story clichés.
-Honorifics won’t appeal to all.
-Soundtrack generally unmemorable.
The Bottom Line:
A great remake.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: < 1 Day