Yakuza protagonist Kiryu Kazuma has certainly led quite the saga these past 13 years. He earned his fame pounding asphalt and faces on the mean streets of Kamurocho. Throughout the series, Kiryu has unraveled mysteries, won coliseum battles, ran an orphanage, drove taxis professionally, and even fought zombies once, though we don’t talk much about that last one. Indeed, he’s led a roller coaster of a life.
Yakuza Kiwami is refreshing, in context. A complete remake of the original Yakuza from 2006, Kiwami takes things back to basics, albeit much more gorgeous than ever. After a three year wait, Kiwami has finally made it to PC, bringing along better resolution options and an uncapped frame rate. Of course, Kiryu didn’t earn his ever-growing popularity by having the prettiest scowl in all the land. Yakuza Kiwami faithfully preserves the original’s story: a captivating crime drama tied together with white-knuckle suspense, gripping action, and a lot of heart.
Redemption Of The Dragon
The tale of Yakuza Kiwami is our first introduction to Kiryu, also known as the brutal Dragon of Dojima. It begins in 1995, where Kiryu and his lifelong childhood friend Akira Nishikiyama – or Nishiki, more commonly – are climbing the ranks of the Yakuza. Kiryu is a rising star, soon to head his own family. But things take a turn when Nishiki murders a Yakuza boss for laying his hands on his and Kiryu’s other childhood friend (and Kiryu’s love interest), Yumi. Kiryu courageously takes the blame.
He spends 10 years collecting dust in prison, and when he emerges, everything has changed. The streets are busier, brighter, and everyone is walking around with these newfangled cell phones. Nishiki, once an uncertain man, has become ruthless in his bid for power. Yumi, who lost her memory after the traumatic event, is missing.
Kiryu sets forth on a quest to figure out just what the hell happened. He soon meets a 9-year-old girl named Haruka, who seems to be the key to everything. Wherever each stone leads, Haruka and her relationship to Yumi is often at the center. Kiryu doesn’t stage a one-man fight, however. He gets help in the unlikeliest of places, from an underground information broker to a police detective who was never convinced of Kiryu’s guilt.
However, Kiryu is elevated highest when paired with the surprisingly clever and strong-willed Haruka. Her relationship with Kiryu is one of the game’s most compelling aspects. Finding himself at first an unwilling father figure, Kiryu’s stoicism starts to crack, leading to some moments of tender awkwardness. He really tries to do right with Haruka but also makes plenty of “new dad” mistakes. Regardless, it’s the start of an amazing relationship that lasts for many years.
Welcome To Kamurocho
Yakuza Kiwami takes place in the red-light district of Kamurocho, Tokyo. The grimy streets look superb in the remake. Beautifully detailed, Kamurocho is home to bright, neon lights, bars, shops, and restaurants. Based on the real-life Kabukichō, Kamurocho isn’t as large as most open-world games, but that better suits a game like Yakuza. Because of its small size, it won’t take long to become acquainted with all its particular features. It’s easy to navigate, so long as you’re able to push past the throngs of pedestrians.
Over the years, Kamurocho has rarely changed. Even with Kiwami remaking Yakuza from the ground up, Kamurocho is just how I remember. This welcome familiarity over the years has helped change how I see open-world games. Over the course of the franchise, Kamurocho has somewhat become its own character, and that creates a sort of intimacy that’s hard to articulate. It’s something I rarely experienced in larger games with endless fields holding little interest. It’s small but jam-packed with people and interesting locations that have evolved with each visit.
But just because Kamurocho is homey, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Enemies ranging from surly drunks to restless Yakuza members stand at every corner, all looking to lose some precious teeth. At the center of Yakuza beats the heart of a role-playing game, and like many RPGs, there are random enemy encounters to impede your path. However, you can better avoid enemies in Yakuza Kiwami. Their location and cone of vision appear on the mini-map, giving you more of a chance to circumvent any trouble spots. When you get into a fight, beating down opponents often rewards in cash or items, but you mostly fight to get some of those lovely experience points.
You can use experience points to increase your health, or you can improve one of Kiryu’s ferocious fighting styles: Brawler, Beast, or Rush. There is also a fourth style, but I’ll get into that later. Brawler is your typical go-to fighting style, offering balanced punches, kicks, or throws along with quick-step maneuverability. You can also use a counter-attack ability that lets you fight back even under pressure from an enemy. Rush is a highly mobile fighting style, using superior quick-step movements and lightning-fast punches to whittle away enemy health. It’s a fighting style that can be undervalued at first. But once you drop some points into it, Rush becomes deadly and fairly essential when faced with faster opponents.
The Beast fighting style is, well, the best. Swinging his arms in an arc, Beast is Kiryu’s best option for crowd control. It automatically picks up any objects lying around to use as a blunt weapon, from traffic cones to benches. It really is just the epitome of a good time.
The Heat Is On
All fighting styles become more devastating when using Heat Actions. Displayed as a blue bar, Heat builds as you fight. Once it reaches a certain level, you can spend it by unleashing a powerful special move that decimates most enemies’ health. Generally, you can unleash the move if you’re holding a weapon or after grabbing an enemy. Thus begins a game of “find the most painful thing you can do to this guy.” Bashing his head into a wall is a good pick, but a nearby burning garbage can is just as enticing.
So yes, the game is violent, which has always been a staple of the series. Bones crack, noses gush blood, and teeth pop out like Pez. Kiwami is not a game for the squeamish, but it sure makes for some rewarding combat. Taking some punk who wouldn’t get out of your business and turning his face into a blood fountain rarely gets old. Even after hundreds of fights, I still get a grin on my face after each enemy who gets a taste of humble pie laced with his own teeth.
Heat Of The Night
Climax Heat Actions can only be used once you get the meter filled to red, unlocking even more savage moves. There are also unique Heat Actions that show up during boss battles. After taking the health bar of a boss down enough, they become staggered and glow a color of one of your fighting styles. Changing to that style (if you’re not using it already) allows you to pull off a lavish series of attacks that chunks away health. It’s actually somewhat necessary, because bosses will quickly regain health while staggered until you unleash the move.
Of course, it’s not just about punches and kicks. Every battle area is littered with random objects like stop signs and bicycles for you to pick up and swing around. Enemies also sometimes carry weapons that they can drop to be picked up for your use. You can also drop by the pawn shop or a weapons dealer to find even deadlier options, like rare katanas and knives. If enemies are getting a little too much to handle, you can also buy some equipment — like armor that defends against bladed weapons, for example.
Man Of The People
The story of Yakuza generally doesn’t stray far from its dramatic core, unlike its canonical predecessor Yakuza 0, which interwove its serious-minded narrative with occasional hilarity. Yakuza Kiwami, instead, sequesters a good deal of its quirky sense of humor outside the mainline adventure. You’ll find quite a few sub-stories starring Kamurosho’s awkward or eccentric denizens.
Some may ask you to do some hero work for pay, requesting that you fulfill some random desire or another. Sub-stories can include chasing down a pickpocket or standing in as a bouncer for a bar where female employees are being harassed. Or, you can try helping out a guy who’s secular desire is to use you as a proxy to give a woman a password (“You’re sexy,” in this case) and some cash to buy a bag with a mystery item. Running up to the location you see three women, and you’re not sure which one is the right mark.
You can probably see where this is heading. In any case, the actual seller calls Kiryu a pervert to his surprise, and once you finish the quest you realize you just bought the man a bag of women’s underwear, which he scatters to the ground after trying to stumble away. Oh.
While sub-stories offer a good chuckle or two, they can’t compare to Kiwami‘s goofiest addition: Majima Everywhere. Yes, Goro Majima, the Mad Dog of Shimano, plays a much bigger role in the remake. New to Yakuza, Majima Everywhere is, well, frankly self-explanatory. Clearly obsessed with Kiryu, Majima tracks him down everywhere throughout Kamurocho with a singular goal in mind: to have a roarin’ good fight. And when I say he’s everywhere, I mean he’s everywhere.
You’ll never know when Majima will pop up. Heading to the local convenience store to pick up a bento box for a quick health boost? Bam! Majima is behind the counter. Why is that giant traffic cone moving? It’s Majima in disguise! Ran into a group of thugs looking for a fight? There’s nothing unusual about that. But here comes Majima, with a toothy grin, ready to join the party. Majima almost seems too happy to have Kiryu pound his face into the street again and again. Honestly, I think he just wants a friend.
Here and there you’ll get an email to your phone from a Majima gang member cluing you in on where to find his nonsensical leader. In one such occasion, after you receive a hint to make your way to a hostess bar, you’re greeted by a sight you’re unlikely to forget, no matter how much you desire.
Best Frienemy Forever
There is an underlying purpose to fighting the Mad Dog. Defeating Majima allows you to increase a Majima Everywhere rank. As you rack up wins and rank up, you’ll gain access to more moves in Kiryu’s signature Dragon of Dojima fighting style, bringing his combat stances up to four. In the 10 years Kiryu was left out to dry, his skills have rusted. Majima wants to fight Kiryu at his best, so the more you fight, the stronger the style becomes. And you’ll have to fight Majima a lot to get the style upgraded to its fullest — along with getting some additional training by Master Komaki.
But the perpetual brawls do lead to a problem. Majima has always been the giggling Joker to Kiryu’s stone-faced Batman. In the original Yakuza, Majima was terrifying, unpredictable, and dangerous. Whenever he showed up, you knew shit was about to go down.
With Majima saturating this game, however, his appearances in the story feel less serious than before. Now it’s just Majima being Majima, and it’s hard to see him as the threat he once was. But, like I said, it’s a small issue. I still love the new system, almost as much as Majima himself. He’s the perfect comedic foil to the often grumpy Kiryu.
When In Kamurocho
Whenever you get tired of kicking Majima’s ass up and down the block, you’ll find a wealth of non-mission distractions. Returning from Yakuza 0 is the Pocket Racer mini-game, where you race small, surprisingly expensive, miniature race cars for conquest and glory. You race through multiple tracks with twists and jumps, while periodically stopping to buy new parts to make the ultimate racer. Fans of this mini-game in Yakuza 0 will particularly enjoy its return, as it includes a sub-story that ties the Pocket Racer stories together.
You can also hit up CLUB SEGA, where the MesuKing: Battle Bug Beauties mini-game, also from Yakuza 0, is still in full swing. MesuKing, from what I can gather, is some sort of rock-paper-scissors game where you pit attractive women dressed as bugs to wrestle each other. So yes, this is a thing you can do.
Yakuza Kiwami has many other ways to spend your free time — except, maybe, play the arcades found in CLUB SEGA. Seriously, there are arcade machines there, and I saw an image of Virtua Fighter, but you can’t play it. I guess it makes the game more comparable to the original, but come on. At least give me Space Harrier. Shenmue had better options (and Space Harrier). Anyway, you can at least get your picture taken or play the UFO Catcher. There’s also karaoke, gambling, a Mahjong parlor, billiards, and the batting cages. You can talk up some girls at hostess bars, look for keys to lockers with rare items, or dine at the local eateries. In short, there’s a lot you can do in Yakuza Kiwami if you don’t, you know, want to play Yakuza Kiwami for a bit.
Kiwami Means EXTREME
Yakuza Kiwami utilizes the Yakuza 0 engine, and it puts it through the paces. The game is gorgeous, with higher definition textures and sharper character models. It’s an excellent port and should be used as an example of optimization done right. Even with my modest GTX 970, I was running the game in ultra high settings, with only a couple of notches in anti-aliasing, and still pulled in a consistent 100 frames or higher.
In short, Yakuza Kiwami looks and sounds fantastic. The new textures are so detailed, you could practically count the pores on Kiryu’s face. And those with beefier rigs should be able to pull even more from the game with the host of graphical options and resolution options. The new soundtrack echoes the original, but it stands as a far better composition. I suppose the only loss between the original and Kiwami is the English voice acting. Take note that I do prefer the more authentic feeling Japanese dubbing, but the original cast included Mark Hamill as Majima, and I can’t imagine a better pairing. Still, I do prefer the Japanese voicing overall. I just can’t imagine anyone else than the bassy Takaya Kuroda as Kiryu.
The Beginning Is Just The Beginning
It can be argued that the original Yakuza isn’t the best in the series. But it was, and still is, one of Sega’s finest action games. Yakuza Kiwami builds on the already solid foundation laid out in 2006, bringing everything to the modern era. It’s dazzling in motion, raw and violent, but blessed with emotion and remarkably fond moments. If this is your first foray into the world of Yakuza, Kiwami is an excellent place to start. This is the beginning of a legacy: the chronicle of a man known as the Dragon of Dojima.