It’s been almost 12 years since SEGA’s Yakuza series made its debut on the PlayStation 2. A celebration of Japanese culture, the series has always held a unique place in the gaming landscape. 12 games and almost 12 years later, and nothing else has been released that comes close to matching its unique feel. With such a prolific series, it can be daunting to come in late, especially as it largely follows a set of recurring characters. Wanting to make that initial jump into the series less daunting, SEGA have remade the original Yakuza for PlayStation 4, as Yakuza Kiwami, a game that looks like right at home in today’s gaming landscape and presents an experience unlike any other.
For the uninitiated, the Yakuza games are melee brawlers, centred around the trials and tribulations faced by yakuza member Kazuma Kiryu. Yakuza Kiwami begins with Kiryu already well-established within the Dojima Family and about to take control of his own yakuza family. After a tragic event derails these plans, Kiryu instead loses his standing within the yakuza and you’re tasked with investigating a series of unusual events. The story is highly personal, focusing in on Kiryu, his motivations, his beliefs and his interactions with the world around him. The character building within the game is fantastic, as it quickly paints a multi-layered picture of our protagonist. Despite being part of a criminal organisation, I quickly fell in love with Kiryu and his story. The writing and story are perfectly set up to make you care about him and the people around him, leaving you incredibly engaged with the entire game. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game that has drawn me into its world so well.
Throughout the story of Kazuma Kiryu, you’ll often find yourself in a multitude of fist fights. Whether it’s against a bunch of street hooligans, some antagonistic yakuza or a hulking cage fighter, combat is always gloriously visceral and fun. Punches and kicks have a weight to them, pushing enemies back and cancelling out their own attacks. Better yet, the large variety of weapons you can pick up in the environments to beat your enemies senseless with feel fantastic to use. The best part though, is what the game calls ‘heat attacks’. As you beat your enemies senseless (and using other actions later in the game) you’ll build up your heat gauge. Once the gauge has filled to a high enough level, you’ll be able to trigger heat attacks. These are small, uninterruptable combo attacks that involve some truly visceral beatings of your opponent. Whether you’re knocking them to their knees and hitting them in the face with a baseball bat or curb stomping their face, heat actions leave you feeling incredibly powerful.
This base level combat system comes together with four different combat styles, as opposed to the original game’s single combat style, to ensure that every combat encounter can feel different. Brawler is an updated version of the original game’s combat style, Rush is a fast-paced boxers stance, Beast is a wide-attacking power stance and Dragon of Dojima is Kiryu’s ultimate fighting style. While the first three styles can be levelled up using skill points, the Dragon of Dojima style can only be levelled up by utilising the newly-introduced Majima Everywhere feature. Majima Everywhere is a series of battles throughout the game against the summarily weird and wonderful Goro Majima. Majima can attack you at any time while you’re out and about in the world, as well as at specific points during the story, with wins against him granting experience towards the Dragon of Dojima fighting style. Randomly hearing a scream of ‘Kiryu-chan’ as you’re running around the world is suitably weird and funny, but it also adds an extra element of variety to the standard street thugs you fight in the world.
There is no shortage of other activities to take part in as you explore the beautiful city of Kamurocho either. Along with the numerous sub-stories you can find, filled with weird and wonderful scenarios and writing, there are a massive number of mini-games to play as well. Whether it’s a game of darts against Majima, a karaoke session that puts Kiryu into an absurd music video or playing a children’s card game filled with women in bikinis wearing beetle-horns, there’s always something to grab your attention. If one thing is certain, you’ll never be bored as you play through Yakuza Kiwami.
While the original Yakuza was released in 2005 in Japan, SEGA have put in a massive amount of work into bringing Yakuza Kiwami up to today’s standards. They have completely rebuilt the game graphically, with extremely detailed character models and beautiful environments that look completely at home on the PlayStation 4. All character voices have been re-recorded by the original cast, resulting in excellent audio quality whenever a character speaks. Additional story content has been added to the game as well, filling up some plot holes in the original game and introducing some new stories as well. There are, however, a couple of areas where the game does still feel decidedly old. The biggest of these is the camera controls, which can be unwieldy and feel like the remnants from a bygone era. Kiryu’s controls can also frustrate at times, with a certain floatiness that can frustrate.
I can certainly say that while I had wanted to try the Yakuza series in the past, I’d been daunted by the sheer size of the series and the backstory I had missed. With Yakuza Kiwami, SEGA have brought the series starting point up to a modern standard and created the perfectly jumping in point for the series. The unique world and setting, coupled with the fantastic story and characters, plus the hugely enjoyable combat make Yakuza Kiwami a game that everyone should try.
- Story and characters are incredibly engaging
- Character models look fantastic and environments are beautiful
- Combat is satisfying and visceral
- Heaps of content to enjoy
- Camera can be unwieldy
- Character controls are somewhat floaty