Yakuza Kiwami Review – The Dragon Returns

Having previously sunk untold numbers of hours into Yakuza 0 (the prequel to the series) it comes with great elation to jump in again but this time with SEGA’s remake of the original Yakuza game which appeared on the PS2. Cue Yakuza Kiwami. It’s no mere touch-up job though as the game shines in a similar fashion to Zero using the same game engine. It’s been completely overhauled and not just with the visuals, the gameplay too.

Now it has to be said, whilst the game is set within the confines of a small area of Tokyo and none of the extra environments we’ve been treated to in other games in the series, it is compact madness and with a price reflective of that. Kiwami is being sold for £29.99 which frankly is a steal given the numbers of hours you can spend in the highly populated fictitious district of Kamurocho.

Players assume the role of series hero Kazuma Kiryu, who at the start of the game takes the fall for his close friend Nishikiyama who murders one of the high ranking family members. There are more plot twists and dramatic scenes than an entire series of East-Enders making for a gripping and gritty tale to wade through. Without going too deep into the story, Kiryu takes the rap allowing his friend to escape but is sent to jail for 10 years. The game picks up shortly after and it’s here where Kiryu learns of a new world (set in 2005) and whole host of change amongst the Yakuza families. Most notably, the massive change in character of his friend Nishikiyama, who no longer is a sniveling imbecile, but is instead a ruthless head of his own family – something Kiryu wanted to achieve before his jail time.

The story elements are told via way of cutscenes using the game engine and are exceptionally well scripted and directed making them a joy to watch. The game and its translation into English does a grand job of pulling you in to drive the story forwards because you’re left wanting to know what happens next. Unfortunately, the game has other ideas. You see, as you would expect Kamurocho is filled with too many distractions to mention as expected of the series which means whilst there’s drama within the story Kiryu can be going on dates with hostesses, playing darts in a bar, eating fine cuisine, bowling, Karoke and generally partaking in lots of activities you wouldn’t expect a tough as nails gangster to enjoy. There’s simply lots to do and before you ask, these are fully fledged activities too which make the game even more enjoyable.

Aside from the distractions though, there’s an open city to wander around which is quite relaxing, except you’ve got countless other gangsters and thugs all wanting a piece of the action. So, even if you’re intent on minding your own business you’ll get people in your face looking for a fight, perhaps far to often. However, this is a good excuse to gain some experience to level up your four fighting styles. Combat is fast and furious and allows a variety of attacks. In fact, the multi-styles approach wasn’t in the original game so its inclusion here is refreshing. You’ll also see victims in need where it’s an optional choice to intervene or not and then there’s the rather clown like character Goro Majima who featured pretty heavily in Yakuza 0 as the alternate playable character. This time though, he’s resigned to being like the Pink Panther character Cato who ambushes Kiryu in unexpected places.

Visually, Kiwami looks pretty neat although once again there are plenty invisible walls blocking your path and movements which is a shame. There’s also a fare amount of pop-in although, to be fair is masked by the busy nature of the city. The Tokyo flavour is captured well with a number of NPCs, changeable weather conditions, day and night and all the lights and signage you expect. It’s a visually pleasing game even if some of the NPC character models look a bit basic. In terms of performance the game does run pretty smoothly (on PS4 Pro that we tested) although still suffered some stutter on occasion despite holding 60fps very well and outputting upscaled 4K to our display. Audio is also of a high standard even if it’s in Japanese. The script translation is excellently crafted making for an engaging story and lively set of characters to care about throughout.

As mentioned, you’ll spend many hours in Kiwami, so much so that the asking price can be forgotten as you rack up more hours than many games commanding a higher premium. So in this respect you get your monies worth and then some.

Yakuza Kiwami is an excellent game to dive into although it has to be said is not as content rich as Yakuza 0. It can be played without any previous knowledge of the series and is easily digestible despite the language barrier. If you’re after a quirky free-roaming action fighting game and rinsed out Yakuza 0 or not then you’ll be right at home here. If you’re a newcomer and wish to ignore 0 and dive right in then you’ll find your feet immediately – although it is recommended you play 0 first if you want a full understanding of the characters. The bottom line is, this is an excellent game to start the series and makes way for the upcoming English version of Yakuza 6 for those waiting patiently.

Score 9/10

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.