Sega has without a doubt been on a roll in 2017, first releasing a localized version of Yakuza 0 on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, and now a PlayStation 4 exclusive remake of the first game in the series. Never owning a PlayStation 2, I never experienced the Yakuza series before the release of Yakuza 0, an amazing prequel for the series. Yakuza Kiwami picks up a few years after the climax of Yakuza 0, providing a seamless transition for those that have recently played through the game, but I wouldn't call it a requirement to play through it first. Using the same engine, Yakuza Kiwami feels quite familiar, but at the same time, there are noticeable differences as you continue your journey through the action-packed streets of Tokyo.
After clearing his name of murder, Kiryu finds himself once again in trouble with law enforcement. This time, he spends ten full years in prison for a crime that he didn't commit, emerging a weak, empty shell of his former self. Through the guidance of series favorite and one of the playable protagonist from Yakuza 0, Goro Majima, Kiryu must strive to once again become the feared Dragon of the Dojima. To accomplish this feat, Yakuza Kiwami features a Majima Everywhere system, something not included in the original release. As it implies, Majima may appear at any time during the game, even in the middle of a fight against other street thugs or Yakuza members. Beating Goro is the only way to master the Dragon fighting stance, providing new combos and moves. Some of the best moments feature him in a variety of different disguises, some being quite comical. A word of warning if you like to carry weapons as Majima will search you as a disguised police officer. Then again, he may just appear from a manhole cover or charge at you after exiting a restaurant.
The side-missions in Yakuza 0, stepped away from the serious nature of the game’s main narrative, and instead, tasked you with completing outrageous tasks. While some of the side quests in this game follow this approach,many of them are repetitive in nature, having to defeat the same scamming group of hooligans multiple times or collect a requested missing item. As the first release of the game was over ten years ago, it does make sense that some side stories feel archaic in design and less fleshed out. If you find yourself wanting to relax during the open-ended chapters of the game, Yakuza Kiwami features similar mini-games to the ones previously in the series. Pocket Racers is still a complex and deep side attraction that I doubt I’ll ever master, even after spending millions of yen on upgraded parts. I found myself drawn to the basic attractions, such as visiting the batting cages, bowling, and even throwing darts. Strangely enough, I found these distractions almost therapeutic.
A new mini-game featured at the Sega arcade locations is based on a real-life arcade game. MesuKing: Battle Bug Beauties blends rock, paper, scissors combat mechanics with a collectible card game. The cards represent specific move types, but the enjoyment comes from the animated characters springing to life. Although it seems to be popular with small children in Yakuza Kiwami, the cards are represented by scantily-clad women dressed as insects in seductive poses. It's something that made me question the true nature of the card game, but perhaps I just don't understand the culture as the arcade game never made it's way to the West.
If Yakuza 0 was your first foray into the popular series (as it was for me), seeing Majima go from a composed, calm, and downright cool character to the absolute bat-shit crazy character in Kiwami is a bit jarring. I understand that his character has always been represented as such, but those that only played the prequel may be missing a key component to his character. Unlike in Yakuza 0, you no longer have to spend money on upgrading Kiryu's stats or acquiring new moves, as you earn experience points by completing missions and winning fights. Kiryu can swap on-the-fly between four different fighting stances, but this time can activate Kiwami (extreme) moves. These can only be triggered when fighting bosses, but do provide some of the most satisfying moments in the game. Where else can you leap into the air and tombstone an opponent or slam a bicycle over their head? The arcade-style combat system is a defining characteristic for the series, and I for one never want it to change.
Yakuza Kiwami is a worthy follow up to Yakuza 0, and a top-notch remake of the entry title into the Yakuza franchise. Majimi Everywhere is a great inclusion, adding substance and random elements to just running around the city to the narrative waypoints. Side stories feel a bit dated, but there are more than enough worthwhile ones that you'll enjoy.Note: Yakuza Kiwami was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.