Yakuza Kiwami is a charming romantic comedy about an eccentric, one-eyed Polymath trying to capture the heart of his one true love; the toughest man and number one hot Dad in Japan. There’s also something about a little girl, ten billion yen in missing Yakuza funds and a murdered Yakuza patriarch, but that’s all secondary at best. What’s important is Goro Majima’s tale of love, longing and the lessons we can learn from it: always follow your dreams, and never give up on love.
It’s a bumper year for fans of this series: Yakuza Zero provided engaging, illuminating backstory for Majima and set up Akira Nishkiyama as a decent bloke ahead of his heel-turn in this game. Now, only a few months later comes a remake of the original PS2 game, for better and worse, as it turns out. For now I’ll just say that I’ve been looking forward to this, I’m thrilled the series continues to be localised, and I’m really hyped for both Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2. For the uninitiated Yakuza is a series of games that’s part deep, serious crime drama, part exquisitely brutal beat-em-up with RPG elements, and part batshit, weird minigames and substories off the beaten path. I’ve a deep fondness for the series and if all started with the original on PS2, which I never got around to finishing. Unfortunately as good as this game as a whole and as a remake is, it highlights a real issue with Yakzua Zero; namely series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s side of the story. Everything that happened in Kiryu’s story has literally no effect on the plot of Kiwami. There are cutscenes new to this version to strengthen the ties between the two games, but they almost exclusively show Akira Nishkiyama’s transition from Kiryu’s sworn brother to primary antagonist and whiny, slimy villain throwing away his entire life to become a Yakuza big shot. That works though, Nishki’s journey from good to villainous is understandable and even relatable to an extent, and his personal link to Kiryu makes him a solid big bad, particularly in early scenes when his backstory hasn’t been explained and he lurks in the background smirking at Kiryu. The story itself is decent, and wisely focuses on Kiryu and his adopted family, all of whom are connected to the missing money and the violent pursuit of both it and Haruka, a little girl directly tied to it somehow. It lacks the emotional punch of Majima’s plot in Zero, but it holds up well, and personally I think it’s a far superior introduction to Kiryu than Zero was.
So what’s new for the remake? Well it’s on the new engine debuted with the previous game and the voice acting is now all in Japanese to bring it in line with previous games. There are new cutscenes, minigames and substories, the multiple fighting stances from Zero return, with Kiryu’s mainstay fighting style requiring work to unlock all its moves and buffs. Most of said moves and buffs directly tie into the game’s biggest new addition: Majima Everywhere. I cannot stress how much I frankly adore this system. Having shed his reasonable, measured approach in favour of the “Mad Dog of Shimano” persona we all know and love, Majima is now determined to make Kiryu regain his immense strength and skill, it having been dulled by ten years in prison. He does this by hiding around town, wandering around town and having a subordinate lure Kiryu to certain places, all so the two of them can fight. He hides in bins, crouches behind cars, dresses as a police officer so he can search you, pops up behind you at restaurants and various entertainment venues; he’s completely dedicated to keeping you on your toes. At one point he stages a zombie apocalypse at great expense to himself, and gets a load of his men in the act. As far as I’m concerned, this is canon: during the events of the original Yakuza Goro Majima and the Majima family dropped everything else and spent all their time, effort and money surprising and fighting Kiryu to make him stronger. Not only is Majima a joy to fight, and it has the benefit of unlocking new techniques, the writing for all of his scenes is hilarious, and filled with a frankly impressive amount of innuendo double intended to the point that I’d be surprised if the dev team came out and said that Majima ISN’T madly in love with Kiryu. This is easily the most fun I had with the game, and I’m glad Sega capitalised on all the good will they’ve built up with Majima over the years, especially after Zero. Everything else is at good as it’s ever been; combat is still fun and satisfying, the story and its delivery is still gripping and impactful, and all the weirdness is still enjoyable.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the other games in the series, this is a no-brainer, especially for the discount retail price. If you’re new to the series this is the best place to start; see where it all began, get a feel for the series, then if you enjoy it play Zero while you wait for Kiwami 2 to be released. The new features are largely great apart from a new drawn-out side quest right at the beginning, Majima everywhere is inspired and overall I had a damn good time with the game.
By James Lambert
P.S Sega put out a survey asking what people like about the game, which goes on to ask how interested you are in future projects and seeing those projects localised, with specific reference to Kiwami 2 and the Hokuto no Ken game recently announced. It’d do me and every other fan of the series a real solid if you could take a look at it- Sega have said that interest and sales over here have made an actual difference, so it is worth your time. Thank you kindly