A reader takes a chance on Sega’s remaster of the very first Yakuza game and is impressed by its storytelling and its over-the-top action.
I’ve just spent the past 10 hours playing Yakuza Kiwami, a remaster of a PlayStation 2 game I’d never heard of before. And boy I’m glad I did. Yakuza is a Japanese action adventure with a small open world full of classic beat ‘em-up gameplay, over 70 charming side quests, and an all-engrossing crime narrative at the centre.
Throughout you will be playing as Kazuma Kiryu, an up and coming Yakuza who takes the fall for murder to protect his best friend Nishikiyama. The story is fully captivating from it’s opening, with dark story beats alongside some fairly over-the-top characters. Part of Yakuza’s charm is how it still feels grounded, even when fighting a boss whose eyes look like they could pop out at any moment, all the while hitting him with a taffic cone. But if you don’t like lots of cut scenes or subtitles, this might not be for you. Every story mission is fairly story heavy, each giving you a nice dose of narrative.
After the start of the game in 1995, you’ll spend most of your time after being released from prison in 2005. You’ll find that your combat and fighting ability have dropped dramatically from that decade inside. This gives you a bit of growth to your character by upgrading your abilities earnt after random brawls, story missions, or mini-games. Whilst the combat starts simple (keep mashing square) the upgrades start to include dropkicks, extra dodges, and the ability to beat people with bikes.
The combat is based around four different changeable on-the-fly classes. You have Rush, for fast-paced punches and movement. Beast is perfect for wiping out big crowds with one big punch and epic heat takedowns (a full heat bar and the triangle button is so satisfying) but lacks fast movement or dodging. Brawler is a great all-rounder and Dragon – Kiryu’s most famous style (he was previously nicknamed ‘Dragon of Dojima’) is fun but takes the longest to upgrade and use effectively. One to stay clear off till you’ve spent a couple of hours upgrading it.
The combat is nowhere near as fluid or magnificent as Marvel’s Spider-Man, Batman: Arkham, or Middle-Earth but it certainly is as good as it needs to be. Some personal gripes are the block and lock-on buttons being mapped to L1 and R1, making it very awkward to use and restricting your movement both in-game and real life. It’s certainly fun, but nothing as great as the other games I’ve mentioned.
Set in the streets of Kamurocho, Yakuza Kiwami is a very small open world when compared to the vast sandboxes of modern gaming. It is, truth be told, probably the smallest map I’ve played on. But that also gives it a massive advantage as it is populated with many mini-games, each with their own gameplay; from pocket racing to cabaret clubs and trips to an arcade to play on the UFO catcher, Yakuza could keep you going for hours. I must have spent a good couple of hours between story missions seeing what the streets had to offer, or just brawling the nearest guys on the look for me. (destroying three fools with a bike is pure mayhem! It really is a matter of quality over quantity.
Sub-stories are where the game really shows its wackiness and charm. Forgetting the serious nature of the main story, sub-stories can occur when roaming the streets and will give you a fleshed out, often over-the-top situation to complete. One particular highlight included Kiryu intervening in what I’d assumed to be a sleazy man after more than money from a young woman, to accidentally beating the living daylights out of her boyfriend. It then ended up with the beaten-up boyfriend trying to stab me, and an onlooker putting him on the floor after I’d apologised for my mistake. It ended with a policeman trying to figure out what had happened. Yakuza definitely hits the right balance between tones.
Finally, the graphics of this built-up remake of a PlayStation 2 game are extremely impressive, if just a little under the astonishing levels of detail in games like The Division 2 or Far Cry 5. It can still look a little PlayStation 3 era in some places (it was released on both PlayStation 3 and 4) and textures can let it down. But I will say it suits the style of the game and its streets look great whatever time of day it is. Like it’s combat, it can be as good as it needs to be but faces and cut scenes look great, especially compared to the original PlayStation 2 version. It’s certainly very good on that front.
After 10 hours with Yakuza Kiwami, I can already sense myself wanting to jump back in to the streets of Kamurocho and play this game for many hours to come. Combat may be simple and can be very repetitive, but the story has me gripped to the edge of my seat. The amount to do in this tiny open world is a testament to the developers, and it totally proves the quality over quantity debate. If you’re looking for something different to play, with an in-depth crime saga, plenty of side stories and don’t mind plenty of subtitles, I can’t recommend this enough.
Should you buy it?
Thanks for reading!
By reader Charlie Ridgewell
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