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Yakuza Kiwami

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Deep Silver (EU), SEGA (US)
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: Aug. 29, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Yakuza Kiwami'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 29, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Yakuza Kiwami is a thrilling action-adventure game that takes players deep into the world of Japan's infamous underground organization.

Buy Yakuza Kiwami

It's difficult to do a remake well. Many games are products of their time, and one must balance modernization with capturing what made them appealing in the first place. By most metrics, Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original PS2 Yakuza title, is a huge success in modernizing an older game without losing the fun factor of the original. However, it runs into a completely different problem: the franchise's success since the original.

Kiwami follows the story of Kazuma Kiryu, who's a member of the Yakuza. He's a gangster with a moral code and an unshakable dedication to those around him. That becomes a problem when his best friend and sworn brother murders his boss for forcing himself upon Kiryu's love interest. Rather than have them suffer the consequences, Kiryu takes the murder rap, is expelled from the Yakuza, and spends the next 10 years in prison. Upon his release, he is thrust into a world that has drastically changed. Friends have become enemies, enemies have become friends, and Kiryu must survive in this increasingly complex world.

Story-wise, Kiwami is a more simple and emotional tale than the other Yakuza titles. There's backstabbing, convoluted twists, and a helping of manliness, but at its core, it's mostly about Kiryu coming to terms with his life and family. The changes to the plot work well, though a few are unnecessary, and the tale could've been fleshed out in a few more places, but at its heart, Kiwami tells one of the best stories in the franchise. The excellent translation also helps to keep the game feeling fresh and funny.

Kiwami plays much in the same way as the other titles in the franchise. You control Kiryu and can wander around the city, do side-quests, engage in random fighjts, play video games, and just putz around. Kiwami has the massive selection of side content that is usually found in the Yakuza games. There are side-quests aplenty, most of which are hilarious or amusing, and the game isn't shy about throwing minigames and side-quests at you. The problem is that a lot of them are the same ones you've seen in other Yakuza games, particularly Yakuza 0. They may have a slightly new skin or a few different features, but you've seen it all before — and pretty recently. The writing is solid enough to carry the familiar gameplay, but it's more difficult to feel engaged by it.

Kiwami effectively recycles the combat system used by Kiryu in Yakuza 0, so he has access to four styles: Beast, Brawler, Dragon and Rush. Beast is a brutish high-damage style that automatically picks up and uses objects in the environment to deal damage. Brawler is a straightforward beat-'em-up style that's designed to have a solid balance of speed and power. Rush is a fast-paced style with low damage but encourages nonstop attacks and rewards you for aggression. So little has changed that Kiwami does a poor job of explaining the three styles, obviously expecting that players have already mastered them in Yakuza 0.

The Dragon style is slightly different from the others. Early on, Kiryu loses access to his skills, and he can't regain the Dragon skills by leveling up, so he must use the Majima Everywhere system. Fan favorite Goro Majima, co-protagonist of Yakuza 0, is disappointed at how soft Kiryu became while in prison, so he takes it upon himself to be the Cato to Kiryu's Clouseau. He appears out of nowhere and attacks Kiryu, so he can slowly recover his Dragon abilities. Majima shows up randomly, joins fights, and even interrupts side-quests, and you'll have to compete with him in increasingly convoluted ways to fully regain your Dragon skills.

Majima Everywhere is a great example of how you can have too much of a good thing. Majima's a great character when used properly, and Yakuza 0 toned him down to make him more subdued and relatable. Here, he's crazy all the time and shows up so often that I got sick and tired of seeing him. Somehow, he felt more omnipresent and forced than in the game where he was literally the second playable character. He's the equivalent of Mister Shakedown from Yakuza 0 but less interesting and intimidating until the very end of the game. This also means the full potential of Dragon is locked for so long than by the time you unlock it, there's little to do with it. Yakuza 0 was good about allowing you to get Majima and Kiryu's styles long before the end of the game, so it's disappointing to see Dragon sidelined here.

Despite being so similar to Yakuza 0, it's frustrating that Kiwami doesn't take the opportunity to fix any of the issues with the combat system. The boss fights are probably the weakest since they don't feel like they're part of an integrated experience. There's a new Kiwami system that theoretically rewards you for using different styles during a fight, but it often feels forced and tedious.

On its own, Kiwami is a fine remake of a PS2 game, but there's so much Yakuza 0 in this title's veins that it's difficult for players to get excited about it. The characters, gameplay, and story are weaker, and everything is a step backward. It's still a fun game, but it constantly triggers comparisons to its predecessor. It's one of the better remakes I've played, but it's so overshadowed by its recent predecessor that it's tough to enjoy it on those own merits. There's a reason it's being sold at a budget price, and it's unfortunate that such a solid game follows on the heels of an exceptional title.

Kiwami is a good-looking game but clearly made on a tighter budget than Yakuza 0. Some of the cut scenes, particularly those based on scenes in the original Yakuza, look rather stiff and awkward. The combat animations and visuals are still top-notch and only suffers from — to repeat the refrain — recycling a lot of Yakuza 0. The HEAT animations are usually the highlight of a Yakuza game, but when so many are returning from the previous game, they lose their impact, especially since you have to level up to get them again. The voice acting is still outstanding, and Kiryu, Majima and the rest excel in their roles.

Yakuza Kiwami is a solid remake that has the misfortune of being released in the same year as the predecessor from which it recycles most of its content. Yakuza 0 is just a better game in almost every way. Kiwami's story is plenty of fun, and the writing and side content remains as hilarious as ever. It just feels too familiar. Those looking for more Yakuza will find a lot to like here, but even at a budget price of $30, it's difficult to feel excited by any of it. Give it more time to breathe, and it'll be a fun way to re-experience Yakuza, but anyone who dives in immediately after Yakuza 0 is going to have a very severe case of déjà vu.

Score: 7.5/10

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