Yakuza Kiwami Review: A Dragon Reborn

Yakuza Kiwami is one of the rare remakes of an older game that surpasses the original in every single way. The 2006 PS2 classic, which saw Kiryu Kazama go to jail for a crime his sworn brother committed, is still a superb thriller even with narratives in games evolving since it came out. There are countless improvements to the core game beyond the obviously impressive graphics, making this one of the best adventures you can have on PS4.

Like in Yakuza Zero, which released this past January, players control Kiryu Kazama, one of the few decent human beings in the Yakuza filled Kamurocho. Kiryu’s best friends, Nishiki and Yumi, get involved in the murder of one of the Dojima family’s patriarchs and Kiryu bails them out, serving a 10 year prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. The game picks up in 2005 as Kiryu is released from prison to even more drama in the Yakuza ranks, trying to solve the mystery of why some of his friends disappeared or changed.

It is a thrilling story with numerous twists and turns. If you haven’t experience it yet I suggest going into it 100% blind as you’re in for a wild ride. The pacing is well done and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. There are several additions to the original game’s cut scenes, with notable changes to the game’s beginning. These new scenes improve the plot significantly, making it an easier to follow experience. If you had played the original in English via the North American PS2 release, you’ll really appreciate the switch to the Japanese voice actors as the voice acting overall is much better than the American original.

Not only are the visuals upgraded but the Japanese voice acting is superior to the English original. Yes, I’d pick Hidenari Ugaki’s Majima over Mark Hamill’s.

Yakuza games are known for being out of this world fun when it comes to combat and Kiwami takes all of the improvements from Yakuza Zero and adds it to the original game. There are different fighting styles, environmental weapons to use and brutal finishers. Zero’s gameplay additions fully realize the original’s games vision with overwhelming style and pizzazz. There are countless objects to use to finish off tough opponents and finding them all is entertaining all by itself. Since the game shares a lot of combat similarities with Zero, read our review of Zero from earlier this year to find out more about it.

Visually, Kiwami is a colorful, striking adventure with multi-dimensional characters fully realized in HD. It retains all the personality of the original and amps it up. The art direction is no longer limited by the PS2’s hardware and the game is a stunning pleasure to look at because of it. There are some character models and environments that don’t look up to the PS4’s standards but these are few and far between.

The music, my god the music. Yakuza games have always had a good mix of relaxing tunes and guitar-riff heavy melodies. One second you can be taking in an intimate scene between allies and the next you’re blood will be pumping as you successfully take out a gang of 10+ enemies with energetic music in the background. The score really helps to establish the game’s bad-ass crime thriller identity, along with the plot, writing, art direction and gameplay.

Kiwami is a much shorter experience than other Yakuza titles, limited to the scope of the original game. While there is new content, some side missions have been removed though these will not be missed. If you ignore most side activities and side quests, you can expect to run through the game in roughly 15 hours or so, half of what you should expect from Yakuza Zero. My only real gripe with Kiwami is that I want more from it though that is an understandable limitation as Sega did not want to change more than what was necessary with the original’s vision.

Kamurocho is a vibrant, living setting that oozes personality.

Goro Majima, a series favorite, returns in the Majima Everywhere system. Goro will pop up in the most random places to battle Kiryu, helping players level up their fighting skills. This can be very comical and serves as a good test of player’s skills up to those points. It is disappointing to see Goro not play a bigger role since he was fleshed out in Yakuza Zero but since this is a remake, I understand the reasons why. His redemption and story in Zero made him a very remarkable character, one that I wanted to see more often than Kiryu. Majima was less of a white-meat babyface than Kiryu, who can sometimes be grating as he tries to do the right thing.

Additionally, there are some characters from Zero who don’t get much spotlight on them here in Kiwami but again, that’s a limitation of the original game’s story. Zero was made after the fact so players looking for more development on Goro Majima, Sohei Dojima and Sera will be disappointed. Again, this is hard to ignore while playing but also hard to hold against the game designers.

The overall story of Kiwami is superb though. There are many twists and turns, some easy to see coming and others are complete shockers. Some story elements could have been presented better like the introduction of a few villains who ultimately serve as boss fight fodder to close a chapter. The game does take a small detour half way through to solve a mystery with Detective Date which isn’t a bad direction to veer off into though it does players off the main narrative path for a while. The conclusion of Yakuza is still amazing, with the final chapter playing out like your favorite martial arts film. Its got a grand, final showdown style that you see in few other titles. The closest thing I can compare it to is the final CQC fights in Metal Gear games. If you’ve ever played one of those and thought “wow this is fucking epic” then you’re in for a treat with Yakuza Kiwami’s conclusion.

One area that is significantly improved over the PS2 version of Yakuza is loading times. In the original, you’d encounter a group of enemies and then the game would take several seconds, up to 10 seconds I believe but maybe more, to load the area you were going to fight in. In Kiwami, the transition to combat is seamless and likely saves hours in waiting.

There are a few things that bothered me during my time with Yakuza Kiwami but none of them are major. Cultural differences pop up from time to time but nothing major and sometimes the game will start blaring epic action music at the start of a mission, display your objective on screen (exp: GO TO SERENA!) but then require you to exit through a door and wait a little bit through a loading screen to get back to the main overworld. Its an odd pacing thing, to start amping the player up only to ask them to wait a moment as the game loads. Just strange positioning.

I did run into a situation where I was trying to get somewhere to do something plot related that involved Goro Majima and then the Majima Everywhere system was triggered, causing me to fight the Mad Dog across town when my objective is to find him somewhere else in the city. Again, just strange positioning but nothing major.

Compared directly to Yakuza Zero, Kiwami does lack content. The story should take players probably 30% as long as a playthrough of Yakuza 5/Zero and while there are fan favorite mini-games like hostess battling and karoke, there aren’t nearly as many side activities as other Yakuza games. This detracts from the experience somewhat but not as much as I expected.

Hey, Kiryu-chan!

In the end, Kiwami is a helluva thrill ride though I feel like it lacks just a little bit of the style of Zero in terms of presentation. Boss fights are well done in Kiwami but the short intros that accompany these fights aren’t as over-the-top and stylish as the boss fights in Zero. There are also some villains that are suddenly introduced into the game but are supposed to have loads of off-screen backstory that you’ve never seen as the player so its difficult to invest in these bad guys as being Kiryu’s nemesis. Zero did a fantastic job of building up Kiryu and Goro’s main enemies though that wasn’t a remake so again, its hard to fault Kiwami for it.

At $29.99, it is easy to recommend Yakuza Kiwami. If you can, you should play Yakuza Zero first. It will make your bond with several characters much stronger knowing nearly two decades have played out in between games if you’ve played Yakuza Zero. If you choose to start your Yakuza adventures with Kiwami though you will be starting a long, exciting adventure into one of gaming’s most unique game worlds. Yes, there isn’t nearly as much content as recent installments in the series but compared to most other action games Kiwami stands tall.

Final Thoughts

Yakuza Kiwami is a perfect remake of the original game, improving upon it in every way imaginable. Kiryu Kazama's thrilling crime adventure is best experience through Kiwami on PS4. Review copy provided by Sega.

Overall Score 90%