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Yakuza Kiwami (PS4) Review

September 27, 2017 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Yakuza: Kiwami
6
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Yakuza Kiwami (PS4) Review  

About 8 months ago I reviewed Yakuza 0 for this site and loved it. I gave it a near perfect score, and even though the game came out in January, it’s still going to be somewhere on my personal list of the year’s best games. So…does Yakuza Kiwami match the excellence that Yakuza 0 achieved? In a simple word: No. It does not. However, while I think the deficiencies of Kiwami aren’t enough to drag it down completely, I think it does make for an underwhelming title.

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Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original Yakuza game on PS2. Since I never played that title, I came into this game fairly fresh on the story. Unlike with Yakuza 0, you only play Kiwami from Kazuma Kiryu’s perspective, since it is really his story. At the start of the game, your friend Nishiki commits a murder that Kiryu takes the rap for. He is in jail for 10 years and gets released to find his friend now evil, and his life in shambles. He quickly gets wrapped up in another plot within Kamurocho when a gang’s 10 billion yen nest egg is stolen, all centered around a young girl that Kiryu vows to protect.

The story is decently fine for a video game. It’s not as crazy as Yakuza 0’s, but it also isn’t as melodramatic (although in spots it is), or complex as 0’s story either. Part of that is the solo storyline, Majima is in the game but you don’t play as him, but part of this is because Kiwami keeps it pretty focused on Kiryu’s quest.

Fighting in the game is taken almost bone-stock from Yakuza 0. Kiryu has three main styles, Brawler (all-around), Rush (quick and evasive) and Beast (slow but strong) unlocked from the get go. His hidden style, Dragon, is also unlocked from the start but has been severely weakened from his time in jail. You can restore it by fighting Majima around the town, but I’ll get into that below.

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Combat is generally the same, punches with the square button, kicks/heat actions with triangle, grabs with circle, and evasions (rolls or side steps) with the X button. You still use heat actions by building up a meter, and they are the occasionally gruesome or comedic cinematic moves that will either deal large amounts of damage to one enemy or clear out a few weaker enemies around you.

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The one big addition to combat in Yakuza Kiwami is “Climax Heat Actions”. These only occur during boss fights, and when you have done about 50% damage to a boss, and then 75% damage. The boss will get down on one knee and start to quickly regenerate health while emitting a colored miss that corresponds to one of the three (main) battle styles. If the heat bar is filled to red, you can run to where the boss is, while in the correct stance, and do a heat action on them to deal even more damage, and stop them from regenerating health. The boss usually will regenerate a ton of health so stopping this with the Climax Heat Action is rather key to survival. The game explains this in a tutorial at the start of the game, but you actually have to unlock the skill once Kiryu gets released from jail, something the game omits from the player.

Honestly, fighting as Kiryu from Yakuza 0 was one of my least favorite things about it, and if anything, that feeling has intensified in Kiwami. Two of Kiryu’s styles, Beast and Brawler are too slow to be really effective. Brawler is only good in specific circumstances, I’ve found. Beast is my default style, because even if it is slow, it’s the only one that has any type of crowd control aspect to it. His last style, Rush, is a total joke 98% of the time. It is very quick and you can land hits on other quick enemies, but there is so little damage as to not make it worth it. I’m sure die-hard Yakuza fans will have differing views, but I pretty much stayed in Beast style unless I was forced to change for a specific enemy, or to do a Climax Heat Action.

I said about that Yakuza 0’s other main character, Majima, is also in the game but he is a perpetual enemy in Kiwami. Fighting him is actually tied to the Dragon fighting style, as you need to repeatedly beat him in order to unlock new skills in the Dragon tech tree. Majima wants to fight you at your best, so he will relentlessly hound you as you play the game, goading you into fighting, which raises your skills and relationship with him. Not only does he prowl the streets on a general level, but he will also randomly show up in specific sequences to fight you, like him hiding under a giant traffic cone, or dressed as a police officer.

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Some of these scenes are really funny, notably one where Majima is “Zombie Majima” and you have to run through the streets fighting a zombie gang, or Majima himself. He is like the Mr. Shakedown enemy from Yakuza 0, except you get no cash from beating him, just experience points. Majima is usually never a huge challenge, provided you have health restoring items, but can be annoying to deal with if you keep running into him.

The way you unlock new moves is different from Yakuza 0. Yakuza 0 was all about cash, you were typically flush with yen, and you used it to buy everything from health upgrades to new moves. In Kiwami, you gain experience points to dump into the three trees, one is for new moves, one is for climax actions and one is for overall stats. Initially you barely have any points at all, but over the course of the game, you will accrue a ton of points. Certain fights will literally dump hundreds of points onto you at once, I went from having 4 experience points to 432 after one of these fights, to give you an idea.

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Because of this though, you don’t earn nearly as much money as you did in Yakuza 0. I was never broke, per se, but it was a little off-putting to go from a game where I had nearly a billion yen, to one where I was lucky to have a million yen on me.

There are side activities in the game but a lot of them are either shortened or straight up missing from Yakuza 0. There are 75 Substories (side quests) to do, usually requiring you to either beat someone up or get a specific item for people, or do some type of general quest. These are still enjoyable and a highlight of the game.

But a lot of the side content is just straight up neutered, or even gone. You can only date two women, I believe, in the game. There are three new karaoke songs, but two others are repeats from Yakuza 0, pocket circuit racing is really reduced, etc. Activities like mahjong, bowling, darts and pool are still there but are just copied directly from Yakuza 0. The missing activities include: no dancing, no fishing, no phone chat line, really no “sexy” videos at all except for 2 from dating the women, the real estate mini-game is gone, and no arcade games. The last one is particularly galling to me as the game takes place in 2005, there are two arcades in Kamurocho and there is literally only three things to do, take pictures (lame), do the crane game, or play a rehash of the wrestling game from Yakuza 0, only this time, the ladies are wearing sexy bug outfits instead of general outfits. This bug fighting mini-game is less random than in Yakuza 0’s wrestling game, thank god, but playing “rock paper scissors” is still not an enjoyable activity. At least outside of an Alex Kidd game, anyway.

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Honestly, that is my biggest problem about the game is that it feels cheap. To be fair, this game is releasing at a $30 price point when Yakuza 0 launched (and generally still is) at $60 but there is at least double the amount of stuff you can do in Yakuza 0, so it more than makes up for it. I can understand not having fishing, or the real estate system would make no sense in this game, but they didn’t see fit to actually replacing those mini-games with anything else. Because of that, walking around Kamurocho feels a lot emptier than in Yakuza 0 because there literally isn’t much to do.

Also, like I said above, fighting as Kiryu is just not fun, not just compared to Majima, but other brawler type of games. Elements of the battle system aren’t explained well at all either, I shouldn’t have to look on a message board to figure out how to pull out a weapon in a fight.

6.0
The final score: review Average
The 411
Yakuza Kiwami is a fine enough game but it is seriously lacking in both side-content and just fun. I had a ton of fun playing Yakuza 0 and finding out where the story would go. Playing Yakuza Kiwami felt more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. If you’re a die-hard fan of the series, then by all means, buy and play it. But if you want an introduction to the series , you will be much better served by Yakuza 0.
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Yakuza Kiwami, Marc Morrison