The prefix “re” seems to be quite popular these days in gaming: remaster, remix, redefinition, etc. For Yakuza Kiwami, remake is utilized in the fullest sense of the word with the game being rebuilt entirely from the ground up. Boasting a complete revamp of the first game using the same graphics seen in Yakuza 0 released earlier this year, Kiwami also went to the extreme lengths of re-recording in-game audio with the original Japanese voice actors and adding almost 30 minutes of cutscenes.
For fans of the original PS2 release and newcomers, the additional cutscenes will be a boon as they give a lot of much needed context to the game’s story. In Yakuza, Kiryu Kazuma was a young gangster who took the fall for a murder rap in order to save his best friends Nishiki and Yumi from retribution. Once free after ten years, Kiryu finds out that Yumi is wrapped up in a theft of 10 billion yen from the yakuza organization he used to serve and has gone missing. It’s up to him to find out where his friend has disappeared to, as well as discover what plans Nishiki is involved with behind the scenes; mostly by using his fists.
The problem with the original was that the story came off as incredibly complex and confusing, what with the dozens of characters involved and the lack of any real characterization of anyone outside of Kiryu. The added cutscenes thankfully fill this void. Kiwami does an excellent job at adding a little context to bolster the story in its rough beginning, which should also help newcomers to the series. Now players have a reason to care, even just a smidgen, about Yumi, Nishiki, and the numerous other characters revolving around the gray-suited protagonist. The story itself still has the capacity to confuse, especially with the involvement of multiple yakuza families and random flashbacks, but Kiwami packages it much better.
Another thing Yakuza became known for was it’s almost excessive amount of mini games. Kiwami stayed true to its name in retaining most of these, and even adding newer ones such as RC Car Racing, which was seen in more recent games. Sidequests (or substories as they are known in the game) have also been shaken up in this go round. Some are cut-and-pasted from the first game, while a couple others are newer and make fun references to its prequel Yakuza 0. The addition of the “Majima Everywhere!” system, where the one-eyed yakuza will use a variety of disguises to ambush you throughout Kamurocho, was also a fun addition that kept the game play fresh.
Gameplay is utilizing the same styles system from Yakuza 0, which is a welcome addition. Kiryu’s abilities can be upgraded through experience points gained from completing substories, eating food, fighting, etc. as usual, but there is a new dragon style that hearkens back to the more limited (and frustrating) fighting mechanics of the original game. Graphics are thankfully completely redone and running at 60 FPS with no noticeable stutters. Unfortunately, there are load times in between smaller actions such as entering or exiting stores, but it’s a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.
It’s actually quite difficult to find low points to this remake. Yakuza Kiwami has done everything it possibly could to make this experience both the same but fresh. It kept all the important parts, infused some newer features from more recent titles and cut out the things that didn’t work. Some of the story is still a slog to get through and combat can become repetitive, but these problems are offset somewhat with the newer content. Kiwami has definitely raised the bar high for remakes, so future remasters will have to do much more than slap a coat of HD polish to even come near it.
Final Score: 4/5
Yakuza Kiwami will release in digital and physical formats on Playstation 4 on August 29. Both versions retail for $29.99.