Yakuza Kiwami is the 2016 remake of Yakuza which first began its life on PlayStation 2 in 2005. Of course, those years represent when they first launched in Japan, typically heading to the west a year later which means we have now got Kiwami over here (UK). My first foray into the series is one of emotion, strife and kick ass fun.
The game follows the main character Kazuma Kiryu and his journey from a big league Yakuza hotshot to an exile on his road to both revenge and redemption. Best friend Akira Nishikiyama makes a little mistake and murders their boss, you know just a little error in judgment. Kiryu takes the blame to protect his friend and as such gets sent to prison for ten years, just because he’s that good of a guy.
Kiryu is effectively the ultimate good guy bad ass which for me instantly makes it easier to draw a connection to him, he just wants to do good by his friends. Each character you come across have their own personalities that just shine at all times when they’re on screen. All with their own unique look, voice mannerisms and body language, there are a whole cast of fully fleshed out characters that help induce many emotions in the player.
The overall story feels like something you would see in a crime film, in some way I could see some of the events occurring in real life but at the same time I’m often left thinking, come on, really? But then I realise video games are meant to take you out of your world and into another, the majority of Kiwami is grounded but prepare for some surprises and twists along the way.
Combat is fun, I mean what’s not to like about smashing shop signs into other people and dropkicking your foes? However, the overall mechanics feel disjointed and clunky, and even more so when there’s numerous enemies to contend with. Trying to execute an attack and another enemy hits you which knocks you out of the sequence is frustrating, it just looks out of place and breaks the immersion. But then to bring it back around, executions are a satisfying way to finish someone off.
Gameplay in the open-world sees you running around the various close-quarter streets, combat can happen at any moment, if you come across a bunch of thugs or other antagonising characters that think they want to start something then be prepared. The only time I’ve ever really enjoyed random encounter battles is never, just reminds me too much of Pokemon or Final Fantasy, trying to get somewhere only to be halted every few seconds by someone or something wanting to fight.
In these open-world games I love when there are activities that you can go and lose yourself in away from the story and main missions. Fancy a night out on the karaoke machine? Maybe hitting the batting range is more your style? There are plenty of seemingly small features and activities that can have a big impact on the overall enjoyment of the game.
There is a levelling feature that is primarily based on acquiring and building on abilities. Either to do with gaining access to new moves, increasing your max health or getting passive perks. This system forces you to keep fighting to get better, each time you battle you get experience, build that up to buy these abilities. There is a reason for you to find a fight.
Kiwami has gotten a fresh coat of paint which brings the game into the current generation. Now of course, it doesn’t quite look like a 2017 game, but looking at it you can tell it is a PlayStation 4 title. The city is filled with vibrant street lights that have their own colours and looks which aids in delivering a fleshed-out world. The pavements and street roads have fine detail to the point you can see the various stones and rocks that make up the road and pieces of gum stuck to the floor.
The sound design is smart, providing many ambient noises and effects that make the world feel very much alive and lived in. Fight sequences feel more epic with the music playing in the background, each punch sounds devastating, each kick sounds bruise inducing. It’s very easy to get carried away in the moment and lose yourself in a conflict.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 8/10
Yakuza Kiwami is the perfect launching point for anyone looking to get into the franchise, it’s the first game with fresh life instilled into it. Kiryu is a flawed character on his road to redemption, which goes a long way in developing a connection with the player as you watch him grow throughout. The world is populated with both characters and things to do. Combat is easy to get lost in even with the clunky action. I’m left wanting more and look forward to my next Yakuza experience.
OVERALL: 7.6/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Yakuza Kiwami on PS4, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)