by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Editor’s Note: I will endeavor to spoil as little of the story as possible. Some moments I will need to explain for the early game so you get what’s going down, but I won’t post major spoilers.
I did not play the original PS2 Yakuza when it came out. Hell, I still haven’t. I didn’t find the franchise until around Yakuza 3 and fell in love with the combination of silliness and gritty storytelling. Because there are some things in the story (Yakuza 0, Kiwami, etc) that are pretty hard to wrap your brain around: Like ten billion yen disappearing? Come on. Ten billion? But somehow we’re still here, still trying to solve mysteries and make things right in this sleepy little town of Kamurocho. For those not in the know, Yakuza Kiwami is a remake for Yakuza 1, but it’s not a shot-for-shot remake deal. There are a lot of story points that simply did not make sense, and a lot of content added, so parts of the story were touched up and the story was added to wrap up some of these new side-missions neatly. There are so many of them, and at first I had no idea where to even find them.
Until I unlocked the equipable item that lets shows on the map where a side-mission exists, I was a fish out of water. Luckily the Yakuza 1 FAQs helped a bit to get me started. It takes a while for these to get to us and while I hate waiting, it was well worth it. And one of the things I always worry about is when an incredibly badass main character like Kiryu shows up, what happens to make between Yakuza 0 and Kiwami? Because at the end of 0, he’s a monstrous force with four incredible styles of combat: There’s his personal style, Dragon of Dojima, Brawler, Beast, the Speed Style. It took a lot of work to max those out and at the start of Kiwami, he’s got all that power. Nothing can stop him. Even at the start of Kiwami, he’s well and truly horrifically strong.
So we send him to jail. Kiryu is a noble man, one of pretty high moral fiber, instilled upon him by his Captain, his adopted father. He doesn’t shake down poor people or kill [especially because murder’s not looked upon highly]. So how do we get him away from the limelight and let that skill of his wear away? He’s set up for murder and put away for ten years. So with a permanently ruined name, now nicknamed “Kinslayer” by many Yakuza. His time in jail takes him away from the world, his incredible skill will atrophy (despite being in at least one prison fight) and he has to learn about this new world he’s thrust into. So we’re in the year 2000. The magical year where cell phones exist, the internet is common, and hentai bug-girl wrestling games are popular with children. Okay, that last one takes some parsing, admittedly. He has to regain all of his power, which I enjoyed doing, and with this ability/exp system, you can put points into whichever tree you want. We’re talking about the combat first, because it’s the thing you’re going to do the most of, and I promise that. You can put points into Beast/Speed/Brawler … but not Dragon (weapons are still around as well). That’s where the new features come into play.
Majima. Is. Everywhere. Majima, your friend, your ally, the lunatic with one eye, the Lord of the Night. He’s everywhere, and the biggest feature of the game is “Majima is everywhere”. He pops up all over the place and through fights with him, you’ll learn the Dragon skills. He has a grading system, from F down to SSS, and if while sure, you can avoid him eventually (when you have the Majima Radar) to some degree, you shouldn’t. The Dragon style is incredible, it’s the real source of power for Kiryu. You can’t just max it out in the first few chapters either, because at certain points it’s gated, and he’ll stop tracking you down, opting instead to hang out in the park and “consider his next move”. He wants these fights to be special, to draw out Kiryu’s power again. Only he is allowed to kill Kiryu. Each time you fight him, it fills a meter and has a chance to give you a skill, and some of the skills are also gated behind particular “forms” of Majima (brawler, etc). But when I say everywhere, I mean it. Here are just a few of my favorite Majima appearances:
- As a cop
- As a stripper on a pole
- As a hostess
- In a giant damn traffic cone
And much more! He has various styles and each fight will be in these, from the bat-wielder to the knife-wielder, or just punching you out. He uses a lot of the techniques he used in 0 also, like his choke out, spinning and slashing like a wild crazy madman who is incredibly crazy. But this leads me to another thing that I love about this game: Even regular bad guys have stances/styles! It’s not a rock-paper-scissors counter system, you can use whichever style you’re comfortable with, but you can see their heat auras. Heat is one of the most important things about combat in Yakuza and that’s very apparent in this one. It takes a while for Dragon Style to even get the ability to build up heat or use heat actions. The other styles can do that right away. When you meet a certain point on the meter, you can do Heat Actions, (Triangle) that’s when you do the incredibly horrific, violent moves, like breaking someone’s taint on a guard rail. I always come back to this one, because it’s probably my favorite. That or the delayed vertical suplex, face-first onto concrete. You also have Kiwami Actions (Kiwami meaning EXTREME or ULTIMATE) and these are the most gruesome, most powerful moves. Performing these at the end of a battle is the ultimate exclamation point.
Though the vast majority of the game you’re going to be fighting people, lots of people … Yakuza, goons, all sorts of lowlifes, this is one of the few downsides for me. Combat is fantastic, pretty fast-paced, and violent, just how I want it. But the regular goons give out almost no money. My screencaps and gameplay show I’m always doing well financially, but that’s from stopping muggings and completing side-missions. There are items definitely worth selling from your interruptions. But there are absolutely tons of these random encounters that give virtually nothing unless you unlock the Noveau Riche from Bob Utsunomiya [the guy with the clown makeup] who unlocks items and things of that nature from the CP (Challenge Points) you accrue by simply playing the game. They’re the real major source of fight income. But the battles can become incredibly tedious; I hit a point for a while where I just used a taxi to get to the four corners of the map, just to avoid them for a little bit and do side-missions and entertainment stuff like the Hostess Clubs. You find those challenges on the “Completion List” menu, which shows everything from total game completion, various side-mission completion, your current Majima Rank, and meter.
The real drive of this game is the story though. Nishiki (Nishkiyama) is a major focal point of this story, and as the game goes on, we see what happened to him in flashbacks, his highs, and lows, begging his subordinates, growing to gain his own family in the Yakuza. These are all new and are soul-wrenching at their best. The animation for these cutscenes/characters are wonderful and feel very real. It’s mostly about Kiryu, but we do see what happened, slowly but surely, in his absence, how the world has changed. Another major plot point is that Kiryu is a good man, and has to learn about the city and how it and its people have changed. It’s not all serious and depression though because we have lots of entertainment to enjoy.
The Hostess Clubs (Where you talk to a fairly openly gay hostess), the Race Cars are back (complete with a new, humorous side-mission to find a successor to that scene), bowling, karaoke, and that’s just some of it. There are lots of delicious foods to eat and booze to drink. There’s also MesuKing: Bug Battle Beauties! It’s very fanservy, as I said earlier. You collect cards for this Children’s Card Game and scan them into the arcade cabinet. They’re littered around the city and sold by vendors (but you can get an item from Bob that pings you when one is nearby). It’s a very rock-paper-scissors game, and picking correctly does a cool wrestling/fighting game move and deals the other fighter damage. It’s just amazing and hilarious that little kids play this game.
There’s one thing that this game deals with that kind of surprised me, but it’s done in a way that at least to me, makes sense. Rina, the hostess for Shine is gay and she tells you pretty early on. It’s not bait, you aren’t trying to “make her straight”, you simply learn about what it’s like to be a gay woman, and the various adventures/misadventures she has in love and life. It’s pretty beautiful. He doesn’t judge her lifestyle, he simply has to learn more about it. There are a few encounters with transgender persons, and Kiryu does wind up in a fight with them. But it’s not because they’re transgender, or any hateful nonsense. They scammed him and tried to steal from him/murder him. So he fights back against them. He’s not judging them, which I think it is handled pretty well. Throughout the game Kiryu is all about tolerance, being judgment free, but not pulling any punches when innocent people are caught in the line of fire in dangerous situations. He helps little kids, small animals, saves people from being mugged or raped. He’s a pretty good guy, that Kiryu. He never rushes to judgment, even when offered a job at a “Banana Bar”, and as long as people do right by him, he doesn’t resort to turning them from one form of matter to another with his fists.
This is a wonderful game, but it’s not without its serious flaws. Flashbacks come out of virtually nowhere, and not having details/knowledge of the franchise can seriously hurt some of these. Not to mention the game itself is incredibly short if you only focus on the main story and nothing else. I feel like more was put into the side-missions than the actual game. Now, personally, I love that there’s so much to do in the world at large, as Kiryu tries to set everything around him right. I found myself very emotionally vested in a lot of the side-missions, but I was hoping for a bit longer of the main story. But while some of it can feel repetitive and annoying, it’s still masterful storytelling and capturing of emotion. Combat feels strong as always, and the game is a blast, but there’s something missing. I was hoping to see more of Kamurocho than I did. It’s a step in the right direction after 0, and I highly recommend playing it first, to get some of the call-backs and learn about some of the side characters, but you don’t have to. I hope this leads to a Yakuza 2 because even as the franchise gets sillier, it’s still one of my favorites. This is a great way to get people pumped for next year’s “The Song of Life” as the Kiryu saga comes to a close. The game starts very, very slow, but once it picks up the pace, it doesn’t stop. That’s one of the things I enjoy about Yakuza Kiwami, learning this world all over again. If you’re curious about the Yakuza franchise, or played 0 and don’t really know where to go next, this is it. You owe it to yourself to get lost in this world of murder, mystery, and money.