In a year full of fantastic games like Breath of the Wild, Nioh and Sonic Mania, another game is currently reigning supreme as my top favorite for 2017’s Game of Year award: Yakuza 0. Yakuza 0‘s Oscar-worthy plot, great combat system and completely bonkers amount of content captivated me in a way I wasn’t expecting at all; the game came from out of nowhere and turned me into a die-hard Yakuza fan in a split-second.
Naturally, I was looking forward to playing Sega’s “newest” entry in the franchise, Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original PS2 game. Results were great. The game’s not as good as 0, but oh boy, did I have fun with it. Let me already apologize in advance for the immense amount of times I’ll compare Yakuza Kiwami to Yakuza 0, given the fact they share the same visuals, controls, engine and part of their soundtrack, as well as being released within months of each other.
It’s a fight to death, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be classy
Technically speaking, Kiwami is more of the same, but a bit more flawed. Its graphics follow the same “amazing for PS3, good enough for PS4” mentality, this time around having some very occasional framerate drops. The controls also follow suit, being great for the most part, but with some very occasional responsiveness issues, as well as inheriting Yakuza 0‘s somewhat unreliable camera. The sound department, on the other hand, remains as flawless as ever, both with its great soundtrack and Yakuza‘s trademark top notch voice acting, once again proving that you don’t even need to understand Japanese to know the voice actors are doing one heck of a fantastic job bringing those characters to life.
All thanks to the game’s great story, of course.
Just your typical mob funeral
Kiwami‘s strongest point is, once again, its phenomenal story. Admittedly, its first chapter brought in some new completely unnecessary mandatory missions which weren’t present in the original PS2 game, and this made the first hour or so of gameplay actually pretty boring. But once that part is gone and trouble ensues, put on your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. Kiwami‘s story is shorter than Yakuza 0 as it focuses solely on one main character, and that actually results in better pacing and a much more focused script. Jaw-dropping plot twists and betrayals are still present, as well as tearjerking moments that make that giraffe scene from The Last of Us look like nothing in comparison.
But the saddest aspect of Kiwami is the fact that, this time around, fan favorite Majima isn’t a playable character. He went from being an incredibly charismatic and overpowered main character to what I can only describe as the one-eyed Japanese version of the Joker from the 1960’s Adam West show. Neither 0 nor Kiwami explain why Majima went completely cuckoo, and that was quite disappointing. His role in the game is now limited to one third comic relief, one third stalker, one third RPG grinding generator. You’ll meet and fight Majima throughout the entire game, be it in random encounters or in story-centered events. Beating Majima will constantly unlock new moves for Kiryu’s Dragon fighting style. While this is a great idea, I have to admit I haven’t used such fighting style throughout the entire game, only because the other three, reminiscent of Yakuza 0 were already good enough. Granted, there were times in which I was looking for Majima not for the chance of unlocking a new move, but to see the completely stupid situations he’d put himself into.
Remember when your older brother would do that to you?
Finally, I can’t talk about a Yakuza game without mentioning its sidequests and minigames. While Kiwami‘s story can be beaten in about 20 to 25 hours, the amount of sidequests and extra content it provides are enough for yet another 100 hours or so of gameplay in order to reach that sweet 100% completion rating. I beat the game on my first run in about 35 hours, doing a lot of side missions (as well as spending way too much money on gifts for one of them cabaret girls), and yet I’ve only managed to achieve a completion rating of 33%. There’s a lot to do, including, but not limited to dating, bowling, underground fighting championships, learning martial arts from a homeless sensei, a Zelda-esque trade sequence, and the hilarious and godlike experience that is the karaoke mode.
Yakuza Kiwami might not be as good as Yakuza 0, and it might be a little bit clunkier technically-wise, but it’s still a great game with a ridiculous amount of content in its own right. Revisiting Kamurocho yet again was great, and it exhaled a warm “welcome back my old friend” feeling.
Sega has once again delivered a fantastic game in 2017, a game that made me an even bigger Yakuza fan than before. I can’t wait for Yakuza 6 next year! I just need to play 2, 3, 4 and 5 before that. Oh, and the zombie one. Because why not.