Yakuza Kiwami Review

Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 (Japan Only).

Last year, I awarded Yakuza 0 the game of the year for 2018. I wouldn’t have to wait very long for a follow-up, as the port of Yakuza Kiwami has now reached the PC just six months later. This is the direct sequel to Yakuza 0, so it’s time to see if it lives up to that game.

Yakuza Kiwami is actually the remake of the original Yakuza game. Kiwami simply is Japanese for “Extreme” or “Ultimate” so while the story is similar to the original game, this is a full remake so very little of the original game is here. Also, Yakuza Kiwami was originally made after Yakuza 0 and most of the rest of the series, so we can see what the series has learned from those games.

The first thing I noticed was how good Yakuza Kiwami looks. Yakuza Kiwami was originally made for the PlayStation 3, upgraded to the PlayStation 4, and now ported to the PC, and it looks exceptionally good. Every character is nicely detailed, and Yakuza Kiwami really spends a lot of time in full cutscenes with voice-overs and more. Whereas Yakuza 0 had the strange system of having three different styles of cutscenes, Yakuza Kiwami really tries to stay in full video, with a few scenes being in-game, which look weaker but still quite enjoyable.

Still, while the characters look good in Kiwami I would be lying if I said they all look amazing. There’s a more generic feel to the characters, where there’s not a lot of age shown. This is likely due to the fact that the characters had to be chosen to fit with the original PlayStation 2 era graphics, so most characters are twenty to forty-year-old characters. There’s no character that really rivals Kuze from the Yakuza 0 which looked amazing.

It’s not that Yakuza Kiwami is worse or weaker in the graphics department, it just never has a chance to reach the same graphical quality of the previous game. You can take a master artist and have him paint a banana and it may not compare to another artist’s pineapple due to the complexity of the subject.

The Kamarocha district has a lot of changes, and while Yakuza Kiwami starts with the old model from Yakuza 0 with the now famous empty lot, the map will change very early in the game, replacing that area with the Millennium Tower. The entire town gets a new coat of paint on the same layout and it’s wonderful to explore it again.

As I played Yakuza Kiwami, something felt off in a couple of scenes. The character models are wonderful, but for a number of scenes, there just was something wrong. I’ve heard a couple of sources say that the original motion capture for Playstation 2 game was used. I’m not sure on this fact, but it definitely explains a bit. A number of animations feel weaker than expected, and some scenes just feel off.

Still, this game looks amazing even if it’s a little dated.

As I started Yakuza Kiwami I was ready for a new story comparable to Yakuza 0 and instead, I found a tale I wasn’t expecting. Where Yakuza 0 focuses on the rise of both Kiryu Kazuma and Majima Goro, Yakuza Kiwami puts Kiryu back at the bottom but weaves a tale that seems to purposefully avoid the Yakuzas.

The story starts with Kiryu standing over a dead body, and then flashbacks a week, this one scene is one of the oddest in Yakuza Kiwami, as it actually has a flashback in that flashback, but then a second flashback in a flashback sending us between two or three levels deep depending on how you want to count them. It feels like a moment stolen more from the movie Inception then Yakuza, and yet from that point forward, it is never attempted again.

The first couple of hours sets up Yakuza Kiwami quickly. Kiryu is a Yakuza who helps get payments for friends, and through a number of circumstances, Kiryu is arrested for the murder of a major member of the Yakuza. We find out he’s covering for someone else, who we’ll call Pete to avoid an early game spoiler. After a single fight in the prison, we quickly jump forward 10 years ready for a revenge story.

If I was in this position of leaving jail after ten years, the first thing I would do is reconnect with my old friends, and in fact, part of Yakuza Kiwami does that in that he interacts with Yakuza, so Kiryu is clearly able to meet with his old friends. From there, I’d go find Pete and straighten things out, and figure out what had been going on.

Kiryu in Yakuza Kiwami instead ends up embroiled with the largest game of telephone tag, and rather than just straight up asking “What’s going on” to the people who can just answer his questions, he instead winds up finding and protecting a young girl and learning the story over the next thirty to fifty hours. There are a number of people who can give him information, that he just doesn’t ask the important questions to.

Part of this is just to set up a large amount of drama Yakuza Kiwami revels in, it’s why many movies avoided using cell phones even when they were available, and many characters in all forms of media tend to avoid asking very important clarifying questions from “Who do you mean?” to “What’s my name?” I won’t fault Yakuza Kiwami for how it tells its story, but there are a couple of strange actions by Kiryu to extend the storytelling.

With that critique said, I still enjoy much of the story in Yakuza Kiwami, it just was not what I was expecting, but I still was pleasantly surprised by the story, and I ended the game wanting more. While I prefer Yakuza 0’s tale, this is a remake, and the developers were limited to what they could change.

This will not be the only Majima picture. You’re welcome.

There are a few changes here, that does fill in gaps left in the original game, particularly about Pete and why he changed so much over the ten-year gap, which wasn’t explained in the first game. This does help the story, but sadly these are done in a poor form. There are a series of flashbacks, but Yakuza Kiwami just presents these scenes without taking the effort to inform the player that they are flashbacks or when they occurred. These are scenes that take place over the entire ten years, so it will confuse people who don’t realize that these are not scenes running in parallel with the current game’s story.

The story does have some flaws in that they will use character’s names before they have been introduced well, or that have only been mentioned once. This wouldn’t be bad if all the cutscenes are watched in a single sitting, but when the player stops playing for a while or ends up chasing side quests, it’s very easy to lose the thread. I often had to ask “Why was I meeting with this certain person?” and sometimes I would be involved in a part of the main quest that wasn’t clear. Part of the reason was I kept getting distracted with other gameplay elements but the main story can be hard to follow if players take a break from it.

There are also a few parts of Yakuza Kiwami that feel a little padded for length. There was a part where Kiryu had to help out a dog and get dog food. That seemed reasonable, but then he returned and suddenly had to get a paper plate for the dog, and water. The game wasn’t clear where these things were found, but it also wasn’t the most compelling parts of the game and possibly could have been cut without some loss.

Yakuza Kiwami is also presented with the full Japanese voice acting which is fantastic, though that requires the subtitles to be on for anything but a Japanese speaker. I turned off the UI to take some pictures as it seemed like an interesting option and immediately had to turn it back on as it also disabled the subtitles which are critical for understanding.

Just Kiryu walking with Haruka, the girl at the center of the story.

Even with Yakuza Kiwami’s lengthy story, the core of the game remains the gameplay, and it continues to deliver on the promised gameplay.

The good news is that a lot of changes have been made from Yakuza 0 for Yakuza Kiwami and they’re mostly good. The fighting system is similar to Yakuza 0 in that it’s a street brawler, where Kiryu fights a set number of enemies, and the game transitions from the open world to a fight quickly without breaking the flow.

There’s now a fourth style of fighting along with Yakuza 0’s Rush, Brawler, and Beast styles. We now can access Kiryu’s true style, the “Dragon” style. The new style becomes the focus of Yakuza Kiwami. While the other three styles work well together, there’s not much training on when to use them or how to. Though because of the ten-year jump in the opening of the game, Kiryu loses the power of the Dragon and it has to be recovered. We’ll talk about how in a moment.

I found myself using the Beast style the most due to it being useful for a number of situations that Yakuza Kiwami throws at the player, mostly due to the number of enemies in groups. It was my least used style in the original game, but there were more than a few situations to use it in Yakuza Kiwami.

There are also a couple of QTE events in the fighting systems, that just didn’t fit in well. When the player is already hitting buttons, there’s not enough of a break in the action for the QTEs in many cases and it resulted in a bad experience as the game might record a button press from the player still thinking the rest of the game is going on. Though really in general, QTEs don’t work well and Yakuza Kiwami doesn’t change that fact.

Overall, the fighting system is enjoyable, until you reach the bosses. The bosses in Yakuza Kiwami are one of the biggest problems with the entire game Yakuza Kiwami adds in new features to the boss battles to change up the formula. Instead of just a head to head fight, bosses now gain the ability to recover health.

The combat is a bit simplistic but works, even if enemies might have a little too much health, it gives you more time to fight.

This might sound like an interesting twist, but what essentially happens is that bosses will reach a certain health level, bend over as if they are winded. At the same time, their life bar will rise quickly and Kiryu will have moments to build up his heat bar (or drink something will do the same) then switch to the right stance, and use a finisher move. It’s an overly complicated system that almost feels like another form of a QTE. Many bosses will pull this move twice, only doubling the frustration with it.

Worse, if you take too long to use the special move, you will only reduce them to the level they were at before recovering. If you’re quick with the system, you can do major damage, but out of a number of opportunities, I may have only had a major success with the system once or twice.

It doesn’t help that most bosses in Yakuza Kiwami don’t stand out. While some are solid fights, there’s none that really reach the level of Kuze in Yakuza 0 who appeared five times and always was a challenging but enjoyable fight.

This might not have been as hated by me if it wasn’t for the boss’ massive health bars which all have at least doubled up, and move sets that rely on stunning or knocking the player down often. Perhaps that’s why I preferred the Beast style as it was the only one with very little knockback.

By the end of the game, it got bad enough that I audibly groaned when I had a new boss fight because it meant another new frustration. It’s a shame because I love the fighting in the game even if it’s repetitive, but the boss fights squander that system giving a feel of grinding rather than an epic confrontation of two titans.

A big part of the game is leveling up Kiryu to become a great fighter again. It starts with unlocking skills. There are three new ability trees arranged in a circle here, and each one is unlocked with skill points. Every enemy gives you experience to them, and rather than a progressive system, enemies always seem to give you a similar amount, meaning you’ll get a steady stream of them. The skills cost more as you expand out from the center of the circle.

There are four big grids to fill out with skill points.

The better way to chase the experience for the major changes is just playing the game. Most side quests will give a decent sum of points, but major plot events will throw huge sums of points at the player allowing him to max out most of the skill tree by the end of the game.

None of the skills seem essential but there is a noticeable power growth over the course of the game. Though the switch to skills means that money has very little purpose. There was a point at the end of the game where my character needed something that cost one million yen, which the game made out to be a massive sum of money. At that point in the game, I had accrued ninety percent of that total.

There’s a fourth category of upgrades for skills known as the Dragon style. As Kiryu had lost these abilities, he is now focused on relearning that style with the help of Majima. An odd thing happens with the story. In the original story, Majima had a rather minor part appearing a couple of times, but since the original game came out Majima had become a very popular character with the fans, and it doesn’t come as a surprise after being playable in Yakuza 0, that the developer expanded his role in Yakuza Kiwami.

Outside of the main story, there’s an all-new system called “Majima Everywhere”. It does exactly that. Majima will constantly pop up to pester Kiryu on his journey. Though his appearances are just what Yakuza Kiwami needed. While the majority of the game is played very seriously, Majima Everywhere is done with a lighthearted touch. At first, Kiryu will encounter Majima in the street, but before long, Majima will start popping out of alleyways, coming out of Manholes, and even jumping into the middle of the fight.

If you are a fan of Majima, this will be exactly what you’re looking for, and seeing him around the game will bring great moments. The only problem is there’s a progression system that has points where Majima waits for Kiryu in certain locations for a major moment in the game. If Kiryu doesn’t find him where the game places him, Majima won’t spawn until that part of the game is taken care of.

While that can confuse players, as I didn’t see Majima for about a five-hour section of the game before realizing I missed something. Yet, those major moments are some of the best parts of the game. Majima is one of the only strange characters in Yakuza Kiwami for these moments but they are bright moments of enjoyment. I won’t spoil many but I will talk about an early one in which Kiryu going to a cabaret club. He sits down and his date is led over to him. Rather than his usual girl, he meets “Goromi.” Majima Goro in a wig.

I have no words.

Most games would just make this an ambush, but Yakuza Kiwami takes it to a stranger level. The Cabaret girl mini-game plays out with Kiryu and Goro flirting back and forth as if actually on a date, and you learn a little of his backstory. And the scene ends after a normal date. There’s no end battle or anything else, it’s just one of many bizarre moments that Majima Goro provides, and for me, it helps remind me why I love this series, as it’s one that doesn’t always take itself seriously.

There’s one other spark of similar insanity. Similar to the Catfights in Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami offers a new game, MesuKing which is a collectible card game featuring scantily clad women dressed up as insects. That’s strange enough, but the fact is Kiryu will challenge young kids to these games. By young, I mean five-year-old boys and girls. Up to this point, I worried that Yakuza Kiwami would have nothing outlandish in it, I was foolish to worry.

But those two systems are really the main parts of where Yakuza Kiwami really goes off the walls. They’re both major moments and a lot of fun to play, but the rest of the game is played mostly straight. It’s a shame but likely due to the original source material treating the world as a serious affair as well.

There is potential for more, and there are a few places like an Adult DVD Story, Strip Clubs, and a lot of mention of Soapland but each of these places are only there for very specific scenes. Kiryu can walk into many of them but there are limits to how much Kiryu is able to do in them outside of waiting for a scene involving them. It makes the world feel a little less interactive. Just to be clear, I’m saying those locations might be able to be cut or at least off-limits until that scene occurs. Then again this series did have adult videos and a telephone club in Yakuza 0 so maybe they could make them work.

Most of the side quests in Yakuza Kiwami are also a bit weak. Many are updated versions of the original game’s initial set, and they mostly fetch or random fight, lacking much of the superior writing and reasoning (or lack of reasoning) of Yakuza 0.

The good news though is there are still more improvements here. Yakuza Kiwami clearly learned from Yakuza 0 and much of the game is improved. I ran into no crashes and the game has a better flow. However, The PC port of Yakuza Kiwami got even more improvements. While the PlayStation versions of Yakuza 0 had “Save anywhere” making the phones have minimal uses. The PC port gives a major feature, autosaves. There are three autosaves, and the game saves semi-regularly about every five to ten minutes. I’ve heard this wasn’t available on the console versions, and it’s a huge improvement that I can’t praise enough, in fact, it was one of my complaints of Yakuza 0, so to see it makes me very pleased.

At the end of the day, I like Yakuza Kiwami a lot, it has issues, especially the boss fights, but the story is good. It doesn’t have the “You need to see this” appeal of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami isn’t as good as Yakuza 0, but at the same time, the continuing story is worth playing. If you enjoyed Yakuza 0 and want to see more Kiryu, Yakuza Kiwami is worth playing, but for anyone who skipped the original game, I’d recommend starting at Yakuza 0 and then ask yourself if you want more. I definitely did want more and I’m pleased with the final product, but I do have to say that Yakuza Kiwami is a minor step back for the series.

I give Yakuza Kiwami a


I’m still a fan of Yakuza, and while I prefer Yakuza 0 to Yakuza Kiwami, that’s like saying I prefer Final Fantasy 6 to Final Fantasy 4. Both are excellent games, it’s just a preference. I still want more. So I have to ask the question again. “Sega, when are we going to see Yakuza Kiwami 2?” Because I want more of this series.

Final thoughts: A great game, but one that pales in comparison to Yakuza 0. Still, if you enjoyed Yakuza 0, you’ll enjoy Yakuza Kiwami, though the story is different and the gameplay might have taken step back.

Stats: 50.4 hours played  29/55 achievements earned.