Do It For Her.

Yakuza Kiwami is an updated remake of the original Yakuza title, a game that was originally released back in 2006 in North America for the PlayStation 2. Right out of the gate, Kiwami can and should be considered more than just a simple remake. It feels more like an extension of the fantastic Yakuza 0 that came to North America earlier this year and less like a game that came out nearly ten years ago. Yakuza Kiwami delivers updated assets, visuals, and even completely redone Japanese voice work. Sorry, there are no English dubs here, which is for the best. The amount of work that went into bringing Yakuza Kiwami from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 4 is nothing short of extraordinary.

The story throughout Yakuza Kiwami may not flow as elegantly as Yakuza 0 but it still does a tremendous job of conveying themes of betrayal, trust, and family throughout its 15+ hour long main campaign. Kazuma Kiryu returns as the main protagonist and unlike Yakuza 0, Kiryu will be the sole focus of the game. Thanks to some additional story work by the development team, Yakuza Kiwami does expand a bit on the decade old story by adding a few additional scenes. Goro Majima does make a return from Yakuza 0 through a couple of main story beats and also through the newly added "Majima Everywhere" gameplay mechanic. While you won't get to play as Majima in this installment, you will randomly encounter him during your adventures throughout the streets of Kamurocho.

The core of Kiwami centers around Kiryu taking the fall for a crime his best friend, Akira Nishikiyama, actually committed. Having spent ten years in prison, Kiryu returns to a city and a world that has changed quite drastically from the one he left behind. His childhood friend, Yumi, has gone missing along with ten billion yen that was stolen from the Tojo Clan. Nishiki has also changed in that time, becoming the cold, ruthless, and vindictive chairman of the Nishikiyama Family. Despite being his longtime friend and taking the fall for his crime, Nishiki continued to hold a grudge against Kiryu as he always felt overshadowed by Kiryu's accomplishments.

Nishikiyama's rise to power and descent to villainy is shown off as a series of flashback scenes throughout each chapter. Besides his strive to distance himself from Kiryu's shadow, Nishiki originally wished only to raise enough money, albeit through less than legal means, in order to save his dying sister. Countless obstacles fall before him causing a man that was already at his wit's end to finally snap. He and much of the Tojo Clan are all going after the stolen 10 billion yen. Power struggles ensue along with a lot of infighting amongst the various Yakuza groups. Nishiki, now a man with no morals, sees Kiryu only as an enemy and will stop at nothing, even if that means killing Kiryu in order to get what he desires. The key to all of this conflict lies with a small girl named Haruka.

Haruka is the daughter of a woman named Mizuki. Mizuki just happens to be the sister of the missing woman, Yumi. Kazuma Kiryu spends most of the game befriending and trying to keep Haruka safe from the countless Yakuza that believe she possesses the key to finding the missing ten billion yen. While all of this is going on, Kiryu is still trying to find Yumi. A major part of this game is seeing these characters doing these actions, sometimes bad in the case of Nishiki and sometimes good in the case of Kiryu, all in an effort to help the women in their lives. Hence we arrive at this review's subheadline. Every major player in the game is doing what they are doing all for the "her" in their lives. The entire plot centers on these main characters, the missing woman, Yumi, the young girl Haruka, Kiryu, Nishiki, and the missing ten billion yen. Aside from a couple of sequences that felt just a bit too drawn out or out of place, it's a very engaging story from start to finish.

With the major plot points out of the way, let's just take a quick look at how this game actually plays. Those of you who have played Yakuza 0, or at least read our review, should know that the game primarily focuses on fighting. You fight on the streets of the city through random encounters. You fight boss characters. You fight until there's nobody left to fight and then you venture elsewhere and fight some more. You do this just because you're that damn good at it. Utilizing four different fighting styles, which you can swap to on the fly, there is a depth to the combat that this game excels at. Each style has their own strengths and weaknesses. One style is for quick punches and dodges, another is a balance between strength and defense, while a third style is all about pure fury with wide, strong blows. Kiryu can also make use of his environment during nearly every battle by picking up objects to use as weapons. A secondary "Heat" gauge allows for Kiryu to unleash more devastating attacks on his foes, usually coming in the form of flashy and highly damaging environmental attacks. These moves are also the key to taking down some of the game's tougher opponents who may regain some health if left unchecked.

Unlike in Yakuza 0, Kiryu begins the game with his four main fighting styles intact. You do still level up throughout the game, purchasing move and ability upgrades on one of four different grids. Unlike in Yakuza 0, upgrade points come strictly from experience earned, not from spending cash. Some of the higher tiers of unlocks can take nearly 100 experience points to unlock but with how fast experience comes throughout the game, it's never really much of an issue. If you're worried, the game does feature gear that can give slight boosts to the amount of experienced earned in encounters. These four upgrade grids focuses on improving your health, your Heat abilities, your move set across three base fighting styles, and finally one grid is for your "Dragon of Dojima" fighting style. This Dragon upgrade grid is not upgraded through experience points, but rather through various training sequences and through the Majima Everywhere encounters.

Whew! And to think that's not even everything. Hell, I never even touched upon the dozens of substories that Kiryu will just happen upon during his exploration of the city. Thankfully, many of the substories are very enjoyable and aren't always a matter of "engage in a battle because reason 'X'." These stories can tug at your heartstrings, they can be wholesome, they can be humorous, and they can be whatever other emotion you may feel. Sometimes they are short while other times they have a plot that is spread out across multiple substories. They are a fantastic diversion from the main story and most are well worth checking out. Even if you don't always like the story they tell, the rewards are usually more than worth the small investment of time.

Unfortunately, there are some little things that do take away from this game being what I would consider to be "perfect." In fact, there are some things that take away from this game being as good as Yakuza 0, at least in my opinion. First up, I honestly cannot stand the camera in some tight areas. I've lost count of the number of times I had to wrestle with the camera because it was facing the entirely wrong direction or didn't give me a good angle of the action. As a result, I'd end up running the wrong way after leaving a building, or getting hit in the back of the head by enemies that were behind me off screen. I'm going to assume this is because the game is, at its heart, a game that is more than ten yearts old, despite the fresh coat of paint and updated voice work. It still remains a disappointment. Also omitted from Yakuza 0 is the ability to own properties and make money off of them. While money isn't especially hard to come by in Kiwami, it's still a gameplay feature that isn't here.

A lot of these differences really boils down to the fact that Yakuza 0 was made with a more modern design direction in mind. It was originally released in Japan in March 2015 for the PS3 and PS4 and came to North America earlier this year. Yakuza Kiwami, on the other hand, originally came out in 2005 for the PlayStation 2 as the first Yakuza game. In the world of video games, that is an eternity ago. I will certainly applaud Sega for implementing a few additional gameplay mechanics, story elements, and features that don't feel out of place.

One last thing is the fact that the game may not be the best looking game out there. I'm almost certain it's using the same engine as Yakuza 0, which had a few graphical shortcomings of its own. While Yakuza Kiwami does look a tiny bit better, it doesn't really stand up against games like Horizon Zero Dawn or even Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. I have often seen people and environmental objects popping into the world while simply making my way through the city. Framerate slowdown was also apparent at a few moments but it never happened when it would cause any hindrance to gameplay. However, these rare situations can briefly take you out of the moment. Texture resolutions vary from crisp and fitting of an HD game to low resolution blurs for less important elements. A lot of this probably stems from the fact that both this game and 0 were also made for the PlayStation 3. From my understanding, Yakuza 6 and the just announced Yakuza Kiwami 2 are both on a new engine. An engine, mind you, that looks pretty damn good from the trailers that have been shown off for those games, but I digress.

Despite these complaints, the world of Yakuza Kiwami feels so alive, something that is absolutely vital for open world titles. Random NPCs will try to give you pocket tissues, or invite you in to clubs and bars, or they surround you and your foes when you engage in a fight. They verbally react to events happening in the game world or they jump aside when Kiryu runs through the streets. Neon signs dot the steets and offer some nice visual eye candy in addition to being a great contrast to the slightly ominous back alleys. Plenty of storefronts feature fully rendered interiors and the number of places you can enter is honestly rather impressive. Yakuza Kiwami also includes a slight depth of field effect that works well with the overall style. If you take a moment to really look around, you can see just how detailed the environments are and just how "lived in" the city really feels. I should note that I am playing on a base PlayStation 4. I do not know if there are any performance or visual changes by playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro.

Even with a couple of shortcomings, we're looking at a $30 game that delivers on about an hour of gameplay per dollar, more if you're a completionist. If you think of Yakuza Kiwami either as a classic with new life breathed into it or an extension of Yakuza 0, you really just cannot go wrong here. If you, like me, are totally new to the series, you owe it to yourself to see where it all began before Yakuza 6 hits North America early next year. And if you're wondering if you should start with this or Yakuza 0, that question is a bit more difficult to answer. Yakuza 0 feels like a more "modern" title with a bit more in terms of gameplay features. It also serves as a prequel for the entire franchise, including Yakuza Kiwami. Will you be lost without playing Yakuza 0 and jumping straight to Kiwami instead? No. Should you play Yakuza 0 before Kiwami because of the wealth of backstory it provides? That's up to you. In the end, you should decide if you would rather play the games in story order (Yakuza 0 then Yakuza Kiwami), or release order (technically Yakuza Kiwami then Yakuza 0), or in the order of gameplay features (Yakuza Kiwami then Yakuza 0).

Whatever order you decide to play them is fine. Assuming you also pick up Yakuza 0, you're looking at maybe 100 hours of gameplay spread across two games. These are exceptional games with exceptional action and exceptional stories. There are so many things to do and experience here that $30 for Yakuza Kiwami feels almost like highway robbery. Even though I'm glad I get to experience this franchise now on the PlayStation 4, I do feel a bit of remorse that I never got experienced this franchise back in the PlayStation 2 era. Then the games went to the PlayStation 3, which I didn't own. The Yakuza games are a franchise that I never grew up with. Thankfully, I'm finally getting to see what fans have been raving about for years. I was already sold on this franchise when I played Yakuza 0 earlier this year, my first Yakuza game ever. Kiwami just nailed home the fact that this franchise really is something special. And yes, I am now one of those people who is damn excited to see what Yakuza 6 brings to the table next year. I'm also incredibly hopeful that North America doesn't miss out on Yakuza Kiwami 2. From what I've heard, Yakuza 2 is the favorite entry of many old fans of the series, so it will be very cool to finally see what all of that fuss is about.

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Additional Information
Yakuza Kiwami (Developed & Published by Sega (JP/NA); Published by Deep Silver (EU/AUS))
Starting at $29.99 (USD) for the PlayStation 4 via PlayStation Network or physical retailers
Rated M for Mature for blood, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

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