By David Fernandes / September 14th, 2017
|Release Date||August 29, 2017|
With the success of Ryu ga Gotoku 0: Chikai no Basho, or simply Yakuza 0 in the West, Sega went further in celebrating the 10th anniversary for the series by re-releasing Ryu ga Gotoku or Yakuza as almost like an expansion. This time, not as an HD Remaster like the one released prior on the PS3, but a full blown remake with the same engine used for Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin and Yakuza 0. Bringing forth improved visuals texture and character models, frame rate, combat, and new added content which includes expanding portions of the story like the transformation of Kiryu’s sworn brother Nishiki from an ally into an antagonist. Since the HD Remaster never made it to Western shores and given how dated the first game can feel, it made perfect sense with 0 being a prequel and a new good starting point for those who wanted to dive into the franchise without dusting off their PS2s. With how well Yakuza 0 fared, how does the remake of such a classic stand up with these benefit of these new mechanics and added content?
Yakuza Kiwami begins 7 years after the events of Yakuza 0, with Kiryu now considered a rising star at this point who continued serving under the Dojima family banner. After doing the usual rounds of collecting debt money, Kiryu meets up with his old friends Nishiki and Yumi at Reina’s bar in celebration for his new future prospects. As the day goes by, Kiryu goes to visit the head of the Kazama family and his foster father, Shintaro Kazama, to catch up. Before they can go into details, Kiryu gets a call that Dojima kidnapped Yumi in his usual drunken haze and Nishiki was going after him. Knowing things would get bad, Kiryu rushes to Dojima’s office only to arrive too late with the sight of Dojima lying dead from Nishiki shooting him in self-defense. Knowing what fate his friend would face as a consequence of murdering one’s family head, Kiryu decides to take the fall and goes to jail in his place. Ten years pass and things have only gotten worse for the Tojo clan as the clan’s fortune has been stolen and the Third Chairman of the clan, Sera, turns up dead the day after it was discovered. If that was not enough, during the 10 years Kiryu found out that Yumi disappeared without a trace. After being released, Kazuma heads back to Kamurocho to help his foster father and locate his childhood friend and old flame Yumi, as well as protect a little girl named Haruka who shares a strange connection to Yumi.
For its time, the game’s plot was riveting and had just enough twists and turns to keep me interested with a well-rounded cast from all walks of life. Some of the twists haven’t aged that well, but some have been given a much-needed update to make them a little more believable. At the end of every chapter now, we get a glimpse of how Nishiki went from being a lowly officer to eventually becoming a villain. While I wished we had more to go on like his sister, I’m glad we got something as the original game presented us with friends with a long history but that was something we never got to experience until Yakuza 0. Even Yumi got some love with an entirely new section in the first chapter dealing with her birthday and Kiryu going out of the way to get a ring for her. It feels like padding but it was funny and emotional enough that I felt it was worth putting in. On the other hand, the additions to what they did for Majima I personally believe were not only unnecessary and hurt the narrative a bit but felt unwarranted. I won’t dwell on it, but they introduced a new game mechanic called the “Majima Everywhere” system that rears its head in the game’s plot. It is what it is, fan service and nothing but. It’s good to flesh out the beginning of the game with how he wants to test Kiryu’s convictions, but was it really necessary for him to get severely injured not once but twice just so you can justify his presence for this game mechanic, only for him to be taken out of commission just before the last story boss fight, when in the first game his early injury did just that? It’s superfluous and beyond stupid. Is it nice that they answered why Majima was obsessed with fighting Kiryu, something that the original game and the prequel Yakuza 0 skimmed over. Hell, not even the sequel Yakuza 2 ever explained it. But is it a good idea to shove this character in my face far more often even when it’s not necessary when it could have instead used that time for other characters? No.
When it comes to the Yakuza games, it’s the standard drill, a beat ’em up action game where you run around doing side stories with many random encounters to beat random punks to level your character with many little excursion possibilities sprinkled throughout the city in the form of mini-games, all the while continuing the plot at your own leisure. Speaking of mini-games, there are plenty though not too many new additions except the return of Pocket Racer with a few familiar faces now all grown up and the rock paper scissor style Cat Fights now with more depth and less frustration in the form of an arcade game called Mesu King; all the women now dressed up as insects and its pretty enjoyable and hilarious with all of its quirks. As for the meat of the game, the game is essentially Yakuza 1 with 0‘s skin, in both the game’s engine and combat system. Kiryu’s three styles from Yakuza 0 are back with of course the Dragon of Dojima style being available from the get go but with a unique twist. Since the bubble era is over, the game returns back to the old style of leveling mirroring the original game. You obtain experience through random fights, eating and finishing sub stories, with 78 in all, under 3 categories with the sphere grid system from Ishin and Yakuza 0 returning for Kiryu’s returning three styles. The aforementioned unique twist comes in the form the previously mentioned Majima Everywhere system, which is more negative than positive and holds the game back.
The fourth sphere grid doesn’t use any experience and instead, each orb has criteria to fulfill which unlocks the abilities for the fourth style, the Dragon of Dojima. When Kiryu left prison after 10 years, he has lost all of his abilities, which include his trademark style, so instead of just continuing on as normal at the beginning of chapter 2 like the original game, you instead bump into Majima who starts a fight and beats Kiryu easily. Not being happy with how weak Kiryu has become he offers to follow Kiryu around and pick a fight by any means. Hence the name “Majima Everywhere” he will literally be everywhere, in a trunk of a car, under a giant traffic cone, he will sneak behind you from an alley way, dress up as a cop to stop and frisk you etc. That’s not all, he will even go as far as to challenge you in several of the game’s minigames, like Pocket Racing, bowling, darts, you name it. I will admit, it at times was entertaining seeing Majma going out of his way to dress up even as a Hostess and the game just goes with it and you play the mini game like normal, dropping some references here and there from the multiple games and the ranking specific events were hilarious. However, to go up said ranks to unlock more abilities you need to fight him a lot and I mean a lot, specifically to obtain all the abilities from Majima’s side, with a few obtained from Komaki’s training, meaning you will have to fight Majima a whopping 50 times. That includes the fights in the story as well and others that are by pure accident as he will continue to hound you on the streets at any and all times. It’s repetitive, at times frustrating as his health grows exponentially and if he so sneaks up on you in his frequent hot spots, you must fight. So I hope you are willing to lay the smack down for another 5 to 10 minutes every time or just load up a save.
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