There was a point in time where the Yakuza franchise seemed dead in the west. Years past after the release of Yakuza 4 with nothing but rumors. Thankfully SEGA was able to give the franchise another chance by not only bringing out 5 and 0 but even Kiwami, a remake of Yakuza 1. Taking place where it all began, players will be able to replay this underrated PS2 gem with enhanced gameplay and of course updated current gen visuals.
The story kicks off a few years after Yakuza 0. Nishiki, Kiryu’s longtime friend, has killed the leader of the Dojima family—the Yakuza organization they represent. Kiryu decides to take the fall for the murder and ends up spending 10 years in jail. Upon his return a lot has changed including his friend Nishki who has become a corrupted leader of his own organization who seeks nothing more than dominance. As Kiryu you’ll need to investigate what happened and figure a way to clear your name in the Yakuza organization for good. There’s obviously a lot more to the story than that including Haruka, a mysterious orphan girl Kiryu finds that becomes an iconic character throughout the series.
Coming from Yakuza 0 you’ll notice that not a lot has changed. Setting wise, Kamurocho is mostly the same with just a few tweaks to make it look more modern. Animations, battles, and a lot of other assets are clearly reused here. In fact one mission which involves Kiryu escaping from the Yakuza HQ plays out almost exactly the same way from Yakuza 0. It comes off feeling a bit cheap but I suppose for the asking price for $30 it’s alright.
Yakuza 1 also feels like a step back when compared to 0. Since it’s the first entry in the franchise, the plot and writing can feel a bit rough. There’s also not much to do as you’re only limited to Kamurocho and dealing with Kiryu’s story alone. It’s definitely a shorter game than Yakuza 0 but don’t let that fool you though, there’s still a lot to do especially when it comes to minigames and sidequests. But again they lack the same flair and originality from Yakuza 0.
Another gripe I have has to do with the game’s combat. Previously you would gain XP and unlock abilities using money but here you’ll need to do a set of tasks that feel somewhat forced. For example the only proper way to level up your Dragon style is by fighting Majima. Sometimes you might get caught up with the story and forget about it leaving the Dragon style the weakest in the bunch.
Boss fights are also different here. When their health reaches a certain point they begin to recharge forcing the player to switch styles and execute a finisher. The problem is that it totally breaks the rhythm of the combat. If you also happen to miss your chance the boss ends up recharging their health and become more aggressive resulting into what feels like hitting a brick wall. One fight almost lasted me 10 minutes because I could only land two hits before getting grabbed. It was annoying and just wanted it to be over.
While I can’t really fault them for being faithful to the original I just wish this remake offered more. Majima was a big character in Yakuza 0 and could have used more development in Kiwami. The combat system is a copy paste that takes a few steps back thanks to a convoluting leveling system.
Despite that Yakuza Kiwami still manages to deliver. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t captivated in the game’s plot’s narrative and characters. Despite it being more than 10 years old the writing, characters, and pacing still hold up even if it’s not as good as the ones that came after. For $30 Yakuza Kiwami is a decent entry into the franchise. As a Yakuza fan it merely serves as a small appetizer for the long awaited Yakuza 6.