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Yakuza Kiwami Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Whether you're looking to experience the original Yakuza for the first time or coming back after nearly a dozen years, this remake is the definitive version. This is a game that offers more than just flashy graphics, it actually improves the way the brawler handles. Navigating the city has never been easier, and Sega has added a lot of new content for those who are already familiar with this chapter of Kazuma Kiryu's life. It may not be as big and epic as its sequels, but Yakuza Kiwami is the perfect way to kill time while waiting for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Rating: 71%
Yakuza Kiwami
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  • Review Score:

  • B
In a world where it sometimes feels like every other game is either a remake, a reboot or a remaster, it's easy to lose sight that some games actually need to be revisited. That's certainly the case with Yakuza Kiwami, the brand new remake of the 2006 PlayStation 2 release that started a franchise that is still going strong to this day. This was a game that was saddled with some clunky design decisions back in the day, and if any game needs to be remade in the vision of its subsequent sequels, there's a strong case to be made for the first Yakuza outing.

Yakuza tells the story of Kazuma Kiryu, a lieutenant advisor of the Dojima family, who finds his life turned upside-down after going to prison for a crime he didn't commit. Kazuma returns to the streets a man without a family and very few friends. He's trying to grapple with the changing technology and culture, all while trying to find his place in this 21st century world. But there's no rest for the wicked, and it won't take long for our hero to get pulled back into a life filled with punching dudes in the face.


This is an immediately compelling setup that somehow manages to turn the tough-as-nails Kazuma into a sympathetic criminal. He spends his nights searching the city for clues to the whereabouts of his childhood friend Yumi, who is also connected to an orphaned girl who is desperately trying to track down her mother. What starts out as a simple missing persons investigation quickly spirals out of control until every family in Tokyo is after these two. It's going to take a lot of punching and kicking to uncover the truth and make everything right.

Although this is an open-world game where you can go anywhere and take on all kinds of side-quests, you shouldn't confuse Yakuza with something like Grand Theft Auto. You're not stealing cars and getting into epic chases with the cops, but rather you're walking everywhere and getting into massive fist-fights. If anything, this game reminded me more of old school brawlers like Streets of Rage and Final Fight than the typical sandbox game we're used to. The fact that so much of this game relies on learning new moves and mastering the hand-to-hand combat helps to set it apart.

One of the things that surprised me the most about Yakuza Kiwami is how quickly it's paced. If you're used to playing the newer installments that routinely take more than 50 hours to complete, then this remake is going to feel like it's on fast-forward. The story beats zip by at a rapid clip, which is something that helped to keep me engaged throughout the brief 15 hour adventure. The downside is that there aren't as many side-quests and mini-games to waste time on, and the city itself is relatively small.

You typically expect remakes and remasters to look better, but Yakuza Kiwami takes this one step further by actually changing the way the game is played. Instead of sticking with the terrible fixed-camera angles from the original PlayStation 2 game, this remake puts the camera firmly behind the back like most open-world action games (including recent Yakuza sequels). This makes getting around the city so much easier and may be the single best reason to go with this version.

Yakuza Kiwami (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Beyond the camera changes, all of the characters and even locations have been completely redesigned. The city is brought to life like never before, giving us an attention to detail you couldn't get on the PlayStation 2. Even though the open-world is small and condensed, it's teaming with signs, storefronts and people doing weird things on the streets. I loved just wandering around and seeing what was on every corner, even though I couldn't read most of the text. This is a great looking city that is finally easy to navigate.

On top of the better gameplay and vastly improved graphics, Yakuza Kiwami also adds a lot of new content to the package. We're treated to more than thirty minutes of new cinemas that help tie the story into the other installments, a bunch of new mini-games and even combat updates. And then there's the weird (and kind of wonderful) "Majima Everywhere" system that will spring the city's most colorful gangster on you at random times. These are usually exciting fights that see the fun-loving killer playing dress up and ambushing our hero in all kinds of random ways.

When Yakuza was released in the United States eleven years ago, Sega made the questionable decision to recast the Japanese voices with English actors. This meant we got Michael Madsen as Shimano, Rachael Leigh Cook as Reina and Eliza Dushku as Yumi, as well as Mark Hamill as Goro Majima, which actually makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. This brand new remake wisely ditches the English voice cast and opts instead for fantastic re-recorded Japanese dialogue. And while it may not stand out as much as the flashy graphics and improved gameplay, the new voice acting still manages to leave a lasting impression.

As you might expect, a lot of the negatives are holdovers from the original 2006 game. For example, it can be a little frustrating how small the city is. Sure, they cram a lot of detail into every inch of Tokyo, but it's also not very diverse and feels a bit samey after a while. It sometimes feels like they only created a few interior locations, so they end up relying on those settings a few too many times. This feels very small and bite-sized when compared to other Yakuza games.

Yakuza Kiwami (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

I also wish the side-missions were a little more interesting. They mostly tell different stories, but the outcome almost always feels the same. You befriend a person who needs your help, track somebody down and then beat the stuffing out of them. This plays into the general repetition of the action. I love how many moves there are and how you can switch between fighting styles, but there's a sameness that permeates the combat. It doesn't help that you'll constantly be dogged by random battles. I could do without fighting the same three ruffians every thirty seconds.

Whether you're looking to experience the original Yakuza for the first time or coming back after nearly a dozen years, this remake is the definitive version. This is a game that offers more than just flashy graphics, it actually improves the way the brawler handles. Navigating the city has never been easier, and Sega has added a lot of new content for those who are already familiar with this chapter of Kazuma Kiryu's life. It may not be as big and epic as its sequels, but Yakuza Kiwami is the perfect way to kill time while waiting for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
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