In Japanese, “kiwami” means extreme, and the Yakuza franchise certainly does all its elements to the extreme. From its combat to its wildly over-emphatic Japanese cultural conventions, Yakuza goes above other action-RPGs and delivers a very unique experience. Luckily for those who have never had the pleasure of stepping into the shoes of the Dragon of Dojima, now is the perfect chance to embrace the extreme with Yakuza Kiwami. Instead of a simple HD update to the original 2005 cult classic, Sega have opted to rebuild the game from the ground up, implementing the same level of quality we saw with Yakuza 0.
I was a latecomer to the Yakuza franchise, with my first taste being the series prequel Yakuza 0 earlier this year. The franchise instantly captured me as a fan, so I was delighted to try out a brief preview of the game before its official launch on the 29th of August.
The core story of Yakuza is a genuinely incredible crime story that follows, well, a Yakuza, the infamous Dragon of Dojima Kazuma Kiryu who is climatizing back to normal life after a 10-year stint in prison for a murder he did not commit. Upon his release, however, Kiryu discovers that things have dramatically changed in the Yakuza clans that control Kamurocho, his childhood friend Yumi has gone missing, and 10 billion yen has been stolen from the warring clans. On top of this, Kiryu is tasked with protecting a mysterious young girl named Haruka who holds links to the missing money and Kiryu’s missing loved one.
Kiwami features 30 minutes of new cutscene not native to the original Yakuza game. This expansion on an already stellar story is a welcome one, and the game’s director has even promised it will move players to tears.
My brief play time started about a quarter into the game, where some key plot elements had already occurred that I won’t spoil here, but at this point Haruka had come into Kiryu’s care. This actually impacts the limitations to Kiryu’s nights on the town. If you decide to take Haruka with you, you won’t be able to visit certain locations, like gentlemen’s clubs. Kids aren’t allowed in those places? Go figure. I decided to leave her in the safety of my home, before hitting the neon-lit region of Kamurocho.
Kamurocho is a fictional red-light district located in Yakuza’s depiction of Tokyo. It’s full of life, with bustling luminous streets during the night and scurrying with business men during the day. It’s a fully realised location, and despite its fictional conception, it manages to feel just as real as the location its inspired by.
If you’ve played a Yakuza game before you’ll be familiar with Kamurocho’s layout. All your favourites remain there — like the arcade, restaurants, and karaoke bars — but just like the signature sites that are on every corner, danger lurks in the alley way of the infamous Tokyo district.
I experienced this firsthand when I began looking for a way to spend my night in Kamurocho, running into Goro Majima, a recurring major character who features in every Yakuza game to date. In Yakuza Kiwami, Goro acts like a world-roaming mini boss and takes pleasure in stalking Kiryu wherever he goes just to simply bash him at any given opportunity. This gameplay element known as “Majima Everywhere!” is akin to Yakuza 0’s Mr. Shakedown mini boss, but is a new aspect to the Kiwami rebuild and adds yet another layer of hazard to the cutthroat world of Yakuza. He can be avoided if you spot him coming, but unfortunately for me, I wasn’t so lucky. I was dropped in the deep end and found myself facing the Mad Dog of Shimano in a one-on-one street brawl.
Thankfully, Yakuza Kiwami’s simple but enjoyable combat mechanics also make Kiryu a beast of a combatant. Though the game is visually upgraded, the series’ patented stance-based beat-em up combat remains mostly untouched. With a touch of the analog’s directional pad, players can see Kiryu swap between four different fighting stances: Brawler, Beast, Rush, and Dragon.
After being knocked down and forced to use several healing items, I eventually bested Goro and was rewarded handsomely for my troubles. Tired from my long fight with Goro, I thought it best to check out one of Kiwami’s other new features: its mini games. Silly distractions have always been a staple of the Yakuza franchise, so upon discovering that there were new, stranger side-adventures added to the rerelease, I was certainly happy.
One of these new mini games, and my new personal favourite is “Insect Queen Female King,” a card-based strategy fighting game that can be played at Kamurocho’s arcades. This crazy new game is much more involved than others and requires you to play a modified round of rock-paper-scissors that stars beautiful bikini-clad Asian women dressed as beetles. (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.)
You can unlock more of these fierce bug babes throughout the game by discovering cards on the street as well as winning more powerful ones through side missions and vendors. Additionally, Kiwami also features mini games from Yakuza 0 and additional content at the Hostess Clubs.
With Sega’s complete ground-up rebuild of the original Yakuza into Yakuza Kiwami, there’s never been a better chance to jump in on the wacky and amazing franchise before. With its 60 frames per second-1080p visual overhaul, additional cinematic story-telling, bonus gameplay, and strange yet charming Japanese aesthetic, and potential coupled back to back with Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami is shaping up to be one of the year’s most unique experiences come its release come August 29.
This preview session was held at Five Star Games in Pyrmont, NSW. Thanks, Five Star!