Yakuza Kiwami Review- A Great Crime Story Gets a Superb Update

Posted September 8, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Release date: August 29, 2017

Available on: PS4

When Yakuza (or Ryu ga Gotoku, as it’s known in Japan) hit the PS2 in 2005, it wasn’t certain that Sega would have a hit on their hands in Japan, let alone in the West. 12 games later in Japan and 7 released in the West, it’s obvious that the franchise has its share of fans. With the success of other remasters plus the well received entry of the franchise Yakuza 0, it seemed only natural to bring the franchise’s first game to the PS4. And so we get Yakuza Kiwami, an updated version with tweaks to the visuals and gameplay, and a restoration of the Japanese audio track, along with additional scenes fleshing out the character Nishikiyama’s backstory. So is this update worth your time and worthy of the franchise?

Yes. Yes, it is.

The first thing you’ll notice is the graphical upgrade. The Kamurocho district of Tokyo has never looked better, with plenty of detail added to the buildings, streets, and pedestrians. The character models all look terrific, and the environments benefit from upgraded lighting effects. Gameplay overall feels smoother, though the camera can still be problematic in a couple of spots. The second thing you’ll notice is the restoration of the Japanese audio track (the English dub was cut from this version), which boasts some great voice acting by the cast. Reading the subtitles was never an issue, as they’re presented clearly. The main story, following the exploits of Kazuma Kiryu, has always been a strong point for the game, and additional content only strengthens the tale, especially in giving us a clearer view on some character’s motivations. The franchise as a whole is very story heavy, so expect plenty of well done cut scenes to move the plot along.

The main plot of the game rivals the best gangster movies. Kazuma Kiryu takes the fall for a murder committed by Nishikiyama and spends 10 years in prison. Upon his release, he finds the Dojima clan in disarray, as is the powerful Tojo clan. A power struggle has developed for control of Japan’s underworld, and Kiryu finds himself thrown right back into the mix. Kiryu wants to find out what happened to his friend Nishiki as well as Yumi, a girl he had affections for. Complicating things is the appearance of young Haruka, who says she is the daughter of Yumi’s sister, Mizuki. Kiryu is aided by a disgraced detective named Date as well as an information broker known as The Florist. The story takes various twists and turns as it heads toward its fantastic climax. It remains engaging throughout, with plenty of rich characters for us to get to know along the way. One of the more bizarre and entertaining is Goro Majima, who had risen in the ranks with Kiryu and appears throughout Kamurocho to challenge him in combat. Some of his appearances are very funny as well as threatening, and he helps Kiryu regain the fighting prowess he had before going to prison.

That’s a good thing, since fighting is something you will be doing plenty of in Yakuza Kiwami. As in the recent Yakuza 0, Kiryu has four distinct fighting styles, all of which can be switched on the fly by using the directional pad. You can choose between Brawler, Rush, Beast, and Dragon styles of fighting, each with their own strengths. Dragon is the most powerful, and as such gets its own skill tree. For Dragon, you can only acquire skills as you battle Majima and raise your ranking against him. On lower difficulty levels you’ll only need to unlock a handful of these skills but on the higher difficulty levels you’ll need to spend more time with Majima so your skill level is up to the task of battling the various foes that will come against you. The other three styles are upgraded on a Tech tree through experience points. The Life tree increases your health, heat, and attack levels. The Soul tree gives you an increasing amount of offensive and defensive moves when your heat gauge is filled. Filling the heat gauge allows you access to special, powerful moves, which can be executed when you get the onscreen prompt.

Combat feels smooth and is often fun, though against large groups can be a little tiring on the thumbs. You’ll need to use all of the face buttons to be successful against the multitude of opponents you’ll face on the streets and in yakuza strongholds. Square delivers your punch, Triangle your kick, Circle allows you to grab opponents and throw them, and X will help you evade attacks. L1 will bring your guard up, and as you expand your skill trees, you’ll unlock attacks that you can launch from this position. Kiryu can also pick up any item highlighted by a blue arrow to use as a weapon. Not only does this include your normal assortment of knives, swords, baseball bats, and pistols, but you can also use bicycles, traffic cones, and even potted plants to bash your foes. This wide array of moves keep combat feeling fresh throughout the game, whether you’re on your third fight or your 300th (yes, you will fight that many and more).

In addition to experience points, completing certain tasks, like aiding so many citizens against thugs or completing a certain number of main missions or sidestories, you earn CP points, which are redeemable from a certain character. CP points are divided into two groups- Adventure and Battle, and they must be unlocked in progression. The skill trees need the ability next to them or directly below to be unlocked before you can choose them, but they do allow for more freedom. All you’ve unlocked will carry over in New Game +, which unlocks upon the completion of your first playthrough. In addition to New Game +, finishing the game will unlock the Premium Adventure mode, in which you can explore the game world without worrying about the main story, and Climax Battles, a challenge mode for fighters. You can also engage in the 2 player vs Minigames mode, which allows you to face off against another player in bowling, darts, or pool. There are 75 sidestories to complete (some of these can be very amusing and even touching) in addition to the game’s 13 chapters. Then there are plenty of side activities to dive into, such as bowling, going to a hostess club, karaoke, using the batting cage, gambling, and so forth. Focusing mainly on the main story along with doing some side activities took me close to 20 hours for my first playthrough. Trying to do everything can easily double that. It’s less than some of the other titles in the franchise, but as it’s being offered as a $29.99 title, you’ll easily get your money’s worth.

There are a couple of issues that hold this back from being a perfect title. The camera can be problematic in spots, especially in tight quarters. An extended shooting sequence feels a bit awkward, even with the ability to slow time once a gauge fills to get your cursor (controlled by the right stick) over your target. Shooting is done by using Triangle or Square, while L1 can slow time for a brief moment. These controls feel dated in light of more modern shooting controls, and while the sequence is fun and exciting, it can also be a bit frustrating. Fortunately, gunplay does not play a huge role in the game, as the focus is on melee and hand to hand combat. There are a nice variety of shops and eateries for you to enter, but they feel more limited when compared to some other modern games. It’s a minor quibble, but it would have been nice to enter and explore more interiors. You’ll also hit invisible walls at the end of some streets, making the map feel a bit small. Outside of Kamurocho you’ll get to through cut scenes, including a funeral that you’ll need some stealth for to get through and Chinatown in another section of the city. While it would have been nice to have a larger map, the area we get does help to focus the story more, and works well within the context of the game.

In all, Yakuza Kiwami proves to be a superb update to a terrific PS2 game, bringing Kiryu’s tale to the current generation of Sony’s console. The story is excellent, as is the voice acting, and combat remains fun throughout the game. There are plenty of side activities for you to engage in, giving the game a nice amount of content. Post game there is still plenty to do, giving you incentive to return once the credits roll (speaking of the credits, stay tuned at the end of the game for a post credits scene). With the love Sega gave this title, I’m hopeful that they’ll bring the rest of the franchise forward to the PS4 (as of now, Yakuza 2 is also getting the Kiwami treatment). This is a franchise that’s proven to have legs outside of Japan, and that’s a good thing. If you haven’t already on the PS2, fans of games like GTA and Sleeping Dogs need to check this out. The franchise has one of the best crime stories in gaming, and a rich cast of characters makes you want to come back again and again. And for the price, you just can’t pass this up.


Final Score

9.0 /10


  • Excellent story
  • Great voice acting
  • Fun combat system
  • Plenty of side activities
  • Plenty of post game content


  • Camera can be a problem in spots
  • Shooting sequence a little awkward

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus