Have you ever watched the Godfather and wondered if it would be made any better with karate and martial art fight scenes? I think this may have been the original thought that bought the Yakuza series to life.
It looks like PlayStation is taking the nostalgia craze and is running to the N-Zone this year as we’ve seen the return of Crash Bandicoot, Naruto re-releases, and later on the return of Bubsy. In a similar vein Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the first game in the Yakuza video game series on PS2 which follows the exploits of Japanese organised crime.
If you’re not sold on the concept, imagine the Godfather, a martial arts movie, and a small smidge of Grand Theft Auto all mixed together.
In case you’re new to series like I was. We follow Kiryu, a grumpy faced organised crime dude whose dress sense has been inspired heavily by that of John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever.
Kiryu is a rising star in the criminal world with his stone faced heart of gold act that makes such a fair and ethical gangster. That, and of course the fact that he is rather good at beating the holy snot out of people. Set to rise up the ranks, things suddenly go horribly wrong for Kiryu when he takes the rap for a murder of higher ranking gang official.
10 years of his life lost, Kiryu must rebuild his life and solve the mystery of who is trying to start a turf war. Of course, like most organised crime movies, Yakuza Kiwami is a tale of the ruthless and more violent younger generation of crime rising up and taking down the old fashioned and rule following old guard.
Simply put, it’s the story of the Godfather and The Raid 2 bundled into one… I bet you never thought you’d see those two films mentioned in the same sentence huh?
Kiryu was sent away in 1995 and was released in 2005 only to find his turf had changed, his best friend a ruthless high ranking member of the Yakuza, and a mysterious child being thrown into the mix. Drop in a tale of romance and you know things may not have the sugar-coated ending you’ll want.
Like most classic tales of gangsters, the story is a slow burn giving you plenty of chances to understand the status quo of the world of gangsters and what makes every character tick. Though, Yakuza Kiwami turns this satisfying slow burn into a painful searing slog with parts of the campaign tediously dragged out as you must go from one end of the map to the other after each battle or plot development.
Imagine having to travel 10 or 15 miles to talk to someone then having to travel another 15 miles to speak to another person and so on and so forth all with tedious interruptions from criminals who are honeslty not that great at crime.
Unlike similar games in the genre, like Grand Theft Auto for example, these long commutes you can have a bit of fun on the way with driving cars or harassing the civilians or various side quests, Yakuza Kiwami basically has you on foot with the chance of taking a taxi, which you can’t drive.
The side quests, whilst they did put a smile on my face, felt a bit like admin. Eat all the food at this restaurant, drink this, talk to 100 people just to earn experience points I never really needed to help me in the combat (don’t worry, we’ll get to that). The more story driven side tasks always felt like cautionary tales of how not to do crime as Kiryu must scrap with every hair brained crook has scowling eyes see.
Though some are a bit funny, they were a bit quick or you’ll be involved tedious commutes across the map. This hankers the campaign as you just basically commute from place to place to progress for cut scenes in an effort to solve the mysterious that hangs over the lead characters head.
Though the cut scenes are well animated and the overall look is a huge improvement from the original, it does have few flecks of dirt on its cheese sandwich. Like how background characters have very pixelated faces as if they were drawn on cheap paper with a blunt pencil.
In terms of the fact that the game is subbed and not dubbed this time, the actual subtitles are pretty good and I got a sense of the emotional depth of Kiryu and his interactions. He’s just a grumpy ambitious block with a heart of gold, isn’t he?
Now lets talk about combat, the sweet, sweet combat. Combat takes place in a separate environment after you’ve triggered an event in the story, like upsetting someone or even bumping into thugs on the street, and this has to be some of the best flowing combat I’ve played in a game. Seamlessly switching between heavy and light strikes with effortless transitions between throws and smacking someone round the head with a table, is just fantastic.
You have four styles of combat to choose from: Dragon (kung fu movie style); Beast (strong and slower); Brawler (a mix of dragon and beast; and super duper mega quick. Each style works in every battle and has its legitimate benefits, like if you’re fighting in the street and you happen to be surrounded by some bikes, boom go Beast and batter the baddies. Feeling the like the Flash go super duper quick? Go fast. Fancy an old fashioned scrap? Go, brawler. Watched The Raid to many times? Dragon style is for you.
The only paper cut of a criticism for the combat is how swapping between styles leaves you vulnerable as Kiryu does a Dragon Ball Z style pose before changing. Other than that, top marks.
To sum up Yakuza Kiwami, is a good game, the story is a little slow and you will be commuting over a bland map, but hang in there as the slow story leads to a payoff.