In video games there are the names that everybody knows. Mario, Sonic, Master Chief, Link, Zelda, Geralt, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and so on. But if I said to you that Kazuma Kiryu of Yakuza belongs not just on this list, but damn near the top – would you think I was crazy?
In 05/06 when Yakuza was originally released, it garnered relatively good reviews across the board. But, not many copies of the original release of this title and the sequel made it into Western-hands. Why? They were released on the Playstation 2 right towards the end of the consoles life-cycle. The Xbox 360 was already out by the time Yakuza came to the PS2. I was first introduced to the series with Yakuza 3 on the PS3, but I encountered a big issue early on – I had no idea what I was playing and who I was playing as. So I dropped the series, only to watch Bitsocket occasionally (most videos) rave about the games.
Fast forward to 2018 – I was in my second year at university and I found myself with a Playstation 4 and some free-time between my modules. There’s almost a long running joke among my friends that I never complete any games that I start. True as that may have been, after being glued to God of War I had an itch to play more singleplayer focused games. Low-and-behold Yakuza Kiwami was on sale on Amazon for around £15. Here, in Kamurocho, I found my needed escape from university that I was so desperate for. Well, enough of the love story, let’s get on with the review.
From the Dragon of Dojima to the Polite Prisoner
The story of Yakuza Kiwami serves as a grandiose introduction to the Kiryu, a member of the Dojima Family within the Tojo clan. Kiryu is a respectable member of the Yakuza who aspires to run his own family and follow in the footsteps of his mentor, father-figure and friend, Shintaro Kazama. Just as Kiryu is about to make it out of the door to begin his dream, he is involved in a situation leading to the murder of the Dojima, the family patriarch. Kiryu didn’t kill him, but in order to protect his friend, Nishikiyama, he takes the blame and is sentenced to 10 years in prison.
During this ten year period, his friend changes and is no longer the man that Kiryu remembers. Upon leaving prison, the Tojo clan calls an emergency meeting to discuss that an enormous amount of money has been stolen and the chairman has been assassinated. Kiryu, fresh out of prison and in the midst of a broken clan that is falling to pieces, must find a way not only to save the clan, but also to save his friend.
Not only is the story in Yakuza a deep one, but there is an unruly amount of side stories, interesting characters and more inhabiting Kamurocho. I will speak more about that later. The story here is comparable with a high quality movie or series. Sure, there were lull moments, but these were massively outshone by the sheer amount of depth. Kiryu is, as I have already said, a respectable man; and nothing is more gripping than awaiting his response from fellow yakuza.
I would give so much to be able to journey through the story, his first story, with fresh eyes and a blank slate just one more time. If you need depth riddled with enjoyment, great dialogue, and an unruly combat system – Yakuza Kiwami is already one for you.
Kamurocho, a second home to many
One does not simply talk about Yakuza and not focus on Kamurocho. As far as world-building goes, for a game originally released in 2005 the world is astounding. Personally, I much prefer a smaller world that is full of goodies; than a large, yet sparse, open world. The district of Kamurocho is vibrant in colour but also grotty and bleak in the dark alleys. This is a town where the emphasis is on the nightlife scene – you will find yourself walking around the streets, fighting with thugs before maybe hitting up a karaoke bar – yes, you heard me right.
Imagine walking around a busy city centre and seeing all the options you can do – it is the same concept here. Go for some food, visit a hostess bar and even go play games in the Sega arcade. It’s worth mentioning here that as this game is published by Sega, the in-game arcade has a large amount of official Sega arcade titles for you to play – a small touch but a really welcome one too.
Not only do you have the activities of the world, you also have the wild variety of people wandering the streets of Kamurocho. There are so many sub-stories within the game, 78 of them in fact. These aren’t just pointless filler, some of them are incredibly hilarious and heartfelt. You meet characters that bring life to the district which is great because this is where you will spend the majority of your time. Yes, you will journey outside of the district for story purposes but you will always come back home, back to Kamurocho.
Left hook… right hook… uppercut… throw a bicycle at them… what?
So we have a great story, great world, great characters – do we have great gameplay? Yes. Yes we do. The combat is really simple but combines elements of classic streetfighter combat and open world exploration. The combat system is so over the top but also brilliant in depth. It works so well at allowing you to find the best approach to win but also with the addition of weapons and the “heat gauge” you have so many options.
The heat gauge is brilliant as it allows you to do an absurdly over the top finisher move, after building up a sufficient amount of heat,. These can include slams, elbow drops, a healthy dose of sweet chin music and when you are holding a weapon or item, the variety only expands. If you have a full heat gauge and are holding a bike, don’t worry – why not slam it straight through them?
Weapons and items are vital in the battles. Always expect fights where you’re not only talking 1v1 or versus a small group, you will regularly be outnumbered a dozen or more to one. To help you take on the large amount of enemies, you have different fighting stances that you can take. The best way to describe them is you have a variety of playstyles to match how you want to fight. You can upgrade each style to include new combos and movesets too. One of the styles, “Dragon of Dojima,” can only be upgraded through regularly fighting Goro Majima, a major side-character in the series. What a laugh he is!
Is Yakuza worth your time?
I love Japan. I love the culture and I have always wanted to visit. Do I think Yakuza is the greatest and most accurate representation of the nation? No, definitely not. But it does help my romanticism of the idea. It’s exactly what I love. The game will take up many hours of your time if you want it to. Equally however, you can just soldier through the story and be finished in 15 hours. Whatever way you may choose, it will be worth your time.