Take your seats, students
Hello everyone! It is I FakePlasticTree with yet another blog regarding Yakuza. If it wasn't obvious already then I'm a big fan of this particular series, and the recent foothold it has set among westerners with Yakuza 0 is a big deal. A while back I did a guide to how a newcomer could get started on the series, and it ended on the front page which was hugee! I followed up with a review of Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 6 respectively. Both in my review of Kiwami and in that big guide I failed to mention a few key things I feel are worth talking about regarding this upcoming remake slated for release on August 29th.
Hyperbithero, famously known for his videos regarding the Yakuza series, has been vocally negative towards the remake regarding certain factors of the game. Figures like GamingBrit has also recently made his thoughts regarding the Crash remake known, where the feelings being expressed on the subject of the rise of remakes are mixed. I imagine they are partially grounded in console manufacturer's sour attitude towards backwards compatibility. So, I want to offer a counterpoint to Hyperbit's feelings, convincing newcomers how they are getting the better deal with Kiwami over the original, while also acknowledging the flaws he points out as there are certainly some to be found in Kiwami. Although, I feel most of those flaws stems from elements that were pulled from the original and not on changes to the game.
Let's get to it!
"Are we translating Yakuza Kiwami, the Y1 remake, from scratch? Of course, we are translating it again from scratch" says senior producer of Atlus/Sega Sam Muellen. Yes, you heard that right. No more of that elementary school stage play-leveled Tarantino-parody-with-awkwardly-delivered-swears-and-one-liners script, we are instead getting a newly translated game, with the experts at Atlus to help give a more faithful depiction of the original Japanese penmanship.
This is mostly likely, but not solely, due to the fact that Yakuza Kiwami comes packed with a whole lot more than just a spiced up paintjob. Kiwami offers a lot of new story content for its sub stories as well as the main story itself. The existence of Yakuza 0, prompted the designers to leave nods, references to the delightful prequel that released prior: And thank goodness for that. We're getting completely re-recorded voice acting from the original Japanese cast, where Nishikiyama's actor Kazuhiro Nakatani has truly upped his performance. This leaves a clear consistent connection with the prior released pre-quel and makes it easier for newcomers to get into it.
It should be clear to anyone by now that Kiwami took a lot of assets from 0. This is a staple for the series, borrowing elements from previous games and building upon them. Yakuza Kiwami has done this zealously though. Everything from how the city looks, to the characters model, the combat, the animations, even one of Majima's costumed encounters with Kiryu uses replicated animations from 0. This could be seen as lazy on their part, if the developers hadn't done anything else to the game. But there's a lot more to talk about, we'll get to all of that, as well as the negative bits later.
Suffice to say, the inclusion of 0's mechanics makes for a much better game, mechanically. As I mentioned in my review from last year, the city of Kamurocho no longer feel like a series of interconnected areas where each have horrendously long loading times. Some boss battles have also been made more bearable with the usage of the 4 new styles from 0. The game runs on 60 fps as Yakuza 0 did, rain or shine, it plays pretty well.
So before we get to the dreaded negative parts that sadly lingers like a bad smell, I want to talk about all of the new content. This includes additional story-related cutscenes and dialogue, but also mini-games (quite a few from 0) along with a few new heat moves, the Majima Anywhere system and even side quests.
A lot of these things help to expand the world of Yakuza 1. The original game was considered a marvel at its time for genuinely detailed presentation of a modern Tokyo, fixiated on a gritty crime drama written by an actual crime writer. Yakuza had all of the right things. Looking back, however, the original hasn't aged well and its presentation in Japan wasn't met with the same glee and awe in the West. Sega of America and Europe didn't do the game the proper justice it was deserved, and we were left with a game featuring a half-hearted localization, and poor marketing, labelling it as a Grand Theft Auto clone. Leaving the series in a state of obscurity for many years.
Majima is all up in your grill!
As mentioned before Kiwami rectifies the shortcomings of the original script, with a brand new localized version of the game, along with a whole package of new content to expand upon the original game. Among the most prominent is the Majima Anywhere system. As the name implies, Majima will show up anywhere, and everywhere to attack and/or challenge Kiryu to a fight. Kiwami adds in an interesting plot reason for Majima's expanded appearances in the game. Kiryu's return to Kamurocho after having been incarcerated for a decade has weakened his fighting capabilities, so in classic Metroid fashion he has to reclaim them by training with Majima. Kiryu's sense of honour intrigues Majima as he desires to break him and reveal him as a fraud, so Majima goes out of his way to challenge Kiryu to a fight whenever he can get away with it.
The system follows similar steps to that of Mr. Shakedown in that Majima will patrol the streets and chase Kiryu down if he sees him, though unlike the former he'll sometimes quite litterally just show up if you walk by the wrong man hole, dustbin, restaurant, bar etc etc. The fights start out as generally easy, but then they get tougher and tougher the more you beat him. Majima's fighting antiques comes with his own 4 combat styles and heat moves from Yakuza 0, which makes for some entertaining fights--But best of all, there are the hilarious situations to which Majima goes to great lengths in getting Kiryu to fight him.
New mini-games, addtional side quests and continuity with Yakuza 0
Yakuza Kiwami as per tradition of the series comes with quite a few mini-games, though admittedly they are heavily borrowed from Yakuza 0. One of the most prominent of mini-games are Insect Queen. To any Yakuza 0 veterans, it might be clear that it bears a striking resemblance to that of Cat Fight Club from 0. Now before you run away, screaming in terror over the prospect of that mini-game making its return, hear me out.
Insect Queen while similar plays a bit different from Cat Fight, it would be more accurate to say that it fixes the major problem with said mini-game. Your success in Cat Fight was entirely determined by random number generators which would leave many players with frustration and anger tantrums (me included). In Insect Queen you aren't getting your ass handed to you, and the AI won't tirelessly predict your every move with the Rock-Paper-Scissor mechanics. This time your victory is factored into cards that you collect around the city, each packing a different skill or a bug woman you can use to fight. So there's a bit more tact to the mini-game this around. There's also a series of side quest tied to the mini-game itself, involving Kiryu helping out a young boy, collecting skimpy-dressed-women-insect-queen card which is as hilarious as it sounds. The mini-game itself isn't wholly new but it is new with regards to its presence in the original game's story.
The new side quests added into the game also builds a bridge between Yakuza Kiwami and the prequel Yakuza 0. Sega's done a decent job of subtlety tying the events of 0 with that of Yakuza 1 without having to alter any established story content from the original. One of the most prominent examples is the return of the Pocket Racer mini-game. With it, comes some familiar faces like Pocket Fighter, who's still trying to keep the hobby alive despite the 17 years that has passed by. Some of the children from Yakuza 0 has also returned, where you get to see how they've changed. This is one of the major aspects of the series, its continuity, both major and minor characters will make reappearance throughout the games. It makes the world of Kamurocho feel alive, like a real living and breathing city that ages with every entry that releases. It could probably best be compared to how a game like Trails in the Sky treats its lore and world.
Hostesses are back!
Yes, that's right. A feature that has become a stable of the series until Yakuza 0, where it was conspiciously absent and replaced with Majima's Cabaret Club Management, has returned. Yakuza 3's localization had left out this feature as well, but due to negative feedback regarding cut content and subpar translated effort it had since returned in Yakuza 4 and onward. In Kiwami, you can once again visit both the familiar Shine and Jewel hostess clubs from previous games.
Basically speaking, the hostess clubs are a common feature in the East-Asian night entertainment industry, which primarily employs women and cater to men seeking drinks and attentive company. Given that Yakuza is a series centered in the heart of Tokyo's Red Light District of Shinjuku it would only be natural for this to be in the game. Its functions is generally about trying to impress the respective hostess you're talking with about various subjects, which can lead to a potential date and then some.. You'll see when you play it.
With a remake, a new soundtrack will traditionally follow. Kiwami packs a bunch of reniditions of the old tracks from the original game. A lot of them sound quite different from their original counterparts that you could be forgiven for thinking they aren't the same. Some of them do share similar tunes that you can easily tell it apart, some fans might not appreciate these new remixes due to how different they sound.
In retrospect, these new tunes do compliment the fine tuned aesthetic of the current gen Yakuza a lot in contrast to the original soundtrack suiting the murky colours of the PS2. Son of a Gun is a perfect battle track, and Receive You has never sounded better than it does now.
All great games have their shortcomings, and Kiwami certainly does have a few worth noting. In my review last year, I said that the game is a remake "in every sense of the word for better or worse". I wanted to underline that while Kiwami respectfully retreads every step the original did out of respect, and keeping it consistent, it would be fair to say that it does this a bit too much. As seen above, Kiwami uses the exact same facial animations and mo-cap acting as the original with the new freshly coated character models of the current gen.
The issue. however, is that with these animations being outdated and made for a 10 year old PS2 game, you get this unnerving Uncanney Valley effect when coupling them up next to completely original and newly crafted cutscenes exclusively for the remake: It starts to look silly. It's not exactly Ride to Retribution bad, but in comparison to Yakuza 0 it's a major step down. This doesn't mean you can expect bad facial animations overall, there are certainly some that still hold up. This does boggle the question on why Sega didn't see a need to port the Yakuza HD collection of the West as well, as it offers both the original and second game with vastly updated textures and combat. Because in a lot of ways Kiwami is a remaster as opposed to remake, but it brings a lot of new things to the table that it warrants the title of a remake.
Bosses with regenerating health and recycled fighting styles
The regenerating feature actually wasn't in the original, and while it certainly is well established that Yakuza games do make use of old assets; Kiwami does it to the extreme (no pun intended). This new feature also includes the newly added heatmoves, which are certainly fun, but during a "heated" battle being forced to quickly build up heat to perform a heatmove in order to counteract a boss regenerating.. Well, it's annoying to say the least. You'll be forced to do this a lot, and it can get tedious during almost any boss fight but making use of the Rush style will make it easier. But still, what was the purpose of adding this into the game?
On the subject of bosses, fans of the series might notice how some of these bosses uses recycled fighting styles from other prominent bosses in the series. One of the major antagonists in the game uses a mix of Mr. Shakedown's brutish style and Ryuji Goda's beast style from Yakuza 2. This feels like a really lazy job done by Sega, and takes bit of thrill away from fighting these particular bosses. One of the most fun parts about Yakuza are the innovative boss battles, and the different techniques and styles the various villains employ. Reusing old techniques can only be done so much before it starts to rear its ugly side.
Continuity gaps, Symphony of the Night: Yakuza Edition
One probably didn't think I would bring up the possibility of this game conflicting with prior games but sadly I have to call attention to some of it. It's inevitable for every series that wants to expand upon an existing story that some gaps will show up. In case of Kiwami it is both a story related one, but also a mechanical one. Most of us probably know of the wonderful PSX game called Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It's a pretty well regarded game among both fans of said series and critics alike. Many games have long since tried to replicate many defining aspects of the game, like sprawly open levels, but also the aspect of the protagonist losing their abilities and spending the game getting them all back. In Yakuza's case it is the latter.
You see in the beginning of the game Kiryu is known as the Dragon of Dojima, and he has all of his abilities that are tied to his defining fighting style. With the existence of 0, it makes a lot of sense for Kiryu to start out with an arsenal you've spent hours on acquiring in the prequel. It doesn't, however, make sense in the grand scheme of the entire series as many of these abilities are some that Kiryu has acquired through experience, and training with combat masters throughout all of the games. It makes sense from a gameplay/mechanical standpoint but just not from a plot point. Kiryu didn't even learn this style until Yakuza 1, its presence in 0 was mostly as an easter egg.
The 3 other styles returning also seems a bit weird too, as from a design/plot point they represented the unrefined young new blood of a Yakuza that Kiryu was in the prequel. They would then form together to create the coherent fighting style that defines who Kiryu is throughout the series. It creates a weird dissonance between plot and gameplay, in vein of Arkham Origins and the grapnel boost continuity issue. The developers naturally decided to go with the easier of route in simply retaining the styles from 0, and improving them with the ability to switch between them all instantenously. Still, combining them all into one style would have made the remake come a long way.
Majima Anywhere system clashes with established events *SLIGHT SPOILERS*
I really don't enjoy putting down such a wonderful feature that would give me "more of Majima" but I have to do it because I love these games, and I care about them. The Majima Anywhere system is a fun feature, despite what some naysayers think, it adds a lot of the appropriate charm to the game that fits Yakuza. Although, it does this at the expense of the story and the tone that has been set.
You see Majima and Kiryu's first outing wasn't what you would call a "friendly" one, they weren't exactly enemies but they weren't friends either. Majima was an asshole thug, who messed with Kiryu in the original, and his role in the original was more of a representation of the kind of villains he was up against. The crazy antics of the new system makes for an inconsistent tone with the main story segments.
During the events of the game Majima gets himself bandaged after being fatally hurt in his attempt to protecting Kiryu from harm. He wanted to fight him fair and square after all. In the original it made for a nice surprise boss battle, as you don't hear from Majima again since that fight and you wouldn't expect him to come after you again like this. Because you're fighting Majima almost all of the time outside of the main story, the remake has to contrive a new reasoning for his sudden absence from the game.
And guess what? They chose to hurt him again in the exact same way to try and make it consistent with the original story. All it does though is add an unnecessarily convoluted twist to the original established events, and cheapens them. It would have been more appropriate for the remake to work out a new story segment that compliments the new system.
Remakes are a risky effort for developers because they rely a lot on the need to appease fans of the original game, while also trying to draw in new players and of course make it worth the money you could have spent on simply buying the original instead. You need to make sure there is a market for it. In Sega's case, they went with the cheaper option. Ultimately, Kiwami is a remake that does satisfy on what I would come to expect of a Yakuza game, and a remake of an old one, but it also disappoints in not adding a lot of new things.
The things it does add though, like expanding the existing story, a refined combat system, seamless open world, more substories and remixed soundtrack makes for a much more satisfying game. Ultimately, it's still the best option to experience the original story, as unlike Twin Snakes it doesn't add too many new gameplay mechanics that feel at odds with the game. It adds some but not enough to warrant it a pass.
I do hope that if Sega has plans for a Yakuza 2 remake that they take the shortcomings of Kiwami to heart and put more effort into crafting a game that feels new and familiar to both old and new players alike. Newcomers who enjoyed Yakuza 0 can definitely still look forward to Yakuza Kiwami, when it hits the shelves on Augusth 29th.
Thanks for reading!