Yakuza Kiwami Review

Richard Walker

Yakuza Kiwami was where my voyage into discovering the series began. Foolishly, I'd written Kazuma Kiryu and his sprawling saga off, having played a demo of Yakuza 2 in 2008. I came away thinking it was incredibly silly – and I admit, I was horribly wrong. Fast forward ten years later to 2018 and I'm now obsessed with all things Yakuza, having been a latecomer to Kiwami – the ground-up remake of the original 2005 title that started it all. Turns out, there was nothing silly about Yakuza, and I was an idiot to overlook it. Yakuza Kiwami is sensational, though slightly inferior to prequel entry Yakuza 0.

Introducing Kiryu and the well-worn city of Kamurocho to the world, Yakuza Kiwami starts with the suited and snakeskin-booted protagonist fully entrenched within the inner workings of the Tojo Clan. When we first meet him (after a tantalisingly brief flash-forward to explosive events that take place later that night), Kiryu is helping underling Shinji collect a debt, before experiencing a run-in with best frenemy, Goro Majima. During these opening moments, you'll learn practically everything you need to know about Kiryu. It may be a murky, morally dubious world he inhabits, but it's one that he navigates with his own strict code – Kiryu proves immediately likeable and relatable.

Opening with a rain-slicked Tenkaichi Street in 1995, this is a Kamurocho that would have been unfamiliar in its original PlayStation 2 guise, but today it's a place that fans will have visited multiple times. Even if you’ve previously played Yakuza 0, you'll instantly feel at home – and there's no sojourn to Majima's native city of Sotenbori to break things up, meaning you're free to become completely immersed in Kamurocho, its skyline now dominated by the vertiginous Millennium Tower.

Like Yakuza 0, Kiwami is an excellent entry point to Yakuza, simply by virtue of being a remake of the original game, where it all started. Zero might be first within the game's chronology, but as a means to becoming better acquainted with Ryu ga Gotoku Studio's signature franchise, I'd argue that this is the best place to begin – not that you can really go wrong either way, of course. Like Yakuza 0, Kiwami retains the same combat mechanics, enabling you to switch between Kiryu's four fighting styles on the fly, although levelling up and acquiring new abilities involves constantly filling a gauge to earn points, rather than parting with vast wads of cash in exchange for moves. It’s marginally less sophisticated than upgrading Kiryu’s skills in other Yakuza games.

Perhaps one of the most memorable and more offbeat aspects of Yakuza Kiwami is the ubiquitous presence of Majima, appearing at random junctures to attack Kiryu. Dubbed 'Majima Everywhere', the eye-patched oddball's surprise ambushes develop the antagonistic role between Kiryu and Majima to great effect, and works perfectly within Yakuza's wonderfully surreal mould. Speaking of weirdness, Kiwami excels in conjuring oddity in its more than 70 substories, serving up mirth-inducing asides when you're away from the straight-laced core narrative.

Therein lies the beauty of Yakuza – its unique ability to seamlessly handle diversions into the daft while always keeping an eye on the central drama at its heart. Time spent doing Pocket Circuit races, or messing around in the arcade with retro SEGA games, or the weird card-collecting MesuKing: Battle Bug Beauties mini-game, is every bit as important as time spent with mysterious young girl Haruka or Kiryu's sworn oath brother, Nishikiyama. Essentially, nothing is superfluous in Yakuza Kiwami – it's all good stuff, even if some of it is uniquely unconventional.

And there's a constant, inherent joy in beating down thugs and yakuza from rival clans, be it with a bike, traffic cone, road sign, golf club, or whatever else happens to come to hand. Combat remains king in Yakuza Kiwami, and being able to switch between Brawler, Rush, Beast, and (eventually) Dragon fighting styles ensures the fisticuffs stay fresh throughout, Heat finishers adding violent, teeth-shattering gratification to encounters.

Attending hostess clubs for a spot of downtime, crooning in karaoke bars, attempting to understand mahjong (I still don’t get it), and so on, are all activities you can return to again and again, but the main draw here is Yakuza Kiwami's story of betrayal and redemption. If that sounds somewhat melodramatic, it can be, but it's also hugely compelling, dragging you right into the middle of a serpentine crime chronicle you'll want to see through to the very end. If you've already lapped up Yakuza 0 on Xbox One, you're going to want to know what happens next.

If you've still yet to dip your toe into the complex world of Yakuza, however, then you could do a lot worse than start your journey with Yakuza Kiwami. Granted, it's not quite as good as Yakuza 0, but Kiwami has plenty of its own merits, among them, a chance to become better acquainted with Kazuma Kiryu in his own individual story. Yakuza Kiwami demands to be played and enjoyed – don't do what I did and dismiss it out of hand.

Yakuza Kiwami

Yakuza 0 might be the better game, but Yakuza Kiwami is the best way to experience where the series began. Additions like 'Majima Everywhere' inject a sense of knockabout fun to proceedings, while cracking heads is a persistent, unending delight. There's no excuse not to dive right into Yakuza Kiwami this very second.

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Music can be a mite repetitive (there's the same tune for almost every fight, for instance), but it's decent enough. Voice acting is typically excellent.


Of the newer Yakuza titles, Kiwami is the oldest and therefore the least visually accomplished. It's still pretty polished and highly detailed, however, the odd pedestrian behaviour the only issue that persists from the other Yakuza games.


Like Yakuza 0, fight encounters in Kiwami remain a joy, as you beat thugs with bicycles, traffic cones and other items. Breathing in everything Kamurocho has to offer is all part of an engaging experience.


The storyline plays it straight, while 70-odd substories offer numerous diversions. Brawls with Majima are also fun, while mini-games and other activities will keep you occupied for hours on end.


A lot of overlap from Yakuza 0, you'll feel like you're doing a lot of the same stuff over again. That said, this is still a very solid achievement list.

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