I didn’t expect myself to enjoy Yakuza Kiwami as much as I did. I only downloaded it on a friend’s recommendation because it was free in November with a PSPlus membership, I’d always pictured it as a sort of Japanese version of Grand Theft Auto, and to some small extent, I was correct. There are similarities when it comes to the overworld and such, along with the fact that you spend a good amount of your time committing some sort of organized crime.
However, the big difference is the main character. Kazuma Kiryu is, at heart, a very good boy. Although he’s an ex-yakuza, with a massive back tattoo to prove it, he still cares deeply about his friends. The most important aspect of this is that Kiryu cannot enter combat without first being provoked. In conversation with another character, Goro Majima, Kiryu says that he doesn’t fight without a reason. Unless attacked or stepping in to prevent harm happening to another person, Kiryu will not fight. I love this, I think it helps make him more than just a criminal or a fighter. He’s a deeper person than that. The way Yakuza treats Kiryu, resolves the very reason I didn’t enjoy GTA so much. Their protagonists are not as deep and do not carry the same moral fibers.
This doesn’t mean you miss out on some brutal fights though. One of my favorite mechanics is picking up objects and using them to beat down enemies. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a bicycle waiting at the edge of the fighting arena. Bikes are great, they have a decent durability, and there are heaps of them. Often when you see a group of ruffians on the streets waiting to ambush Kiryu, you can actually lead them to an area full of bikes and just wail on them.
All of the fights that occur out in the open-world happen on the streets, though the game has a very clever way of creating an arena for you to fight in. Whenever a fight starts, a group of people surrounds Kiryu and his attackers in a way that boxes you in. It means you can’t escape the area, but it also feels more organic than invisible walls or teleporting you to a separate area to fight.
Though the battles are fun, they are very frequent. Walking through the red light district you come across no less than four gangs just crossing from one side of the town to the other. Eventually, it becomes tiresome. You can run away from these fights before they are initiated, but the streets are tight and if the group is right in front of you, they can be hard to avoid.
Other than the fights, the real place you’re going to find fun is the mini-games. For a game that is already plenty fun and has such punchy combat, they really didn’t need to go as hard with the mini-games as they did; but boy did they. All over the map, there are different things that you can do to pass the time. There’s bowling, a card game called MesuKing that’s like an advanced version of rock-paper-scissors, baseball, karaoke, and Pocket Circuit racing. I’ve spent hours so far, hunting for new parts for my car, upgrading it, and making sure it’s the perfect car for the track I’m going to race on next. Pocket Circuit racing is the thing I have spent the most time on so far.
The time I didn’t spend on fighting goons, following the story, or playing mini-games, I spent with who I would consider to be the main draw of Yakuza Kiwami: Goro Majima. He’s like some sort of interdimensional Trickster God, appearing on the map anytime and anywhere, wanting nothing more than to fight you. He can be found wandering the streets, hiding in trash cans, and one time he even photobombed me while I was taking pictures in the photo booth. Majima is endless entertainment. You sometimes get messages from one of his associates telling you to meet Majima somewhere, and he’s almost always in some stupid costume.
The most interesting part about Majima is that he actually helps you regain your lost skills throughout the game. Kiryu has four different fighting styles that you can switch between during combat: Brawler, Rush, Beast and Dragon. Dragon is without a doubt the best style you have, but after a ten-year stay in prison, you have lost all of its’ abilities. Who helps you re-learn them? Majima. With each encounter, you gain one of your lost abilities, so not only is he hilarious, but he also helps you learn. It’s a really cool mechanic and makes practicing fighting exciting because you never know what he’s going to do next.
Overall I am loving my time with Yakuza Kiwami and I am keen to go out and buy more Yakuza games. I’ve heard that the mini-games are more fleshed out in later games, though Majima makes less of an appearance. Either way, I think Kiryu is a really awesome character, who also loves his friends and taking care of them. Yakuza Kiwami is a game that lets you kick some butt and take a break to bowl some frames with your pal Majima. It’s a mixture of serious fights and stupid fun that I’m happy to know exists.
If you want to hear more about Yakuza, check out our review of Yakuza Kiwami 2 here.