Also available on PlayStation 3
Yakuza Kiwami (translates as Yakuza "Extreme") is a full remake of the original PlayStation 2 game with a slightly expanded story to flesh out some elements that had been only lightly touched on the original as well as dramatically improving the graphics, animations, and combat system. Even though I own Yakuza and Yakuza 2 on PlayStation 2 and Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 on PlayStation 3, this was actually my first experience with the Yakuza series. While it wasn't at all what I was expecting, I was very quickly made into a devout fan of the series, and I can't wait for Yakuza Kiwami 2 to make its way to the West eventually.
Going into the game with bare minimum knowledge of its story and gameplay beforehand, I was expecting a modern Japanese version of The Godfather. In a way, that's what I got, but not the way I had envisioned. I had expected a GTA-style sandbox game like the video game adaptation of The Godfather. What I got (which, in hindsight, I think is MUCH better) was a third person action adventure game with an EXTREMELY heavy focus on narrative. The gameplay didn't resemble that of The Godfather at all, but it continually reminded me a LOT of the story of The Godfather (an amazing novel and the greatest motion picture of all time). This is the mafia game I never knew I wanted.
Without spoiling anything, the basic premise of the story is that you play as one of the top lieutenants for a subsidiary of the Dojima Family, one of the major yakuza families of the Tojo Clan. You were all set up to be given your own family when you ended up being sent to prison for ten years for murder. When you get out, you learn that the world changed a LOT from 1995 to 2005, and there are machinations deeper than anything you could imagine in the world of Tokyo's organized crime syndicates, and like it or not, you're pulled into the storm of violence and deception headfirst.
Unlike the original PlayStation 2 game, you don't have the option of English voice acting in Yakuza Kiwami. All you get is the Japanese voice acting with English subtitles, and while that was a little bit disappointing to me at first, the Japanese voice acting is EXTREMELY well done. The music is great, but the voice acting really does steal the show in the audio department. Some of the random incidental characters have so-so voice actors, but the primary and secondary characters are all extremely well done, and that quality in voice casting puts you more in the story than anything else. You can hear the emotion of the characters as they're thrown into various emotional turmoil.
Overall, the game controls extremely well. The combat can feel a bit awkward at first as it's not nearly as straightforward a beat 'em up as it appears at a glance. Once you get a feel for the combat, the combos, and the four fight styles, though, it feels fantastic to beat the snot out of street punks and curbstomp enforcers from rival yakuza families. You do get to use weapons, both melee and ranged, in the game, but the melee weapons break quickly, and the ranged weapons have EXTREMELY limited with no option to stockpile ammo and reload (we're talking like 3-6 shots for most guns), but bought guns can be repaired/reloaded at a weapon shop for a fee. Unfortunately, weapons that you pick up from defeated enemies or in the environment can't be repaired; they just kind of vanish into the ether when they break. I ended up weapons pretty rarely - I'd save the ones I bought in my inventory for bosses and only use weapons against random grunt enemies if they dropped a sword or a gun.
You can tell that, even on PS4, the game was original developed for PlayStation 3, but even despite that, it looks fantastic, and it runs nearly flawlessly. Very rare did I encounter any hiccups or stutters in performance, and unless you're right up against a wall or something, the textures and model details look extremely good. The character models, especially, look great. Some of the collisions can be a little wonky with chairs and tables clipping through enemies a bit when you use them as weapons, but those situations are few and far between for the most part.
One of the great things about Yakuza Kiwami (or terrible depending on how pressed for time you are) is the variety of minigames. You've got bowling, mahjong, various dice based gambling games, and - my personal favorite - Pocket Circuit! The others are all fine or whatever, but POCKET CIRCUIT, DUDE. You basically customize this tiny mechanical car with different parts and race three other cars on increasingly complex tracks. There's no direct control over the cars, but you can control if and when you boost, and sometimes your car starts to fly off the track or something, and you have to smash the circle button repeatedly in hopes that you can keep it on the track. It does get frustrating in the harder races because there's a LOT of RNG involved in that minigame, but it's CRAZY addicting. I think I literally probably spent four or five hours of playthrough just on Pocket Circuit races.
Yakuza Kiwami is one of the greatest narrative based games that I've ever played. It's got definite role playing elements - you get experience to unlock skills - but it always feels more like an action adventure game than an RPG. Regardless of what genre you decide to call it, this is a game that every PlayStation 4 owner (or PlayStation 3 if you can speak/read Japanese) needs to play. It's an absolutely incredible journey that will absolutely tear at your hearstrings at times, and I'm ashamed that it took me so long to play it. It took him a while, but after a slew of crappy games, Colin FINALLY suggested a good game for me to play, and damn, what a game that was. This is an absolute must play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.