Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the first Yakuza game for the PlayStation 2, a game I never got to play because I was busy with college and wrestling in 2006. Despite my lack of knowledge when it comes to the Yakuza franchise, I did some supplemental reading and pressed some new friends from my live-action gaming group for knowledge: mostly what I needed to know about the series and what games I've already played to be ready for a Yakuza game. Once I'd been properly briefed, I was ready to dive into the Yakuza world. So how has Kiwami aged? And how does it stack up next to Yakuza 0? And how does Kiwami tie into Yakuza 0?
Well, Kiwami starts where Yakuza 0, the series' prequel game left off, with Kiryu Kazama kicking ass and taking names before landing himself a whopping 10-year prison sentence. Japanese prisons are no joke and Kiryu Kazama's talents go to waste over the prison stint leaving him the Yakuza equivalent of a Level 1 scrub when he's released. Add to the mix that Kiryu's friend Yumi is gone (along with 10 billion yen) and he's being stalked by a crazy nutjob challenging him to fights and Kiryu's got a lot going against him. While I appreciate the idea of using the prison sentence to explain why Kiryu has to start from the beginning I feel as though those who completed Yakuza 0 could've been given some kind of bonus perk and been allowed to retain some of the moves from the prequel since both games use the same fighting styles, which neatly brings me to the next gameplay summary.
Kiwami features the same four fighting styles from Yakuza 0 to choose from that players can change mid-combat: Brawler if players prefer to be a well-rounded Jack of All Stats, Beast if players want to be a Mighty Glacier, Rush for Fragile Speedsters, and the ever-expanding Dragon style. Experience points can be earned in combat and then used to buy new fighting techniques or attribute upgrades such as strength and health buffs. Money can also be earned spent to do the usual things players might do with currency, such as purchase equipment or gamble, but interestingly the player can also choose to participate in karaoke, which I found pretty entertaining.
Players also have to deal with the aforementioned stalker via the new "Majima Everywhere," system. Goro Majima, also a playable character in Yakuza 0, will pop up intermittently to challenge players to fights in the name of somehow helping Kiryu re-sharpen his fangs, so to speak. Majima will appear at random as well as set locations, too. Defeating Majima allows players to increase their Majima Everywhere rank (yes, it has its own rank) as well as unlock new moves for the fourth Dragon style mentioned earlier. The fights against Majima do get repetitive after a while (he really is a dedicated friend and rival in his own way), but he's such an entertaining and flamboyant character that it's hard not to enjoy him every time he shows up, and it's doubly hard not to covet that jacket of his!
Speaking of important side characters, something new to Kiwami is the side-stories of Kiryu's best friend Akira Nishikiyama. Kiryu's in prison due to taking the rap for something Nishikiyama did, so these little flashbacks clue players in on what happened while Kiryu was locked up. Side characters and cutscenes, in general, get a lot of focus and between beefing up Kiryu, unlocking all of the styles' different moves, and talking to all of the interesting NPCs there's a lot to do in Yakuza Kiwami. All in all, Yakuza Kiwami is a fun game that both fans of the Yakuza series and first-timers like me, will enjoy! The fun characters, dramatic storyline, and versatile combat all make Yakuza Kiwami a great game in a nice, fun sized, digital package. Just watch out for Majima, he's everywhere. So out of TOV 5 stars, I'm giving Yakuza Kiwami a 3.5.