Yakuza Kiwami would've been a much better game if it wasn't for that meddling Yakuza 0!

Remember the old times, the better times, the Yakuza 0 times...
Alternative title: The one in which I endlessly complain that Kiwami is nowhere near the caliber of 0.

It's amazing. I got my hands on Yakuza 0 only a few short weeks before the remastered Yakuza 1(Known as Yakuza Kiwami) was to be released. In the time I spent with Yakuza 0 I fell in love with it. The amazing dual protagonist story that tied everything so neatly together, even if the story was kinda super incomprehensible and convoluted. But the characters, the music, the amazing beat 'em up gameplay and presentation of the game went above and beyond what I expected, making it easily one of my favorite games of the year, and that's not small praise. After all, Nier: Automata and Nioh came out this year as well.

So finding out I was going to be immediately going back into the world of Kamurocho so soon, I was ecstatic! Then I got my hands on the game, and hoooooooooooh boy.

Yakuza 0 was a completely new creation. I know very little about the Yakuza franchise, but I believe that it also introduced fighting styles? Or, rather, instead of introducing fighting styles, introduced new fighting styles that Kiwami would also utilize. Kiwami on the other hand is a from the ground up remake of the first Yakuza game, so unlike 0, it's coming with some baggage. And hooooooooooooooh boy does it have some baggage.

Right off the bat I was fucking psyched. Where's this story going to go!? I gotta know what happens. We rejoin our now singular protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu who starts off 7 years older than he used to be, as the game now takes place in 1995. Him and his sworn brother Akira Nishikiyama are still Yakuzing it up. Kiryu's gone up in the ranks, now a Lieutenant Adviser to the Dojima Family, and there's talk of him about to get his very own family to run. So it's all looking up for him. For a little bit.

After some weird ring-hopping and handjob jokes form your friends, you go on a series of romps to get a birthday present for a girl Kiryu likes which probably went on a little longer than it needed to be. After doing so everybody's having a good time and having fun. BUT THEN drama strikes. Yumi, the girl Kiryu spent 45 minutes searching for a ring for her, is taken by the crazy sex pervert Sohei Dojima, a patriarch of the Dojima Family. Akira Nishikiyama, known by his friends as Nishiki, rushes off to save her. When Kiryu gets word of what happened, he arrives to the scene to find a traumatized Yumi, a bullet ridden dead body belonging to Sohei Dojima, and a distraught Nishiki holding the gun.

Turns out Nishiki is madly in love with Yumi like Kiryu, and would have done anything to save her. Including murdering a Yakuza patriarch, which is like, a super bad no-no that you just don't do if possible. So Kiryu does what a stoic protagonist and also best friend and sworn brother must do: He tells Nishiki to take Yumi and fuck off, and he'll take the heat.

And they do just that. Kiryu is thrown in prison for 10 years, and when he gets out in 2005, the world, the Yakuza, and even his closest friends, have changed.

This is where the game begins to finally kick off into full swing. Judging from 0 and now this, there's usually a several hour period where these games start where it's pretty linear and you're not allowed to do much, but then it opens up and you can do substories and minigames and such.

Unfortunately, from here on out, it's a bit of a letdown compared to 0, in just about every way. Now, I've been told by many people that they *love* the story of Kiwami, that it's so much better than 0 and so much more personal and emotional and whatnot. Just generally better overall I've been told. But I disagree with that very deeply.

In Yakuza 0, mountains are moved. Not literally, but the stakes are high, the tension, the pacing, the emotional investment and such are all top notch. The switching of protagonists every 2 chapters causes an amazing spike of investment when you're just about to find something out, or you've just found something out, and now you're someone else with their *own* revelations to parse or uncover. It always kept you on the edge of your seat and it's great. Kiwami lacks the oomph I was expecting, but I guess it makes since because Kiwami was the first entry into the franchise. I mean if you compare Uncharted 4 to Uncharted 1, you'll probably walk away agreeing that 4 was a much better game in just about every way. So I get why my criticism might not be as valid, but it's still valid.

Kiwami also has a much different story than what I was expecting. Which is bizarre because of 0's as well. Which is so strange because, and I don't want to get too deep into spoilers, but 0 tells the story of Nishikiyama and Kiryu, the closest of allies, the deepest of brothers. They were willing to defy the entire rest of the Yakuza as long as it meant fighting together and keeping each other alive. The bond between them was as strong as fucking adamantium and it was amazing. The Karaoke opening that cuts into some sort of imagination representation of Nishiki and Kiryu rocking out on stage and in full prime-time 80's rocker gear, it's fantastic.

In Kiwami, however, it... doesn't really capitalize on that. It's like 0 existed to give ONLY context to the characters from the first Yakuza game, and not to really hype up or dramatically build the relationships between the characters so that they can play around with it later in Kiwami. So the story is: Nishikiyama snapped. In the absence of his sworn brother, no one has any need for Nishiki. He's seen as a loser, a poor earner at the table of big money makers. He's mocked openly by his subordinates and treated, quite honestly, like trash. People talk about him behind his back and he overhears them and it doesn't do a lot for his self image.

So he breaks, murders a dude, and goes evil. But the thing it... coming from 0, it just doesn't fill any emotional tension. You constantly hear about how Nishiki has changed and how he's a much different man, a deranged man, but you only see him for the first time at the half point of the game, and that's for about 3 seconds as Kiryu runs from a literal mob of Yakuza who are actively trying to murder him. And then the next time you meet him is only a few chapters from the ending, and this meeting only lasts a few minutes at best.

I really expected the game to play up this sense of "You were my brother! We'd die for each other! What happened to you!" and then he'd say something like "You left me to fend for myself! I did what I had to do! Being a Yakuza isn't the life for a family man, Kiryu, we must forge our own paths!" and they'd stare at each other and I'd cry. But nothing like this ever really happens. They just kinda talk at each other.

Yakuza 0 did way more in the dramatic emotional turmoil aspect of the story than this game ever came close to. I was frustrated by this and felt like cheated, in a sense. I was waiting for an epic showdown, got one, but it was kinda less epic.

Speaking of less epic, the boss battles.

Boss battles in 0 were supreme. Sure, maybe they were a bit easy once you start grinding the real estate business or fighting Mr. Shakedown(Who, on defeat, can reward the PC with A LOT OF MONEY). You could pump out large swaths of upgrades in no time at all. And I did just that. But in this game, Kiwami, it's an actual RPG. You no longer upgrade your skills with money, instead gaining XP from defeating foes, completing side missions and I think even minigames. Also, fighting Goro Majima, but more on that later.

Like 0, skills in Yakuza start very cheap but grow in price exponentially in the higher tiers. So at first you can get a couple of the lower level skills, upgrade your health a small amount, and then wait for hours until you get enough to do anything with. You can also upgrade your Dragon of Dojima style by fighting Goro Majima, but more on that later.

These things all came together to make the boss battles super unpleasant. You could pick fuckers up and slam them and stomp them and beat their face in ALL DAY in 0. In Yakuza Kiwami? Nope, fuck that. They both buffed the amount of HP enemies have, while also reducing the amount of damage your attacks do. Which means that not only are you going to fight for quite literally fucking ever, you're going to punch, punch, get grabbed by an enemy, break free, punch, punch, get stunned and knocked down, tap X to get back up, get back up, punch, punch, get knocked down again. Holy fuck.

There's a boss battle with a guy who uses a gun and every time you get shot you get knocked down and it takes forever to both go down and get back up and he does this stupid fucking sonic dodge when he shoots you that makes it fucking impossible to get him. All of the boss battles were like this, whether they stun you or fucking knock you down constantly, fighting them is a complete pain in the ass. Also, the Heat Gauge, which is a gauge that fills up when you beat the hell out of enemies, and once filled allows you to do special, extra powerful moves, depletes so much faster after being hit by an enemy.

In 0 it would go down with damage taken and also eventually just start draining after not doing anything for a while, but in Kiwami it stays filled until you take damage, in which case it basically depletes to nothing. It's quite frustrating to constantly try to build it up so you can do some additional damage to these HP tank bosses, and then get hit once and lose like half of it.

Ultimately the voice of Yakuza, that powerful style and substance combination that forms this really vivid personality in just about every aspect of the game, from the dialog to the substories to the minigames and world, and on and on and on, is still there. It's there in spades. It's still amazing and charming and the reason I still love this game even if it is super flawed. There's just a lot of rough stuff around it. Kinda like some sort of metaphor for Kiryu himself: Flawed, old, out of style, but still stoic and unrelenting in his pursuits. Or some shit I don't know.

Majima everywhere. Boy this was fun. Kinda.

Goro Majima, co-protagonist(Cotagonist?) of Yakuza 0, is back, but this time he's not a protagonist, he's the fucking Nemesis. The only thing different with him is he yells out "Kiryu-chan~" instead of "stars". He's issued a challenge to Kiryu: You've been in prison for 10 years, you're no longer the Dragon Of Dojima, you're rusty and out of practice. So I'm going to literally attack you in every way that I can imagine to get rid of that ring-rust and bring you back into power.

This unlocks your abilities in the Dragon of Dojima style which is apparently super cool but I didn't feel like grinding through all of the grindy bullshit to level it up enough. See, once you get deep into the Majima is Everywhere system, where Majima hides in cars, competes in minigames with you, and generally just walks around looking for a fight with you, you'll find new versions of Majima. Zombie Majima, Everybody's Idol Majima, Officer Majima and so on. Unfortunately, which version of Majima you get is random chance. Even more unfortunately, the unlocks for the Dragon of Dojima style correlate to which version of Majima you fight. So if you're like me and got most of the way through but couldn't find the right version of him to fight, so you couldn't upgrade the style anymore, you'll probably think it's a big load of bullshit. Because it is.

Sure, it's fun to fight Majima. You got the whole of 0 without the two protagonists ever meeting, but grinding out hours upon hours of finding him in the first place, then wittiling down his multiple very large healthbars, it's a grind. Eventually you reach a section of the upgrades that require you to fight in some kind of underground arena, but you get a very small amount of points for winning the fights, and you need a LOT of points to be able to procure specific items from a vendor in the arena, so again, I was like fuck that and bounced out of there.

Honestly, after seeing the difference between Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, I have to wonder what Sega was trying to achieve here? One game was a masterclass in both narrative and gameplay, and while the story may have been disappointing to me, they left so many issues with the gameplay in Kiwami that seem so easily fixable. At some point of playing through this game it became a grindy slog, punching people for what seemed like forever, not making much progress, hoping to god I don't die and then have to reset to some bullshit checkpoint. And I had none of those problems with 0. So, please Sega, for Kiwami 2, just make it more Yakuza 0 and not Kiwami. I can't take anymore of that grindy nonsense.

It's good but it's no Yakuza 0 good.

My name is Ryan. I like to play video games and Dungeons and Dragons and all kinds of other cool stuff. I also like to write. This is my website, it's nothing special, but I write about topics from time to time that probably make no sense. But if you think they do make sense, then hang around and check out some other articles. My friends call them "blogs" but goddamnit I've got a URL and everything, so they're "articles".


  1. Yeah dude, I felt exactly the same way about this game. Especially the boss fights. I just started Kiwami 2 and unfortunately so far it has more in common with Kiwami 1 than Zero in that department.