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Yakuza Kiwami Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

Yakuza Kiwami, developed and published by Sega, has been out on console since 2016 — and debatably even longer, since it’s a remake of the original Yakuza (released in 2005) — but now it's been remastered and brought to PC. This action RPG has you living the life of a Yakuza (Japanese Mafia), with all the violence, danger, and intrigue that entails.

HOW GOOD IS THE PORT?

Yakuza Kiwami transitions to PC fairly well. The controls work smoothly, and the game is playable with a keyboard and mouse. You're urged to use a controller like a real Yakuza, and it is indeed a better experience. The controls were designed for a controller, and there’s no getting around that. The movement especially feels much more natural with an analog stick than with WASD. The fighting is also more intuitive on a controller, where the buttons are set up in a way that makes combos flow.

Then there’s the camera, which is a bit of a problem in general, and with a mouse it tends to spin out of control sometimes. The mini-map is similarly confusing because of its narrow view and the way it moves, which is only complicated by the slightly-awkward keyboard and mouse controls. Finally, Yakuza Kiwami is all about mini-games, and while they are all set up to use a minimal number of keys, the sheer volume of games guarantees something will translate awkwardly to keyboard. All that being said, playing with a keyboard and mouse is still an enjoyable experience — it just doesn’t have the polish and flow of a controller.

Yakuza Kiwami feels like a gangster movie.

The mini-games feel like distractions that are present in any city, while the plot feels more like a black-and-white, Japanese-gangster movie. The protagonist, Kiryu, has a white suit reminiscent of the main characters in Stray Dog and Tokyo Drifter, with maybe a dash of Spike from Cowboy Bebop. The acting and the way the scenes are composed also feel like classic Japanese movies. There is a nice blur effect for objects in the foreground and the camera’s focal point always presents a crisp yet smooth image. There are a lot of bar interiors, dramatic conversations, and even more dramatic twists. Through all of this, the rugged-but-upstanding Kiryu needs to rescue an endless chain of girls and women in distress, and he does so almost exclusively by beating the hell out of goons.
While this is a little disappointing, because of how boring, predictable, and sexist it can all get, it’s at least fitting for the Yakuza underworld. It could be argued that the endless damsel-in-distress quests are self-aware choices, and maybe this is part of why the drama in Yakuza Kiwami is balanced with wacky antics, but this doesn’t really seem like a likely explanation. It feels like Yakuza Kiwami’s core plot takes itself very seriously (too seriously, probably), while the lighthearted and fun parts are meant as palate cleansers rather than commentary.

In any case, the plot is most exciting when it’s focused on the intrigue and politics of the Yakuza organizations. There are dozens of twists and turns to follow, and it makes for a satisfying and cinematic experience if you can keep up.

But when I say it feels like a movie, I mean it feels like a movie.

Yakuza Kiwami is a shameless example of that old gamer pet-peeve: too many cutscenes. But Yakuza Kiwami gets away with it (barely). The cutscenes are generally well done and fun to watch, and you can take a long break from them if they get to be too much by racing toy cars or hitting balls at the batting cages. But usually the lengthy, dialogue-filled cutscenes aren’t too bad because the voice acting alone makes for excellent entertainment. It was the right choice to stick with the original Japanese audio under English subtitles. A dub would have likely ruined the entire feel, and it would definitely ruin your hours of fun trying to mimic the characters’ Japanese after you’ve been playing for far too long.

The playing-for-far-too-long thing is a byproduct of all the cutscenes, too; they build good tension with an extremely long story — at least, for what is basically a fighting game, the story length is surprising. In that long, tense story, the pacing demands intense climaxes. At these peaks in the story, the cutscenes and battles can last for an eternity. That’s fine if you’re ready for it, but if you have a job or a family, you’re going to want to take a break at some point. I don’t think there’s any way to save during a cutscene (and I’m too afraid of missing something to find out), which means you just have to sit through them, skip them, or lose your progress.

The crutch of autosave actually makes the problem worse. “I lost the fight, so I’ll just quit here,” you think, but then when you come back it hasn’t saved the past forty-five minutes. What’s more, the system is designed for non-stop play: When you lose a battle, you have the option to retry from the point just before that fight, but that’s never an autosave point. These things can make you complacent for the perfect storm of being interrupted right at a crucial story moment. At one point, I lost enough progress that my save was all the way in the previous chapter, and even skipping every cutscene, it took about an hour to opt out of all them, fight my way through an entire triad, take down the boss, skip another half hour of cutscenes, and finally beat the car chase I had failed the night before.

In the end, none of these complaints matter.

Yakuza Kiwami gets away with its flaws because they’re all eclipsed by that magical balance of fun and tension, comedy and drama, and other words paired with their opposites. The fighting system is elegant and satisfying, the side-quests are entertaining and just the right length, and the mini-games are great time wasters.

Kiryu is the embodiment of Yakuza Kiwami’s charm, with his balance of childlike glee and adult-Yakuza fierceness. This mass murderer who solves all his problems with violence is actually a child when it comes down to it. (Maybe there’s a message somewhere in there…) All I know is this: After playing Yakuza Kiwami, I feel like I should get out and roam the city a little more often.

8

The Verdict: Excellent

Yakuza Kiwami is already a proven classic. The port to PC is decent, but a controller is definitely preferred to a keyboard and mouse. The cinematic polish of the cutscenes and dialogue is impressive on its own, but balanced against the fun, comedic element of the mini-games, the combination is outstanding.

Nicholas Barkdull
Written by
Monday, 11 March 2019 05:00
Published in Action

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Nic is a writer and narrative designer with a PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. He thinks real time strategy games are still a valid form of e-sport, that true RPGs should be turn-based (with huge casts of characters), and that AAA games have a long way to go before they earn back our trust. He is the Lead Writer for Pathea Games's My Time at Sandrock, and his work can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, The Daily Beast, and many other places.

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