A couple of Yakuza titles were present at E3 as fans of the series enjoy its western revival. Pascal Tekaia reports on the time he spent with the remake of the very first game, Yakuza Kiwami.
Since its inception, the Yakuza series has believed in doing everything on a grand scale. There are no half measures; the minimum simply doesn't suffice. I mean that both in terms of the overarching story that runs through the main games in the series — six in all currently available in English, including the Yakuza 0 prequel released earlier this year — as well as the sheer gargantuan list of time sinks for players to get caught up in when not unraveling the narrative thread. With such a storied legacy, and to give potential new players a better way to get their footing in the series, Sega is releasing a remake of the original game, titled Yakuza Kiwami, in just a few short months.
The first thing to be addressed obviously has to be the outdated graphics. Ten years can take their toll on a game, and Kiwami has been designed from the ground up to take full advantage of the same engine seen earlier this year in Yakuza 0. As the demo began, the blinking lights, neon splashes of color, and general bustle of Kamurocho come into focus, it's hard to remember that the place was initially rendered back in 2005, when the story originally took place. Kazuma Kiryu looks younger and, with the graphical upgrades, better than ever, but I barely noticed for all the other sights and sounds clamoring for my attention.
Where do you start a Yakuza demo? There's no better way than to just see what happens, and no sooner have I turned my first corner than I'm already caught up in battle against three thugs who were pestering an old lady. The game features four different fighting styles, which can be switched between on the fly. Whether fighting in Dragon, Rush, Beast, or Brawler style, the controls are the same and, thankfully, simple enough to lend themselves so even players like me can come out on top with ease: square button for a light attack, triangle for a heavier finisher, and circle for grappling. Experimenting with the different styles is simple and fun. The battle soon ends and I'm faced with the same dilemma of too much to do, and hardly any time to do it in.
Just then, a new feature of the game came to my rescue. Series mainstay and ally to Kiryu, Goro Majima, showed up in full police getup to punish me for disturbing the peace. This feature is known as Majima Everywhere, and it literally means exactly what it implies. At any point, for any reason whatsoever, Majima can and will show up to do battle with Kiryu, usually in some bizarre disguise. This is intended to allow Kiryu to progress in his martial arts ability and acquire new moves, but also to pepper in more opportunities to flesh out his character with more backstory and plug some plot holes from the original game. Unfortunately for me, my feeble attempts at besting him were a waste of time, as his difficulty had been set to Impossible for the purpose of this demo. Thanks, Sega.
That was all the taste for battle I had left in me. For the remainder of my time, I played Kiwami as the boondoggle it's meant to be: by ignoring the epic story completely and playing mini games. The Yakuza series is known for derailing its players' progress, and Yakuza Kiwami is no exception. Apart from fifty sub-stories all around town to experience, players can take spend plenty of time on Pocket Circuit Racer, karaoke, Mahjong, the arcade game Mesuking, hostess clubs with new girls to date, bowling, darts, and the list goes on.
With so much to do, it's a wonder anything gets done around here. Players who wish to attempt to experience the original Yakuza's story will be able to find themselves completely distracted, but at least in a fun way, when the game releases for PlayStation 4 on August 29, 2017.