With there being two games in the Yakuza series on Xbox One now, it would naturally make sense to start with Yakuza 0 from a chronological point of view. However, it is upon my second playthrough of Yakuza Kiwami that I realise this is a much better starting point for newcomers, despite ever so slightly being the inferior of the two.
Yakuza Kiwami is a full remake of the 2005 original entry into the franchise, and it is in 2005 that this game is predominantly set. The story starts ten years earlier though, in 1995.
Fans of the prequel will instantly recognise returning characters in these opening moments; Sohei Dojima, Akira Nishikiyama and, of course, series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. However, these reunions don’t last long as Nishikiyama kills Dojima, with Kiryu taking the blame for the murder and facing ten years in prison.
Fast forward then to 2005 and Kiryu returns to the city of Kamurocho, a place now virtually unrecognisable to him. And after finding out that his childhood friend Yumi has gone missing, it isn’t long before Kiryu is once again exploring this new version of Kamurocho from top to bottom.
Players will struggle to recognise Kamurocho as well, mostly due to the 17 years time difference between Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. Certain areas are unchanged including the bowling alley and batting cages, but the biggest change is the Millenium Tower. Gone is the Empty Lot – the MacGuffin from Yakuza 0 – and its replacement is the skyscraper known as the Millenium Tower, a prominent building in Kiwami and future instalments. Other locations have had facelifts or may have moved around a bit, but by doing all these lesser changes along with the bigger ones it keeps Kamurocho fresh for those who thought they had explored all of it.
Kiwami features almost identical gameplay to Yakuza 0: players are given the playground of Kamurocho to explore at their leisure. Random fights will occur on the street and – using one of the four fighting styles for Kiryu – you must defeat your opponents. Fighting is fast and fluid and there are a lot of different moves you can use, some with devastating effects on an enemy’s health bar. Unlike Yakuza 0 though, that used the backdrop of the Japanese bubble economy to shower Kiryu with money and then use this to upgrade your fighting styles, Kiwami employs a more traditional EXP system, with most interactions awarding a bonus.
Away from the story and the battles are the usual substories and side-activities the series is famous for. Some minigames have returned from Yakuza 0 including pocket circuit racing, karaoke, the batting cages and traditional Japanese games including shogi and mah-jong. New additions include Mesuking and a conversation-based minigame revolving around the hostess clubs. Mesuking is a variant of rock-paper-scissors involving scantily clad ladies that are based on beetles and other creepy crawlies. If ever you needed an example of the irreverence of the Yakuza series, this is it.
As with all decent remakes, Yakuza Kiwami isn’t a straight carbon-copy, and it comes with updated graphics and sound. Several features have been added in including extra cutscenes and gameplay.
For those coming directly from 0, one of the biggest differences is Akira Nishikiyama; his personality is night-and-day different from the prequel to Kiwami, which previously never needed explaining on account of the prequel not existing. In between each chapter now is a cutscene detailing the events of Nishikiyama’s transformation from the time of Kiryu’s incarceration to the beginning of Kiwami.
Then there is Majima Everywhere. Goro Majima isn’t a playable character this time in Kiwami, but his presence can still be felt around every corner. Early on he promises to be watching Kiryu’s every move and will try his utmost to instigate a fight, and he certainly means it. Players will need to stay on their toes – and have an inventory always prepared – as he can pop up at any point whilst you are roaming around the city, even arriving in certain minigames for an alternative challenge. He will proposition a fight that you can’t escape from, and as your rank increases with Majima these fights grow in difficulty.
Because Yakuza Kiwami is based on a 2005 PlayStation 2 game, it does at times feel limited in its scope. For starters, there is only one city and one character to explore in Kiwami, but that does mean you can focus fully on Kiryu and Kamurocho. The plot itself and accompanying substories are also slightly scaled back, but then conversely it is a gentler introduction to the series itself. By being a more restricted title in comparison to the rest of the franchise, it actually makes it much more accessible for newcomers.
Once again though, complete the main story and you can unlock Premium Adventure, but this seems to add more than Yakuza 0 did, giving it an endgame kind of feel to it. Early on in the game, Kiryu meets a young girl called Haruka – who becomes an integral part of the series – but after the main story is completed Kiryu and Haruka can explore Kamurocho. Haruka will be amazed at the sights and sounds and she wants to take every little inch of the city in, and being able to explore this way helps bring a new perspective to the franchise.
With another 55 achievements to unlock, Yakuza Kiwami will reward you with Gamerscore for a lot of different things. There are 13 chapters to play through with an achievement for each, along with several for facing off against Majima in his various guises. Several substories are also related to individual achievements but crucially this is a much shorter completion in comparison to Yakuza 0. And there are no missable achievements either.
Yakuza Kiwami is on the Xbox Store and available through Game Pass, and despite being the second game in the series to release on Xbox it is perhaps the best place to start. There is very little that you will not understand by starting here, despite Yakuza 0 being the superior game. The plot and substories aren’t as involving as the prequel but Yakuza Kiwami is a much more introductory and inviting title; by being a bit more scaled-down it opens itself up to a much wider audience. If you missed out on Yakuza 0 when that released, start here instead.