The Yakuza series has catapulted from obscurity to one of Sega’s biggest franchises over the past five years, with games like Judgment and Yakuza: Like a Dragon breathing new life into the series. There are a lot of Yakuza games to dig into, but one of the most underrated entries is going to be free for PlayStation Plus Extra users, starting on August 16. Yakuza Kiwami is easily one of the best video game remakes ever released, and it just so happens to be the perfect place to jump into the franchise as well.
Yakuza Kiwami is a full-blown remake of the very first Yakuza game, which was originally released on PlayStation 2 in 2005. The game uses the same engine from Yakuza 0, and while the story remains the same everything else has been completely rebuilt, from cutscenes to combat. It’s an utterly impeccable remake that makes the first Yakuza feel like a brand new game and even adds some fascinating new mechanics into the mix.
While a case can certainly be made to start with Yakuza 0, the first Yakuza also does a fantastic job of introducing the city of Kamurocho and the stoic series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu. The narrative of Yakuza Kiwami certainly feels simpler and more straightforward than other games, but that’s to its advantage. Having some context for the various crime families and the relationship between Kiryu and Nishiki can make the narrative of Yakuza 0 that much more intimate and gripping. It’s arguably more interesting to explore the modern version of Kamurocho than go back in time to see what it was like during the financial boom of the 1980s.
Yakuza’s defining feature is its mix of serious crime drama with wacky humor and antics, and Yakuza Kiwami is filled with that. One minute you’ll be dealing with crime family assassinations and the next you’re racing miniature remote-controlled cars, or singing karaoke.
Kiwami also has a fantastic version of Yakuza’s bone-crunching combat, using the same system from Yakuza 0 that lets you swap between three different combat styles. Re-imagining the combat encounters of the original Yakuza with these new systems makes everything feel much more visceral, fitting to the setting and story.
Past all this, there are two other major reasons to experience Yakuza Kiwami before the other games, the first of which is length. Yakuza games are renowned for being lengthy experiences, and Yakuza 0, in particular, can be a massive undertaking that easily clocks in at over 100 hours. By comparison, Yakuza Kiwami tells a much more straightforward story that can be completed in 20-30 hours, acting as the perfect intro to the series’ mechanics and ideas, before you dive in even further.
The other aspect is a brand new system called Majima Everywhere that puts the series’ iconic villain Goro Majima front and center. Majima, known as the Mad Dog of Shimano, is one of the most memorable characters in Yakuza, and essentially the series’ even more unhinged version of The Joker.
Majima Everywhere sees the villain constantly harass Kiryu as you explore the city, jumping out of manholes, hiding in trash cans, and popping up in hilariously unlikely places. It’s the most unhinged Majima has ever been, and that’s really saying something. Understanding the absolute madness of Majima gives you some vital context to understanding his character in Yakuza 0, and seeing his slow descent.
Yakuza Kiwami may not be as big and complex as other entries, but that’s easily its biggest strength. There’s literally never been a better time to jump into Yakuza, and if you find it’s up your alley, there are seven more Yakuza games coming to PS Plus this year.