The remake of the original Yakuza finally comes to PC, but is Sega’s tale of criminal intrigue and bizarre mini-games still worth your time?
Activision Blizzard expected to lay off hundreds of staff next week
Back when Yakuza Kiwami was first released on PlayStation 4 there was a new air of optimism about Sega and their attitude towards anything that wasn’t a PC strategy game. It came out just after Sonic Mania and suggested that Sega were finally beginning to embrace their storied heritage. That was the summer of 2017 though and apart from the Shenmue remasters there hasn’t been much else to nurture that hope. But hey, at least more Yakuza games are being released on PC.
Yakuza might not be from Sega’s golden age, having started life on the PlayStation 2, but it is one of their only ongoing series that is in anyway reminiscent of their older work. The Yakuza titles aren’t arcade games, but instead a sort of 18-rated version of Shenmue, that mixes 3D combat with serious crime drama and distinctly non-serious side quests. The series is getting on for 14 years old now, and this is a remake of the very first game.
Yakuza has had numerous remasters before, for both the PlayStation 3 and Wii U, but this is classed as a remake. So rather than just upping the resolution and smoothing out the frame rate the character models and textures have been improved, the loading times sped up, and some of the story tinkered with in order to bring it in line with the recent Yakuza 0 prequel – the only other entry currently available on PC. The game’s roots on the PlayStation 2 are always obvious though, and it’s clear from the visuals that this hasn’t been recreated from scratch.
The storyline involves former yakuza (the Japanese mafia) hardman Kazuma Kiryu being released from prison after a spell of 10 years. The game’s portrayal of the yakuza has always had at least an air of authenticity to it, even if Kiryu himself is too unfailingly moral to be truly convincing. Although most of the inhabitants of the game’s fictionalised version of Tokyo are rather less convivial.
Yakuza is sometimes compared to the Grand Theft Auto series but it’s really only the general crime drama theme that is similar. Unlike most Western crime games the focus of the action is on fisticuffs, not carjacking or gunplay. So while Shenmue is the game’s direct descendent Yakuza is also the closest Sega has ever got to a successful modern day version of Streets Of Rage.
As always in the series, you’ve a broad range of moves, combos, and nearby bric-a-brac to use in the satisfyingly weighty brawls. The combat hasn’t changed much over the years but the system in Kiwami (the word means ‘extreme’ so we’re not sure why it wasn’t translated for the Western release) is almost exactly the same as Yakuza 0. Which may make sense in terms of continuity but only ensures the action seems even more repetitive than it already is.
Having to relearn all your moves again is given some context by your stint in jail, but it’s all just too similar to Yakuza 0. And what isn’t the same as the prequel tends to be much worse, with the mission design being far less inspired and the size of the game world noticeably smaller – just as you’d expect from a 14-year-old PlayStation 2 game. The amount of backtracking and revisiting the same places again and again becomes a real chore and is one area where the remake should have made changes but didn’t.
The city is impressively interactive though, with plenty of attractions and sub-quests to divert you from the main story missions, from chatting up women to indulging in virtual casinos. There’s plenty to see, but in truth little of substance to do except fight and immerse yourself in the story and characters.
The problem with Yakuza Kiwami is that at its best it’s only able to draw level with Yakuza 0, while most of the time it feels like a poor man’s version of the same game. There’s not much the PC can do to improve things either, and although this version is optimised for 4K, with an uncapped frame rate and customisable controls, it’s not something PlayStation 4 owners are going to feel especially envious about.
In the year-and-a-half since the console release there’s still little concrete information about the series soft reboot starring a new character, but presumably Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2 are also on their way to PC and that seems more than enough to be getting on with. The life of a fictionalised yakuza is a lot of fun, but at the rate the games are coming out lately it’s beginning to seem like a full-time job.
In Short: The original Yakuza has been remade into a sequel to its own prequel, but although it’s perfectly competent it feels outdated compared to the newer entries.
Pros: Fun, brutal combat system – even if it is the same as Yakuza 0. The exaggerated version of Japan’s dark underbelly is a lot of fun and the storytelling is generally good.
Cons: Far too repetitive, with (understandably) outdated mission design that involves much too much backtracking. Inconsistent graphics.
Formats: PC (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Release Date: 19th February 2019
Age Rating: 18