It's been a good decade since SEGA first released Yakuza back in 2006 and started one of their longest running modern franchises with eight proper sequels and a number of spin-off titles and re-releases. During those years the game has made improvements both in style and substance, but there are fans who still scream that the earliest games are the best in the series and that SEGA hasn't done much to improve on it. Meanwhile, you have another side to the audience who believe the first few are atrocious and that they've made the series a powerhouse in recent years. Since we won't get a chance to try Yakuza 6 until March to start that debate again, we'll have to settle for some middle ground with the remake of the original as Yakuza Kiwami comes to PS4.
Yakuza Kiwami is an action RPG where you take on the role of Kazuma Kiryu, a man who was just released from prion after taking the blame for murders committed by his best friend. Now with both waring clans at each other's throats over missing money, it's up to Kazuma to figure out what the hell happened to it, along with finding Yumi and protecting a young woman named Haruka that seems to be the key to everything. The game itself does nothing to change or alter the plot, as it is basically a remake of the original with cleaned up graphics and some new mechanics thrown in to smooth things over.
Since this is a remake, we don't need to delve much into the plot or the original gameplay, so we'll focus on the current. The game has been given a fresh coat of paint, so to speak, updating all of the graphics and background to match that of other games in the series and bring it into a current-gen light. While this works for much of the game, there are parts where you can see the character models maybe needed a touch up before the final release. There are still random characters with blank stares and awkward poses that could have been fixed. That being said, the city does feel much more alive and active while having more of a cinematic feeling to it. It's like walking through a part of town you used to live in, seeing things changed but staying the same.
The combat system has been given a major upgrade, feeling more like the systems you're used to in Yakuza 5 and Yakuza 0. No more slow and plotting fighting styles that don't mesh and feel out of place, now everything runs smoothly and had a balance to it. You have the ability to learn new moves through a combat tree, which also allows you to unlock different styles of combat so you can stay on par or ahead of your foes. The battles are quick and to the point, the enemies are brutal and your response to their poor behavior in your presence is just as fierce.
One of the weird additions is the side games, which all of the original ones return, but now there's a new one involving bikini women wrestling each other that may look familiar from Yakuza 0. Honestly, this was kind of boring and out of place, despite the jiggle physics galore in my face. It felt like it belonged in a Dead Or Alive title and was mistakenly added here. The karaoke returns in an updated fashion, but still has the feeling of "why am I playing karaoke when I could just go perform karaoke?" These additions and improvements only serve to hide the lack of story that the original had because in total the main plot only takes about three hours (after you get through the tedious first 90 minutes).
Yakuza Kiwami is a nice tribute to the past, but it fails to capitalize on the present. There's a lot more that could have been done to improve the story and clean up other imperfect areas that reminded me of the frustrating times I had with the original. Please don't mistake my intent, the game is still good for what it is—but when you do a remake as opposed to a re-release, you have the opportunity to take out all the bad stuff and replace it with better stuff. There are new cutscenes added, there are new battles added, there's new content here overall. So why leave in all the junk that bogged down the first one? It makes no sense and leaves me puzzled as to why SEGA would go to all this trouble to add more to an old game but not take anything out that wasn't working. It's a nice throwback, but the game has not aged well and left a bitter taste.