Yakuza Kiwami Is Full Of Defining Moments

By Jenni . August 21, 2017 . 12:00pm

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The original Yakuza was the beginning of an era. When it launched back on the PlayStation 2 back in 2005, it kicked off a story that has continued for 12 years and counting. Kazuma Kiryu has become an icon because of this series, appearing both in his own games and titles like Binary Domain, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, and Project X Zone. Now that Yakuza Kiwami, the remake, has arrived, it gives us an opportunity to appreciate his roots. More importantly, it made me realize how effective this first installment was in introducing so many characters who have come to be just as iconic and memorable as Kiryu himself. With six follow-ups and a prequel under its belt, it is amazing to see how effective the first Yakuza was.


Yakuza Kiwami begins in a rather complicated fashion, with a number of timeskips setting the stage. We go from one day, to the day before that day, to months before, to a few weeks after, to ten years later. It’s intimidating, to say the least. But it is also necessary. In this first few hours of play, four of the game’s most important characters are established. We get moments that set up not only the rest of this game, but the entire series.


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Take Kiryu. When we first see him, he is standing over a dead body. It belongs to the head of the Tojo clan and it seems he is responsible for the death. It establishes him as a very dangerous man. Yet then, very quickly, this is turned on its head. We see Kiryu as someone who is trusted to handle a large sum of money. Many people mention how he’s on the verge of getting his own family, due to his performance in the Dojima family. He makes time for Akira Nishikiyama and Yumi Sawamura, childhood friends. For Yumi, the woman he loves, he is shown going to great lengths to get the ring she would want as a birthday gift. Then, when it counts, he essentially sacrifices his life for these two friends.


The setup for Nishikiyama is equally important. To avoid spoilers for those players for whom Yakuza Kiwami is their first encounter with the series, let’s just say their relationship gets complicated. The two men group up together as brothers under Shintaro Kazama. Yakuza 0 establishes their bond and how close the two of them are. In the first few moments after meeting him, we see Nishikiyama pushing Kiryu to try for his own family and trying to do something special for Yumi. We hear about his devotion to his sister, Yuko, whose health is dire and has a major surgery coming soon. But then, during the flashback to her birthday, we see some sort of jealousy lurking beneath. When she snubs his gift, but immediately dons Kiryu’s ring, we see that the man is more complicated than he seems. While he loves both Kiryu and Yumi, there is a divide there.


Kazama’s introduction is just as effective. He’s established first as the Kazama family Patriarch. Unless you’ve really been following the series, you won’t really know immediately that he was essentially Kiryu, Nishikiyama, and Yumi’s father. But the moment he speaks to Kiryu off the record, you know. He is all business when Osamu Kashiwagi is there, but immediately drops honorifics and speaks to Kiryu as though he is family once the other man leaves. When a man comes in saying Nishikiyama and Yumi are in the middle of a capital “S” Situation, he tries to be the voice of reason. He tries to protect his son, saying he should let the other two deal with things on their own. That Kiryu leaves speaks to his character as a devoted sibling, but perhaps also as a headstrong surrogate son.


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And then there’s Goro Majima. Majima is Kiryu’s rival and friend. One of the hallmark features of Yakuza Kiwami is Majima Everywhere, which means he can pop up 24/7. In his introduction, he’s all over the place. He’s chastising one of his underlings for attacking Kiryu, ready to murder him for the indiscretion. He congratulates Kiryu on possibly being head of his own family and offers him advise, but is ready to immediately fight and perhaps even kill him for a perceived slight. He’s incredibly angry at the thought of Kiryu being unwilling to fight him, but starts laughing, smiling, and kicking up his heels when told it will happen if there is a good reason. This Mad Dog is immediately defined as a close friend, respected head of a family, and force to be reckoned with, but also as rather goofy and insane. It’s a wonderful moment.


These are only a handful of the memories made in Yakuza Kiwami. The game spends much of its first fourth establishing many characters who will be important players here and in future installments. Yet, it doesn’t need extensive periods of time to set them up. You have a good idea of who everyone is and what you should think of them moments after meeting them. It’s an impressive feat.


Yakuza Kiwami will come to the PlayStation 4 on August 29, 2017. It is immediately available on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in Japan.

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