Monday, September 4, 2017

Yakuza Kiwami (PS4) Review

The first Yakuza game that I played (and reviewed) was the latest chronological entry, Yakuza 5.  I am glad to get to play Yakuza Kiwami, which is a PS4 remaster of the PS2 original game.  I'll eventually get Yakuza 0, too.  New things were added to Kiwami, making it more than a simple remaster.

The story is actually a big focus of the Yakuza series, and the story of this game is good.  Some points are predictable, but I was interested and entertained the whole way through.  Although, Kiryu needs to stop leaving unconscious enemies laying think he'd learn eventually.  Anyway, the remastered character models and graphics look great, and run super smooth as you battle thugs, rescue friends, and run around Kamuracho.  It does feel like Kiryu gets stuck on the environment a lot, which is noticeable, since you run around town a lot.

I loved the brutal combat in Yakuza 5, and fully expected to love it here.  I was mostly right.  You still beat up thugs with various kicks, punches, and grabs.  As long as you hit and avoid damage, you build up a heat meter which allows you to do special (and damaging) moves that usually look extremely painful.  Some are clearly deadly.  I would like it if the heat moves were on a different button, since there were times I used it when I just wanted to use the Triangle Button attack.  Kiryu can block and dodge, but so can the enemies.  And oh boy, do they love to do that.  It's really (not) fun to watch an enemy dodge/dash around 10 times while you do nothing.  Calm down, son!

I initially started the game on normal, but the enemies were sometimes annoying.  They would dodge out of the way of every attack while their friends took cheap shots.  They like to also have cheesy get up moves that would hit me, or attack right as I got to my feet.  So I bumped it down to easy.  Trouble is, that didn't really fix it.  There are still too many enemies that just constantly dodge attack after attack unless you are in certain styles (more on that in a bit).  You also fall down...a lot.  It's really annoying.  You can mash the X Button to theoretically get up faster, but it rarely helps.  There's plenty of fights where a gun guy hangs back and just picks you off, so you fall down and his buddies can land some more cheap attacks on you.  I'll fully admit I wasn't going to learn every in-and-out of the combat system.  If I'm playing on easy, I shouldn't have to.

Kazuma Kiryu now has different stances in battle.  I don't know if this was in the original.  Each is set to a different direction on the d-pad.  They also have their own strengths, weaknesses, combos, and heat moves.  While it's fun to switch stances, there are times when it's pretty much necessary.  Some enemies are only really hit by some styles.  Switching isn't as easy or fluid as I would like, since there are only certain times you can switch.  You can stand still to do so, but that makes you an easy target.  Bosses sometimes kneel down and you can use a specific style's heat move on them for big damage.  This would be cool, but they aren't specific to the enemy.  Oh, and they heal while down, too.  Not a good combination.  Overall the styles are passable, but not as fun or fluid as I think they should be.

While your attacks and stats are lacking in the beginning, there are multiple skill grids that you can spend experience on.  The main three - body, tech, and soul - use experience levels to purchase passive and active skills.  Each "ring" has a set cost, from 1 to 85.  Yes, 85 is a lot when you are starting out, but completing the later chapters will net you a few hundred.  The fourth grid is "dragon", and you can't spend experience to level it up.  Instead, you will fill out most of it by battling the Mad Dog of Shimano, Majima.  An added feature is "Majima Everywhere", where he can jump out and attack you, or interrupt one of your fights.  Strangely, it you don't advance it much, he doesn't really appear.  This is nice because your fights won't get a lot harder randomly, but bad because the dragon style will suffer for it.

The story mode will set you back 20-25 hours.  Mine was toward the end of that, and I didn't do much extraneous stuff, just some of the side stories.  The side stories aren't marked on the map as they are in the...later(?) Yakuza 5, so I may have missed some.  After the story there is the premium mode, where you can clean up various things, and also new game plus.  Nice.  Besides that, there are several mini-games.  Bowling, karaoke, slot car racing, a glorified rock-paper-scissors card get the idea.  They aren't all my cup of tea, but the slot car racing was pretty fun.

Is Yakuza Kiwami good?  Yes.  Is it fun?  Yes, mostly.  I enjoyed the story, even if the combat didn't feel as good as Yakuza 5.  There are still plenty of scenes that sell Kiryu as a legit badass.  It's easy to focus on the story, and there are a lot of extra activities to do when you are done.  It's an easy recommendation for people like me that got into the series more recently, as the story is a central focus.

The Good:
Brutal heat moves, good story, and lots to do.

The Bad:
Fighting some of the bosses is really frustrating.

The SaHD:
I am totally excited for this studio taking a swing at a Fist of the North Star game, even if Kenshiro will have to do silly side jobs.

(Review code for Yakuza Kiwami was provided by the publisher)

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