We’ve been wanting to keep a journal of the media we consume lately. There are too many choices today – saturation is still climbing. It’d suck to not remember playing, watching, or reading a piece of media, so to help cope with us getting older, we’re recording thoughts on ALBOTAS concerning the visual mediums without necessarily writing a full-blown review. Let us know if you think this semi-regular media journal thing would be something you guys are interesting in reading more often!

I’m A Yakuza Boy Now

After hearing about the series such a long time, I decided to purchase Yakuza Kiwami back in March to see what the fuss was about. My knowledge of the series was scarce. I knew Yakuza debuted on the PS2 over a decade ago, and at the time of its release, my 14-year-old brain couldn’t grasp its concept, nor was I interested. This was at a time in my life where Okami, Bully, Final Fantasy XII and my PSP (which some fuck sat on in high school and broke during gym class) took up a bulk of my time, and I had no idea what Japanese culture was like outside of anime.

I’ve heard that Yakuza 0 is a solid jumping on point, and after viewing a few videos of its story arc and mini-game absurdities, I decided to grab Yakuza Kiwami for my PS4 to experience a remaster of the first game, rather than jump aboard 0 and risk any mechanical differences. I later found out the two games are hardly any different from each other. I should’ve been paying more attention. But I digress.

Yakuza Kiwami, without a doubt, has struck something in my bones concerning video games I don’t believe I’ve felt in my adulthood. It’s an open-world game that feels completely closed off from the nuisance of open-world freedom. The last open-world game I played was Watch Dogs 2, which was massive and offered a plethora of daunting, tedious tasks; collect this, climb to this spot and hack this, throw your graffiti up on this, take a photo of this. What Kiwami offers, for me anyway, is a chance to immerse myself into the fictional city of Kamurocho, rather than exist in its sandbox and dilly-dally around for large amounts of time.

Kamurocho is smaller, but denser. Where a Grand Theft Auto-esque clone offers a massive amount of space and freedom, Yakuza offers a tighter, more concise familiarity of a packed city. I can walk around and recognize landmarks on the map, remember what streets I need to traverse to get to my desired location. I can walk into a restaurant, grab some new food and gain experience points (just like in real life). I can walk down an unfamiliar alleyway and trigger a substory that offers the stoic main character, Kazuma Kiryu, the opportunity to show me, the player, who he truly is. As Kiryu interacts with some of the city’s bizarre, needy, or sometimes neurotic characters, I can further understand his character outside of the main story arc. Furthermore, I don’t have the option of hitting the city’s pedestrians with my fists, which helps reinforce the fact that I’m playing as a humble, noble character.

Kazuma Kiryu is a tough-guy who is generous, honest, caring. Playing with him is a joy, and watching him interact with the city and its inhabitants is a wonderful experience. Yakuza Kiwami’s way of painting a whole picture isn’t just about making the player progress through its dramatic crime drama storyline as fast as possible. It’s about combining every random character’s sorrow, joys and troubles into a ball and cornering its main character into empathizing with the world around him. Thus is life.

Combat is mildly janky, yet fluid. A one-on-one fight with a crime boss involves the quick-dodging Rush-mode, or the balanced Brawler-mode, paying close attention to an opponent’s movements to counter-attack or avoid any punches or flying kicks thrown in Kiryu’s way. An all-out brawl, however, involves the heavy Beast-style of attack, throwing stronger, slow punches at hordes of enemies, and picking up whatever weapons are in range to make it an official street fighter. I gotta say, picking up an entire motorcycle with one hand and slamming it into someone’s laid out body is one of the most satisfying, yet odd attractions about Yakuza’s combat. The wide array of everyday weapons recalls the Dead Rising series for me.

I don’t know. I guess I’m a Yakuza boy now. I’m obsessed with Yakuza’s characters, city and combat. Fighting is repetitive, yet with multiple fighting modes, it’s a variety. There aren’t any cars to travel from one place to another (there are taxis, though) but walking around the city and taking in all of its neon-lit multi-storied buildings are a joy. And with the game’s intense focus on mini-games and activities – everything from visiting an arcade and playing crane machines or the real-life arcade/card game Mushiking: The King of Beetles, to bowling, darts, and going on dates with women at hostess clubs – it’s hard to say Yakuza Kiwami isn’t worth its price tag.

I threw 35 hours into this game and I intend on throwing more in before the end of the month. Then it’s onto Yakuza 0. And then probably the rest of the series.

Do want to learn more about Yakuza? Check these links:
Why You Should Play Yakuza: A solid video essay on the world of Yakuza by Super Eyepatch Wolf
Yakuza Games, Ranked by Polygon/JC Fletcher
JC Fletcher (of Tiny Cartridgewrites on Yakuza 6
An example of the weird arcade game in Kiwami, Mesuking
An example of Yakuza Kiwami’s karaoke
The History of Yakuza, by GameSpot