Remaster and Modernize – Yakuza Kiwami (Series)

In this generation of consoles, remaster, remakes, and reboots have become all the rage. From Resident Evil to Ratchet and Clank, almost every title that was considered a classic is getting their chance to shine on the modern stage. While these efforts have been a mixed bag, it does allow for some obscure titles, like the Yakuza series, to reach an entirely new audience. This is a series that unravels like a noir crime drama with the gameplay of an old school brawler. Sprinkled in with all the seriousness are a number of fun minigames and colorful interactions with the various NPC’s that make up the game world. Simply put, this is a series that anyone can enjoy, as long as they can put up with the melodrama that the narrative is known for.

While Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6 have made their way to the current generation of consoles, there wasn’t a way to experience the beginning of the series unless you had a PS2 or PS3. But, Sega did the gaming world a solid and announced that the Yakuza series would be receiving remasters. The Japanese word Kiwami translates to extreme and is adequately describes the remastered series. Both Yakuza Kiwami titles are vast improvements to their original titles. There are the obvious upgrades to the visuals as it is running off of Yakuza 6’s Dragon Engine, but it also borrows various elements from later titles to modernize the gameplay.

Both Kiwami titles are examples that other developers should follow if they’re looking to remaster a series. There are enough additions to the narrative that it actually cleans up the confusion that weighed down the original releases. Few titles are perfect upon initial release, the effort to fix glaring issues to upgrade these titles is a sign that the developer wants to do more than reach a new customer base. What Sega is doing is something admirable. Yakuza is an obscure title but one that can easily hang with the heavyweights in the crime subgenre. People should know its name.

What’s interesting about the Kiwami series is how different they play from one another. While both are brawlers, the first title pulls its mechanics from Yakuza 0, which has four fighting styles requiring the player to use strategy in combat. Stick to one style for too long and enemies will adapt and fights will become more difficult than originally anticipated. Yakuza Kiwami 2 plays similar to Yakuza 6, which was more cinematic and focused heavily on using the environment. Both are really satisfying and it is fun watching protagonists Kazuma and Goro unleash some brutal finishers to the hordes of enemies that populate the world.

The first entry in the Kiwami series felt straight-forward as there was enough enhancements to establish a foundation for future entries. The second entry takes that momentum and runs with it. Players are now able to experience a story scenario seen specifically through the eyes of series favorite Goro Majima. The excellent clan creator from Yakuza 6, which plays like a tower defense game, sees its return in Kiwami 2. Its bigger and goofier than Yakuza 6 and while its return is a surprise, it’s a very welcome addition. Managing a cabaret club, which was seen in Yakuza 0 and other entries, returns as well and is as weird as it was in previous entries. Like all Yakuza titles before it, there is a lot to see, do, and fight in the fictional open world.

Sega has crafted and honed one of the more underrated series in gaming and thankfully it is finally starting to receive the recognition it deserves. The Dragon of Dojima should be an icon in gaming, but his status as a cult figure is apt considering his reserved personality. The Kiwami series is a faithful representation of their titles while also breaking through the ceiling that prevented the original from reaching its potential.

For that, Sega deserves a round of applause.

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