Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 6 Demonstrate the Series’ Impressive Evolution [E3 2017 Preview]

Sega’s Yakuza franchise is experiencing something of a resurgence in recent years, and at E3 I had the chance to sample two of its upcoming games; the latest and greatest Yakuza 6, as well as Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza game. Both offered surprisingly unique encounters, humor, and things to do, even despite the latter being a remake of a game that’s over 10 years old.

I began with Yakuza Kiwami, a full remake of Yakuza that utilizes the engine and general technology of Yakuza 0 to bring its source material into the modern age. This means that like that game, main character Kazuma Kiryu has access to four distinct fighting styles, including the ability to execute speed-oriented, quick punches and jabs or enter “Beast Mode” and really lay his blows on thick. As with 0, Beast Mode also brings environmental objects into play, including traffic cones, nearby weapons, clubs, bats, and the like.

Due to shared tech Kiwami’s visuals pretty much match those of 0, and as I traversed Tokyo’s Kamurocho (based on the real-life Kabukicho) I was generally impressed with how the game looked. Still, it’s important to keep expectations in check, as the original Yakuza is substantially smaller and less hyper-detailed than the newer games are. After winning several rounds of brawls with various thugs and goons, I came up against Goro Majima wielding a baseball bat and was swiftly defeated. This concluded my demo.

The move to Yakuza 6 from Kiwami, meanwhile, was far more jarring than I expected: the game’s Tokyo looks truly gorgeous. I was told once my demo began that Sega has really gone the extra mile upping detail this time around, to the point of actually licensing various brands and locales to appear brick-for-brick as they do in real life inside the game.

Upon taking control I was quickly instructed to accept a sidequest involving Kiryu hitting the gym, a high end establishment straight from reality where I played minigames to work out and was asked by a trainer to avoid eating carbs for a while. Once I visited a restaurant and did just that, returning to the gym completed the challenge and yielded physical boosts that improved Kiryu’s physical ability. It’s important to remember that Yakuza is not GTA; its areas are hyper-detailed and fairly large, but not intended to be sprawling, and continuously taking up challenges, sidequests, and run-ins with goons is the name of the game.

What struck me about Yakuza 6 during my demo were the very obvious pros and cons of its graphics and visual presentation. The clear pros are its hyper-detailed visuals; Kamurocho looks stunning when lit up at night, while portions of Hiroshima exist in the game as fully playable as well. Despite its realism, though, occasionally characters appeared before me as extremely stiff. When chatting with Kiryu’s trainer at the gym, despite the photo-like realism of his character model, he stood stock-still except for his moving mouth, interrupted only by the occasional twitch or abrupt motion. I’m really not sure what’s going with such instances, nor do I know if they’re intentional, but by and large the game’s visuals impress more than they cause problems.

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I was told during my demo that Yakuza 6 uses an all new, ground-up engine, the first time the series has seen such since its inception and history of slowly refining and improving what it already had. The opportunity to try Kiwami and 6 back-to-back was fortunate as it clearly highlighted improvements, and I can say with certainty that the improvements are a big deal.

Another change is the loss of varied fighting styles found in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami; instead Kiryu simply wails on opponents until achieving enough momentum, at which point he can enter what resembles the former game’s Beast Mode and really go off. This time the environment is far more destructible while the variety of usable items as weapons has widened, in my case best demonstrated when Kiryu snatched a nearby bicycle and crushed some poor goon with it. Yakuza 6 is still Yakuza and doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but between its visual upgrade and smattering of worthy enhancements, it does feel like a top-notch evolution.

Yakuza Kiwami is headed to PS4 on August 29th of this year, while Yakuza 6 is currently being prepped to arrive in 2018. The full Yakuza 6 did already release in Japan during 2016, though, so if you’re dying to get a closer look it shouldn’t be hard to track down footage and information from the Japanese version.