Despite Sega previously giving it a couple of honest shots, they had a hard time getting the Yakuza franchise to take off in America. While some installments performed better than others, its sales nonetheless relegated it to a more niche status than even most niche games. It’s tough to remember how much they pushed the first game over a decade ago these, which they went through the effort of dubbing, enlisting the talents of actors like Mark Hamill and Michael Madsen. But despite good advertising, it wasn’t successful, and Sega had to leave the Japanese voice acting in future installments — though many fans believe they should have done that in the first place.
Sega was fine with it as a niche series with a reliable fanbase until they needed to make serious budget-related cuts, which cause the franchise to be put on ice for a little while. That was until said reliable fanbase heavily requested the fifth installment, which came over thanks to Sony’s funding, though only on PlayStation Network. While that was mainly to placate the established fanbase, Sega had the opportunity to potentially lure a new audience in with Yakuza 0, which released in January this year. Given the critical reception and praise it received, it appears that experiment was successful.
While part of its key to relative success was giving PlayStation 4 owners new to the series an introduction, the other was disabling restrictions blocking the Japanese version’s PlayStation Share features. This allowed moments from its localization and overall quirkiness to be shared through social media by many players, which attracted the attention of others who’d never played or heard of a game in the series, and led to them picking up copies. It wasn’t the highest seller around, evinced through its non-placement on any sales charts, but it apparently did well enough for Sega.
(Note: This is also why it was a bad idea for Atlus to block those Share features in Persona 5. It’s still selling well, but this would have only expanded its audience further.)
As if they were expecting a moderate success, both Yakuza: Kiwami and Yakuza 6 were announced at PlayStation Experience last year, over a month before 0 released. And with the results that game received, Sega is confidently readying Kiwami for its release.
Though its name won’t tell you: Kiwami (meaning “extreme” in Japanese — which they didn’t translate for good reason) is a remake of the first game, redone in the engine that powered the PS3 titles. It was given enhancements to modernize its presentation, which included an improved framerate (running at 60fps on PS4) and loading times, and drastically improved character models for cutscenes. It also had additional cutscenes to clear up any confusion the original version’s story left, so it and the character actions matched subsequent installments without leaving plot holes. There were also plenty who weren’t fans of the aforementioned dub, so this will mark the first opportunity to play this in Japanese.
The gameplay has also been modified, with improved combat and more side diversions like Pocket Circuit car racing, MesuKing: Battle Bug Beauties (throwing a bone to the franchise’s otaku audience), and more hostesses in the hostess bars. Basically, it’s a remake that adds extras but doesn’t compromise the original experience.
But one of the biggest new features is a dramatic expansion of fan favorite Goro Majima’s role, in what’s called the “Majima Everywhere” system. It’s exactly what it implies, as he’ll pop up in unexpected places to challenge protagonist Kazuma Kiryu to battles in the goofiest way possible. Though it sounds like a bonus feature, it’s done in a way where it befits the main story.
Speaking of that: This game originally released in Japan in 2005, and in western territories in 2006, so there are spoilers everywhere. If you’ve only played 0 and want to go into this title fresh, avoid most websites that feature details about the game — including Sega’s official website.
While 0 helped expand the audience for the franchise, Sega wants to attract those who started with that title, anyone who played the original game and wants to reexperience it in a more pristine form, and those who want to start with this one. That’s reflected in its price, as Sega made the smart and ostensibly risky decision to price it at $29.99. This is likely due to the localization team having the ability to reuse significant parts of the original translation, which, along with leaving in Japanese voices, kept localization costs down. As another bonus, there’s an option for a Steelbook version with the first printing. It’s a tough deal to avoid for anyone with even a passing interest in the franchise.
Kiwami will release on August 29th in English. Though the release of Yakuza 6 will follow early next year, some fans are hoping a Yakuza 2 remake will be announced at Tokyo Game Show in September. Kiwami did well enough in Japan sales-wise, so it would be nice if the second game followed that. If that happens, it would be a good idea to for Sega to subsequently remaster the third, fourth, and fifth installments.
The series appeared dead outside Japan for a while, but few could have foreseen how it would look more alive than ever in the span of two years. Even though we’re not receiving the historical games (Kenzan and Ishin), cherish this moment if you’re a fan of the franchise in western territories.