At the end of Yakuza Zero, the events of Yakuza Kiwami were hinted at. I was excited to start playing the game and discover the events that would happen in 1995 and further in 2005 and the subsequent changes in the yakuza.
Yakuza Kiwami starts out strong. We are introduced to Kiryu, who has now garnered a reputation and is soon to start his own family in the yakuza. We are reacquainted with Nishkiyama and Reina, whom we have seen in Yakuza Zero, in the Serena bar and Kiryu's love, Yumi However, Kiryu's life is thrown into the fritz when he finds his brother, Nishkiyama, has killed the Dojima family boss, witnessed by Yumi. Taking the blame for the murder, Kiryu is incarcerated for 10 years and when he gets out of jail, he finds that everything has changed.
Being in jail for 10 years has made us rusty. The game uses this as an opportunity to reduce Kiryu's health and heat bar drastically, though I can never imagine a universe, where Kiryu would slack and not maintain his body. However, believing that he did do it, we find that Majima is helpful enough to bring us back to form.
Every encounter with him proves eventful and does not seem like a chore and I actively found myself seeking a fight with him. From being in the shoes of the sane, stoic Majima in Yakuza Zero, this crazy avatar seems alien at first, but you can see his pure character as you find him determined to have a fair fight with Kiryu.
Thrust into a world 10 years later, we do find that the dynamics have changed. Yumi is not to be found and Nishkiyama is the patriarch of his own family, but seems to be notorious for some reason. There are moves being made by the Shimano family, esp., when 10 billion yen goes missing and the chairman of the Tojo Clan, Sera is assassinated. The plot is intriguing and the game features a strong start. I was breezing through the early chapters as I tried to make sense of what was happening.
In his search to find out the truth after the attempted assassination of Kazama san, our father like mentor, during Chairman Sera's funeral, Kiryu encounter a young girl, Haruka. She is in search for her mother, Mizuki, whom we find out is Yumi's sister. She was raised in Sunflower orphanage, the very same orphanage where Kiryu, Nishki and Yumi were raised.
It was around chapter 6 after being introduced to the underground network of surveillance run by the Florist and his homeless pals out of the park, that I found myself slowing down with the story. The Sins of the Father, where we have missions related to the children of the detective, Date san and the Florist is one of the most stretched out and annoying chapters of the game.
It took me some time to get into the groove of the game even after finishing chapter 6 and then we finally get to meet Nishkiyama. He seems every bit like the asshole everyone makes him out to be. Before the start of every chapter, we are given a glimpse of Niskiyama's past and what happened after Kiryu was sent to jail. But I was yet to discover the reason for his villainy. A lot of the story seems padded in the last few chapters as we chase behind and rescue Haruka, first from Majima, who just wanted a fight and then form this Chinese faction, who have some grudge with Kiryu(?!).
But it is then that the true villain is revealed in the form of Jingu, a government official of high standing, who starts the investigation against Kiryu. Turns out he is Haruka's father and is corrupt as fuck. It was his 10 billion yen that was missing from the Tojo Clan and he was working with the yakuza all along. He was ready to do anything to maintain his power, including killing his wife and daughter.
Taking down Jingu was one of the most challenging, if not frsutrtaing fights of the game, with his use of the gun and didge that made it harder to deploy Kiryu's finishing moves on him.
One of the biggest twists in the game is that Yumi and Mizuki are the same person, but that is a reveal you can see coming a mile away. Hidden in plain sight, a technique used by many movies in recent times, it seems that it could have been a novel concept around the time of the original game's release.
The Dragon and the Koi
When we finally do understand Nishki's motivations, it is heart breaking. Always in the shadow of Kiryu, he had to step up to make his own name. This is further worsened by the fact that he gets scammed out of money and time he could have spent with his dying sister. It is enough to push a man to the edge and push him it did.
Even though the game does it's best to convey Nishki's descent, it is Yakuza Zero that truly highlights the dynamic between him and kiryu, making the final fight all the more painful.
Unlike Yakuza Zero, the sub stories of the Yakuza Kiwami are not as memorable or motivating enough to pursue. There was just one that I tripped into where you help a homeless man with an item and then he rewards you with another, which can then be used to help another and so on until you finally help a homeless man setup his tent in the park with this patented long lasting tape. That had some of the potential of what Zero had achieved.
Yakuza Kiwami was a fun game to play with a decent story. However, coming to the game after finishing Yakuza Zero, I found the story weaker and overtly dramatic, very Bollywood style unlike it's prequel. Being a game of the early 2000s, you can see the influence of popular cinema of the time with the eventual unnecessary and overly dramatic sacrifice of Nishkiyama.
This being the first game of the series, it makes sense that the story is not the best. I can only assume after my experience with Yakuza Zero that the rest of the games are just going to get better and I look forward to it.