Yakuza Kiwami Review

Yakuza Kiwami Review

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I loved Yakuza 0. It’s probably the best Yakuza game to date. It filled in the backstory of key characters like Majima and Nishikiyama by giving them more depth and nuance then I would have ever imagined. But as someone who started with Yakuza 2 and only experienced the first game through the included retrospectives, the game that started it all is a mystery to me.

Yakuza: Kiwami is a fine remake of the PlayStation 2 title from a gameplay and presentation perspective but I feel it’s a remaster from the story standpoint. Yakuza 0 placed its arm around me, showed me the sights around Kamurocho and introduced me to new friends. We sat around, had drinks, and took our time to soak in what this series has to offer. By comparison, Yakuza: Kiwami stumbled around for a bit and then sprinted towards the end. I felt like the game had a big story to tell but didn’t have enough time to tell it.

I knew key plot points, characters, and what happened to them but I didn’t realize that would be sufficient to move forward with the series. I discovered tidbits that colored certain characters in a slightly different light but none of it was earth shattering. Events certainly transpired but if I didn’t play Yakuza 0, I doubt I would have felt much sympathy for any of the characters involved in this game outside of Haruka.

Yakuza 0 built up Kiryu’s enemies throughout the game’s arch. It even built-up other characters that wouldn’t have made significant contributions until this game. But then there were folks like Jingu who were thrusted into the limelight and I’m supposed to conjure hatred for.

I didn’t delve into the side content like I did with Yakuza 0 because the idea of more pocket racing was just too daunting so soon after the deep dive I took with 0. What little side stuff I caught wind of failed to entertain like the ones found in 0 though. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained by tidbit though. I got a kick out of seeing modern recreations of Yuya, Kazuki, and Detective Date. This trio of characters were among the first that I met in my very first Yakuza title, Yakuza 2.

It’s tough to make a direct prequel like Yakuza 0 without it completely overshadowing the game the game that comes after it but that’s what it did. Advances in technology and gameplay design are one thing but the lessons learned in story telling and presentation makes me wish Sega would go all in and commit to a full remake. It would give the likes of Yumi and Nishikiyama more screen time to breathe. A full on remake would also give the developers an opportunity to rethink Majima’s role without breaking continuity. I didn’t mind randomly seeing him pop up in Kamurocho to fight Kiryu but not 3 seconds after seeing him get stabbed in the gut by his own lackey. I think his forced inclusion to Kiwami may be the most egregious offense.

But for $39.99 CAD, it’s tough to argue against picking up Yakuza: Kiwami. It’s the best way to experience the game that started it all without digging up a PlayStation 2 copy. Just remember: for better or worse, despite the fresh coat of paint and refinements, the story is still faithful to the original. I have nostalgia for Yakuza 2 and knowing it will also receive a Kiwami treatment of its own, I’m wondering how I will receive it. I guess we’ll find out next year when I expect it to make its North American debut.

 

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

Thanks to Sega for providing a copy of Yakuza Kiwami for review

LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

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I spent a lot of time reading maps, exploring the surrounding wilderness and dealing with the usual public park happenings that would crop up. Rowdy teens? Illegal fireworks? Missing persons? They certainly made it feel like I was working in a giant public park. All these mundane activities were broken up with radio communiques with Delilah, a veteran lookout who acts as a guide at first but slowly develops into a companion for Henry.  

The dialog options gradually evolved from cordial and business like to flirtations. I’m supposed to believe Henry begins to fall for Delilah despite only hearing her voice on the radio. I bought it and believed the possibility of falling for someone in this manner but I wasn’t sympathetic to Henry’s emotional affair. I wasn’t convinced to even consider the flirtatious options. While Delilah sounded like a perfectly nice lady, time progressed in jump cuts and the slow build-up towards a connection was a bit too rapid for me to develop any emotional connection with her. I can see Henry growing that kind of relationship 60+ days into the job in the middle of nowhere but a couple of hours in real time on my couch? I wasn’t sold. 

The precarious nature of the Unity engine also struggled to keep me engaged. I was okay with not being able to run the game at 4K60 on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX1070; I was fine with settling with 1440p60. I was less forgiving of the minor hitching and game’s inability to maintain application focus with Steam Big Picture Mode. I wasn’t too keen on the handful of crashes I experienced either. I felt the entire game’s technological foundation was coming apart at the seams at times.  

I am enamored by Olly Moss’s art so when I heard there was going to be an entire game filled with his touch and style? I paid attention. But pretty scenery and art could only get me so far. What pushed me forward was Delilah and Henry’s conversations. What were they going to talk about next? By only sitting in on snapshots in time, enough loose ends and questions were raised along the way to entice me forward. I may not have bought into the idea of Henry abandoning his wife and falling for Delilah, but I was very curious to discover more about her and her experiences on this job.  

If Firewatch was supposed to make me think about my views on commitment and unconditional love then Camp Santo succeeded. If Firewatch was supposed to engross me in a situation where I’m supposed to develop a relationship with this woman on the radio then it’s a bit dicier. There were beautiful vistas to behold and a genuine believable person on the other side of the radio but unless a person can be convinced to ponder the topic of relationships and commitment, there’s not a whole lot to be gleaned from Firewatch. 

Ratings Guide

Verdict: 
I liked it

Nier: Automata PS4 Review

Nier: Automata PS4 Review

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I like the idea behind Nier: Automata more than the actual game itself. I like feeling and vibe that Square Enix and Platinum Games were going for but I could have done without the tedium. I would rather hear someone tell tales of the ridiculous things that Yoko Taro and company went attempted in this game than actually experiencing it for myself. Because the action and moment to moment gameplay powering Nier: Automata was tedious, mindless and — if developers were being honest with themselves — not the point of Nier: Automata.

What is the meaning of life? What is the point of living? What does it mean to be human? Why were the androids in this game programmed to feel? How are they different from humans? Nier: Automata was about raising questions from the player and it does that very well. One standout question tied directly to the conceit that I had to play the game multiple times in order to unlock true endings. I had to put up with a repeated content and tedious activities in order to get to the “good” stuff. And I did. I didn’t retread with 999 nor the original Nier but I dove back into Nier: Automata to unlock the multiple endings and see if the outcome was worth the journey. 

I was underwhelmed.

Perhaps it’s because I already knew the answer but what was the point of this 43 hour journey? The combat was much improved compared to the first Nier but it pales in comparison to Platinum Games’ proper efforts like Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising. The music was wonderful but I derived more enjoyment from listening to it on the way to work than in the game. And while there were amazing vistas and ideas drip fed to me throughout the game, the bulk of it was in the end and by the time I witnessed said ideas, I already checked out.

I wished I liked Nier: Automata more. It’s stylish, it has wonderful ideas and provokes discussion but I would have been happier without 10-15 hours less fluff. Or perhaps that fluff was essential to conveying their message. I’m not certain. Maybe or maybe not but in the end of the day, I was hoping to play a more engaging game to go along with all that wackiness.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

Yakuza 0 Review

Yakuza 0 Review

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Yakuza 0 was the definitive Yakuza experience. It had everything I loved about the series and then some. The cultural touches, the wackiness and the over-the-top violence was all there with a fresh coat of current generation paint. I took a six year hiatus after finish Yakuza 4. I still loved the series but I always felt it was losing a bit of its identity the further it marched forward in the timeline. Yakuza, to me, was and will always be a late 80s to early 90s series. This prequel was right up my alley then.

Tackling a prequel isn’t easy. How can you tack on a meaningful story when you already know the major outcomes? How can you introduce characters that were never referenced before? It turns out there’s a lot to mine and flesh out in the Yakuza series because this was one hell of a drama.

Kiryu Kazama, Goro Majima, Akira Nishikiyama and many others would go onto become bigger players in subsequent games but they all got their start somewhere. There was a time when Nishikiyama and Kiryu were oath brothers and actually loved one another. Kiryu was just an up and coming yakuza member doing small time jobs like debt collections. Nishikiyama was still aspiring for bigger and better things and Goro Majima wasn’t as wacky as he eventually became yet.

The game has its gripping crime drama but it also shares the story of Japan in the late 1980s. Side stories offered insight into various areas including the temperature of the people and taxes, the weird nature of telephone clubs, the influx of big money, and some citizen’s love of American culture. Of course, they are side stories and thus you can ignore the bulk of it but they add a lot of flavor and texture to what makes this franchise great. It’s not unusual to find myself racing slot cars for hours and then find myself running away from murderous yakuza types.

Coming from Yakuza 4 and its four characters down to just two in Yakuza 0 may seem like a downgrade at first glance but I found the focus on two of the series’ mainstays gave the story strong direction. Four characters also offered four different playstyles giving each character slightly different spins on how to dish out brutal punishment. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they shoved four playstyles into Kiryu and Goro giving a total of eight distinct playstyles to toy around with. They’re all viable options for the random throwdowns on the mean streets of Tokyo or Osaka but every so often, it behooved me to switch to a specific style — especially important against the likes of Mr. Shakedown.

Mr. Shakedown? Giant men who roam the streets of Tokyo or Osaka looking for Kiryu or Goro to beat up and steal money from. I wish these giants could be seen shaking down other NPCs. These men were the game’s trickiest opponents. They had the most health and hit the hardest. I eventually discovered It was primarily a test of patience. If I was too bold or too greedy, I was in a world of hurt but since money was so easy to come by, losing to Mr. Shakedown wasn’t the end of the world.

I love the ridiculous side content of this game. They varied in size and scope but they all fed into the atmosphere of the game. Some of it taught life lessons that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. Others were long drawn out games within a game where I’m managing a hostess club or real estate development firm. A lot of it though, were genuinely funny.

I was introduced to host and hostess clubs through this series. I gleaned more and more nuggets of Japanese culture in subsequent games but it’s been a while since I learned something significant. In Yakuza 0, I was introduced to telephone clubs and the precarious dating situations that they present. Some of it is still relevant today and online dating scene.

Yakuza 0 is at its best when it’s imparting knowledge, makes me laugh, fills me with suspense, and entertains me with hard hitting action and drama. This prequel fills in the back story of many of the series characters and lays the groundwork for things to come. At the same time, they’ve opened up the idea of getting into the story of Shintaro Kazama and Masaru Sera and how they built their legacies. I also feel they ended Yakuza 0 with one of the sweetest endings in games let alone the series.

It’s been days since I wrapped up Yakuza 0. It took me a lot longer than I it would but that was because I was delving deeper and deeper into what this game had to offer. I still have a lot of side stories to complete but Nier: Automata was calling and I had to go. However, there were moments when I considered revisiting Kamurocho. I should wait though: the Yakuza: Kiwami is just around the corner.

Verdict:
I loved it

Ratings Guide

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