Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the 2005 video game Yakuza. Originally for the Playstation 4, Kiwami is also available on Xbox One and PC. Known as Ryū ga Gotoku (Like a Dragon) in Japan, the Yakuza video game series isn’t extremely well-known in the West. However, its wildly successful prequel, Yakuza 0 (2015), helped introduce more Western gamers to the wacky, one-of-a-kind franchise. Yakuza has often been described as the Japanese version of Grand Theft Auto due to its eccentric characters, zany side quests, and the fact that you can beat people up. The series has birthed seven numbered entries, a prequel, and two remakes, not to mention several spin-off titles. In addition to video games, Yakuza has two live-action movies to its name. The series is a mixture of various video game genres, most notably the beat ‘em up and role-playing genres. Despite featuring a wide cast of characters, the franchise’s main focus is on Kazuma Kiryu, a former yakuza member who is constantly dragged back into the doings of the crime syndicate throughout the series.
Kiwami begins with Kiryu going to prison in place of his lifelong friend Nishiki, who murdered their clan’s patriarch after finding out that he sexually assaulted Yumi, a woman Nishiki cared for. When Kiryu is released from prison ten years later, he discovers that the yakuza has changed drastically in the past decade, as has Nishiki, who is now the boss of his own family. Kiryu also learns that Yumi has vanished without a trace and that practically every clan in Japan is after the ten billion yen stolen from Kiryu’s former clan. Every clan is also searching far and wide for a little girl named Haruka, who is believed to be somehow connected to the ten billion yen. Kiryu eventually meets this girl. Their interactions are nothing short of adorable; there’s something so endearing about seeing a buff yakuza care for a young girl he doesn’t even know. Kiryu’s fatherly bond with Haruka makes him stand out from most action video game protagonists. He might look the part–buff, always looking like someone just spit in his coffee–but deep down, he has a heart of gold. Despite being affiliated with the yakuza, he refuses to kill, torture, or partake in any other activities done by the crime organization. He doesn’t use his status as a yakuza member to gain women or power but instead keeps to himself and regularly helps others. These traits are what make Kiryu such an unexpectedly human video game protagonist.
Nishiki’s descent into villainy is revealed through flashbacks, and as someone who’s played the prequel, it was disheartening to watch him grow to despise Kiryu, his sworn brother. His inferiority complex plays a big part in this. Several of these flashbacks consist of Nishiki being degraded by his superiors and being told that Kiryu is better suited than him for a leadership role in the yakuza. Nishiki vows to obtain the missing money, not because he wishes to prove himself to his superiors but so that he can afford a heart transplant for his sick sister. Things don’t quite work out, however, and his sister ultimately dies. This causes him to kill his superior, Matsushige, who was partly responsible for his sister’s death. This also marks the point when Nishiki becomes a true villain, as he becomes so obsessed with rising to power that he betrays his former friends and tries to kill Kiryu multiple times. However, there is a shift towards the end, which I won’t reveal because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.