There is a scene at the beginning of Yakuza Kiwami in which Kiryu, the protagonist, and Haruka, the girl she is protecting at the moment, defend a dog abandoned from the vexations that are being subjected to a group of vandals. The girl, as it could not be otherwise, becomes attached to the puppy and urges Kiryu to find something to eat. He, however, is reticent. He explains that it does not make sense to solve the puppy’s hunger at that moment because, anyway, with no one else to look after him, he will end up having more hunger afterwards. Unintentionally, Kiryu embraces a mentality that is very assumed by most of the characters in this title, and does not correspond completely with his way of thinking: it does not make sense to try to change the defects of the world and society through individual action , Because they are things that are above us.
A mentality that fits perfectly in a video game that tells the story of two young Yakuza aspiring to find their place in a system that they know corrupt but that, after all, is the only way to live that they know. Kiryu is charismatic and powerful, and for most of the time has the favor of the right people; To Nishikiyama it is better that you discover him. The central themes are revenge, fate, honor and family, and amidst the frantic action scenes, suspense and twists of the plot, it is very easy to forget that both the character we control and the majority of His companions in the adventure are, after all, members of a mafia. The respected leaders, the inseparable companions and the dreaded villains are people who act outside the law, and have – directly or indirectly – their hands stained with blood and the weight of a few dirty businesses on their backs.
And although his morality moves on a grayscale that grazes the darkest shadows, the game strives to justify its actions and show us to the main character as a noble being, of firm principles and honorable purposes. To realize this is enough to look at the combat system: a kind of beat ’em up with arcade dyes that, despite being quite complex, works well in all difficulties precisely because its magic is not so much in the skill that It demands us as in the fact that it is extremely satisfying to play. It’s hard not to feel good when we use our new moves to spank the cocky guy who has just scolded us, and regardless of our ethical assessment of such action in real life, we find ourselves laughing when, at the end of a combo , Kiryu leaves the enemy of unconscious shift on the ground after beating him on the head with a bicycle. The internal logic of the game and the context in which we move is governed by rules radically different from those of our day to day, and yet it is insultingly simple to make that change of tone, accept the dynamics, and take justice for our hand.
Even when the game tries to give names even to the weakest enemies we encounter, that does not increase our empathy for them: after all, they have threatened us first, and in the context of the game, our Violence is more than justified.
It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve spent most of Yakuza Kiwami’s game time thinking, non-stop, in France. It is an extremely Japanese title, both in thematic and in execution; And yet there is something on the streets of this fictional Tokyo that transports a little to Paris. Specifically, in the mid-twentieth-century Paris, where the last flicks of the artistic avant-garde coined a concept that, unintentionally, goes to the game as a ring finger: psychogeography. Although we can find examples in much earlier literature, this discipline -literally, an intersection of psychology and geography- seeks to find a new way of understanding the city by exploring the influences of it in The feelings and perceptions of those who pass through it.
Charles Baudelaire and his flaneur are considered the first theoreticians of this concept, which, regardless of what has been its further development, in essence sounds particularly applicable to video games. In them the scenario, the element that gives us agency and at the same time establishes the limits of our movement and our actions, plays a fundamental role in the way we experience them. Reducing it to very simple terms, we could exemplify it in titles as early as the original Super Mario Bros. In them, in the majority of levels, the limits of the stage move next to our personage; But there are some in which one of the walls moves progressively towards us, limiting the time that we have to explore and perform certain actions. As a consequence, we feel totally different when we play them, because the game gets us to generate anguish and urgency by taking control of the place we move. This sensation reaches its peak in the titles of the open world in which our relationship with space is infinitely more complex, having an autonomy that perhaps we would never have dreamed two decades ago.
So, to what we were going: the key of Yakuza Kiwami, the reason why we constantly forget that we have in our hands the actions of a criminal, is its setting and, specifically, its treatment of the city. The way in which the Kamurocho district – a fictitious interpretation of the Kabukicho neighborhood in Tokyo – is shown to us as an accomplice of our actions, which sometimes despises the yakuza but always consents. A place where hospitals, discos and restaurants always have a darker side, some illegal business in the back room or some dirty contact. Passers-by make a round and applaud while beating the bad guys, and those who do not, continue walking through the commotion as if nothing happened. The police and the journalists are corrupt and often on your side. The city whispers in the ear explicitly, but also unexpected, it sneaks through our corners waiting for us to lower our guard, to let ourselves be captivated by an illogical and hyperbolic place: it is the element that Yakuza used to give credibility, tension and Feeling to our actions.
In fact, the high level of detail of the urban environment is striking. Despite the obvious limitations it carries from being originally conceived as a PlayStation 2 game, the stage fulfills its function to perfection. Going through the streets of Kamurocho, made up of wide pedestrian avenues and narrow, zigzagged streets, with a nervous outline, it transmits the feeling of walking through a realistic and detailed city, with each one of its individual elements and created in a craftsmanship. A beautiful city on the surface, full of colors, lights and life, but it shows traces of sordidness and poverty, with garbage piled up in the corners, and patrolled by a carefree and unfair police body that only seems to exert its Work in the most banal situations and hears deaf to the horrors that hide in their nooks and crannies. Sometimes, we will find crooks trying to cheat, steal or threaten innocent citizens and we, good and fair, we can intervene to solve situations, give them their deserved, and that everything ends with a happy ending. It seems logical, therefore, that our figure exists here, that society and the streets of Tokyo need us; It does not occur to us that perhaps this work should not be ours, and that we have no right to exercise it.
So that the scenario that we move is not overlooked, and do not forget that there are shops and restaurants of all kinds that we can visit as optional areas, the game strives to give us a series of missions that, as part of The main plot, do not show us a target on the map, like the rest. In them we have to explore the city, to search for its corners, to buy the object that we need to advance. In the scene that commented at the beginning of the text, that of the puppy, this is precisely what happens: the game asks us to find food for him, then water, and then a container for the animal to drink. But we do not know where to buy it, so you have to kick the various shops in the vicinity, maybe find a ramen restaurant that we had not seen, or a recreation room to play a few games before continuing.
The multitude of mini-games and the relative freedom of exploration of the city that is given to us in some occasions, to make secondary missions, to help the pedestrians in their daily problems or to have a few drinks with some pretender they feel very good to the game, they make the Struggles of power that are more digestible, and allow us to impregnate ourselves with a very elaborate Japanese customs. One would expect that a game about the Japanese mafia would be more serious than death, and perhaps not being one of its best hits. Amidst the seriousness of the story and the frown always of our protagonist, there are comical and ridiculous moments that make us pass, as it were, from laughter to tears in tenths of a second. The impact of raw situations is almost appeased by other moments as memorable as mundane, and when you turn off the console, it is easier to remember arcade or karaoke sessions than fights bitter life or death.
Probably because of this credibility provided by the context and this feeling that the game does not take itself too seriously, it is easier – although not entirely – to forgive the plot of its vices. Let’s get rid of this already: the story of this game is painfully misogynist. The vast majority of women who appear on the screen on more than one occasion serve the narrative purpose of being raped, abducted, murdered or aggravated; Are essentially the object of search, source of headaches or simple reward trophy. Those who are lucky, serve to make a male character develop, and little else. Of course, it is difficult to expect a latent gender perspective in an extremely faithful remake of an early-century title that comes and sits in a culture radically different from ours. But we are not the same as at the beginning of the century, and certain scenes weigh more now than a decade ago. And, at bottom, it leaves a bittersweet aftertaste to think that there is a company enriching itself at the cost of a fundamentally patriarchal narrative in which the majority of female characters could be replaced, relatively simply, by some inert object.
Talking about things that do not change, and that have not aged well enough: Kiwami is basically a decal of the PlayStation 2 game recreated in the Yakuza 0 engine, image by image, with very punctual additions. And what that entails is that certain audiovisual and mechanical resources do not finish working today. It lacks a freer reinterpretation of what was the game at the time, even at the risk of altering to some extent the original experience. It is even more evident when we perceive that the new additions fit in perfectly and give us more incentives to continue playing and exploring: Hajima Everywhere mode, for example, consists of a series of random encounters with one of our nemesis through which We can unlock new skills. But without neglecting the improvements in systems such as combat, which is noted to have matured during these ten years, the game remembers irremediably at the beginning of the 2000s. Nothing particularly uncomfortable, or that makes it unplayable, of course, but in certain Aspects this Yakuza Kiwami knows more to remaster than to remake proper, and seems a wasted opportunity to create a title with a little more anchorage to the public of today.
And this is a bit bittersweet in a game that, essentially, looks us in the eye and defends with the sword and its status as a cult work is more than deserved. It has merit to move a niche game virtually unchanged to a new console, two generations later, and that it be maintained with grace and dignity, being perfectly accessible for new players and western public. I had never played the Yakuza saga before, and from this experience I can say that I intend to keep track of it very closely. But this Kiwami weighs on small problems, such as the aforementioned sexism and the pretense of leaving intact an experience to which perhaps they have finished weighing the years a little. I wish we could punch him too.