UI as Storytelling in Yakuza Kiwami

Also: pride flags

Yakuza Kiwami, the first not-prequel game in the series, opens with a dramatic scene, and then goes into a flashback. In the time before the flashback, it has to set up “how did we get here, and why should you care about who these people are”. One way it sets this up is a mission where protagonist Kiryu buys a birthday present.

Kiryu goes to the jewellers, and is told the ring he’s looking at is very popular, it’s the last one they have until they’ll need to restock. He needs no persuading, and buys it, leading to a beautiful character establishing moment… in the UI.

Your money inventory, previously unseen, pops up on the screen - 120,000 yen - and pings all the way down to zero.

We never saw the price of the ring before then, so we can assume Kiryu didn’t look at it either. At the same time, it’s not that he necessarily has so much wealth that he can spend exorbitantly without thinking about it. This one luxury item takes all the money he has. He does not comment on this at any point. What it tells us specifically about Kiryu is that he doesn’t care about the cost when it comes to people he cares about - and also that he’ll make those decisions impulsively.

It isn’t simply that the ring is expensive, but the way that the UI pops up and runs down the price turns it into a reveal. We get to watch Kiryu be cool and calm, while the interface explicitly goes: hey, that was all his money.

It contributes to this early setup, but it charms me that this is also just… funny. We learn a surprising amount about Kiryu from such a small interaction, but as an exercise in contrasts, it made me laugh! The current trend for UI is largely for it to be unobtrusive, but for a tiny moment, it elevated the storytelling in the whole scene.

Oh, Also

Have you read Stacey Henley’s piece for Fanbyte on pride flags in games, and where they fit into their worlds? It’s very good.

We’re seeing an increased presence of Pride flags in video games, but not the kind you see around someone’s shoulders at their first march; it’s the Coke can Pride flag. Games as individual works aren’t necessarily as cynical as the corporations who often make them — though that’s part of it — but they are inspired by the Twitter logo allies. They only know the colors, the stripes, and the vague idea that “this flag = gay.”

They look at the flag and see a piece of cloth. - Stacey Henley

Ruth Cassidy is a writer and self-described velcro cyborg who, when not writing about video games, is probably being emotional about musicals, mountains, or cats. Has had some bylines, in some places.

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