Yakuza Kiwami 2 PS4 Review
We have already seen Sega’s Ryu ga Gotoku Studio rebirth the first Yakuza game with Yakuza Kiwami. It brought with it a visual upgrade, but this was an older game splashed with a fresh coat of paint since it released after Yakuza 0, it was clear to see Yakuza Kiwami‘s shortcomings with its formula and mechanics – pretty much everything was better in the newer prequel game. Still, it allowed new fans who started with Yakuza 0 to follow the story along in chronological order without having to resort to digging out a PlayStation 2 and listening to Mark Hamill play Goro Majima, which to be fair, the English cast was not half bad for the original game. Now the studio has remade the other PlayStation 2 title that launched in 2008 (2006 in Japan), Yakuza 2, using the same Dragon Engine that was developed for Yakuza 6 to fully realise the potential of Yakuza 2, which arguably has the best story in the franchise, and now has some gorgeous visuals and enhancements to match.
Following on a year after Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu has retired from the yakuza and is now back to being a civilian looking after Yumi’s daughter, Haruka. As Kiryu pays respects to his mentor and friends at the graveyard, the Fifth Chairman of the Tojo Clan, Terada, appears to ask Kiryu to come back to the Tojo Clan and help him restore the clan to its former glory before it crumbles to the potential upcoming war with the Omi Alliance, the group that is based in Osaka. Kiryu refuses, but an assassination in front of his eyes by the Omi Alliance changes his stance and he goes to Osaka to find a peaceful solution and prevent an all out war between the two clans, pulling Kiryu back into the world of the yakuza once more.
I mentioned that this game has one of the better stories for the franchise, which is down to how fantastic the villain is. This series has never been short of developing interesting characters, but Ryuji Goda, a sort of Omi Alliance version of Kiryu, sits on top of the pile. It helps that this is the best and most fleshed out character that Kiryu has gone up against. Ryuji Goda is given the nickname the Dragon of Kansai, a title that he despises and wants no one to speak of until he has eradicated the rival dragon, the Dragon of Dojima, the title given to Kiryu. Given that Kiryu has been developed into a sort of badass after the experiencing the stories in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, having someone who can rival that gives this villain an aura that he is the one that can push Kiryu to the unknown and force him into emotional places. Ryuji Goda could just be the one to break Kiryu like no other character has in the series, as he is always a threat, even when not featured in some of the game’s chapters, he has a lingering presence like a grand schemer.
Goda isn’t the only star, though, and it’s not like the series has had trouble developing a solid cast of characters. It’s the same for Yakuza Kiwami 2, with Kiryu backed with a good supporting cast, such as leading police officer for organised crime, Kaoru Sayama, who is told to keep Kiryu safe during the story. If Kiryu dies, all hell will break lose between the clans and many will die in the carnage. Then there is Daigo Dojima, the son of the head of the Dojima family – who Kiryu was framed for killing in the first Yakuza title – begins as a person who doesn’t care much about anything, but over the course of the game, becomes to understand his value and what he can do for the Tojo Clan to keep them alive in difficult times. There are a lot of players involved in this story, with characters coming and going regularly, but they all have a part to play and are presented fabulously, bringing all the twists and drama fans expect from a Yakuza game.
While Yakuza is no stranger to the weird and wacky, this game is the first time the series has taking the major plot and included some of the most eccentric set pieces that crop up in the last quarter of the game. It’s hard to explain why without going into detail and spoiling the outlandish nature of it, but let’s just say that the series has never had anything like it since, making it standout. This always made me think it was done to turn the sequel up to 11 and make the sequel better than the original, even if it meant moving away from reality – something the series does its best to keep upholding in future stories – into the realms of something that isn’t far-fetched from a Shōnen anime. It may now be out of character for the franchise, but I can’t help but be absorbed by it all, as it is exhilarating to see it unfold.
Having just replayed Yakuza 0 on PC and coming to Yakuza Kiwami 2, it is easy to see the difference in detail between the two cities – Sotenbori and Kamurocho – that a move to the Dragon Engine has brought. The cities feel even more fleshed out than before, populated with more buildings, objects, NPCs, and of course, those incredibly fascinating bright signs, which give the areas that distinct Japanese feel and atmosphere. Places are still packed with activities to do, even more so then the original Yakuza 2, as new events and side games have been added that can easily eat hours of time away. One of the great things about the Dragon Engine is the enhancements it brings to exploring, because gone at the load times when entering buildings, it is all seamlessly done to keep it flowing.
This new seamless city applies to the combat as well, since these blend into the same world, allowing interactions with the environment that weren’t accessible before in none Dragon Engine Yakuza titles – those games would place invisible walls to stop players escaping or moving out of the confines of the combat zone. These interactions can create some cool fight scenes. For example, people can be smashed through shop windows, which when done as a final blow in the fight, activating a slow motion effect, adds a dramatic conclusion, plus, it looks bloody damn cool. I can only fault the immovable goons that smack Kiryu with large objects, but don’t respond to punches. It becomes a waiting game of hit, hit, hit, dodge, repeat until he’s dead. I felt these were awful in Yakuza 0, and sadly there are still here, thankfully, not used often throughout the game.
Since this is same combat system built in Yakuza 6, gone are the three different fight styles In its place is a linear move set, but is more exciting to perform, thanks to additional moves, animation improvements, rag doll and implemented physics interaction with a multitude of objects in the environment. Tweaks to weapons are also a nice bonus, which enable the user to store them away when picked up in battle, then can be pulled out in another fight when acquired. There is a sense in this game that the developers wanted to let people have fun with weapons, rather than have them being limited to one fight, as once again, the Heat special attacks – flashy moves that can be activated for extreme damage once the Heat metre has passed a point – deliver some gut wrenching cinematic attacks that no one in real life would survive without a a few broken bones and missing teeth.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 not only uses the engine from Yakuza 6, but it also brings across the user interface, skills and experience systems. Completing story quests, substories, sidequests and even eating and drinking, all contribute to one of five categories of experience groups (strength, agility, gust, attraction and skill). These are then exchanged for stat increases, new battle skills and heat actions or life skills, the latter which are helpful unlocks that act like modifiers for various game features – the substory finder reveals all substories on the map, while another can boost experience gains and item drops. I prefer this experience system compared to Yakuza 0, as requirements are lower to unlock something, so it always felt like after a few fights or gorging on a big meal and drink that I had another unlock waiting for me. It gives the sense that progression is happening at a faster rate than having to save up millions of yen to open up the next ability.
The Yakuza games let you decide how much of the side content you want to do, you are never handicapped if you simply want to experience the great stories these games offer. Ignoring all the optimal content will give you a game that lasts around 20 hours, but Yakuza Kiwami 2 offers so many reasons to explore the cities of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Returning are the the substories – pocket size stories that involve helping many of the NPCs. There are many to discover, ranging from serious to the not so serious, and truly do open the versatility in what can be presented in the Yakuza world. One time I was getting my pictures taken with a muscular man in just his pants as he told Kiryu to perform out of character emotions, while another had me hunting down a chubby version of Kiryu, as the clown was impersonating Kiryu to scare money out of people. You’ll get a few laughs out of these small adventures.
But the big mini games that are given star treatment in this game are the returning ones from Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6, the Cabaret Club and Majima’s Construction defence game, both coming with their own side story arc. The Cabaret Club has Kiryu managing Four Shine Club to glory, as he helps the owners progress through the sub quest storyline by matching women to the needs of customer’s desires and using them to lure customers into spending more cash – more cash equals more profits and popularity, which means more ladies joining and then even more cash to be made with more customers until Four Shine can make it to the Championship League. Majima’s Construction is more strategic, using a top-down view to manage characters who will defend against waves of thugs that want to destroy property on Majima’s Kamurocho Hills development site. It’s basically a mediocre tower defence game – fine for a mini game, but not one of the better ones the series has had.
There are many other things to do that don’t have as much story behind them, but are great fun to perform. The arcades, now being in a more modern age than Yakuza 0, feature Virtual On and Virtua Fighter 2, but still hold the most important things, UFO Chatchers! (I kid). More fighting can be performed through the bouncer and underground fight ring challenges, while emptying Kiryu’s bladder comes with the Toylet mini game that has players performing against the last person who peed in the urinal by controlling how strong or weak your peeing is – disturbing, but also highly amusing. Lastly, things like mahjong, shogi, pool, darts, golf and karaoke are all here to entertain for many hours. It’s pretty standard nowadays for Yakuza games to be packed with so much side content that adds many hours to the standard game time, and it’s the same for Yakuza Kiwami 2, having a huge variety on offer, although bowling seems to have vanished this time around.
One last big new addition is the inclusion of more Goro Majima. I mean, who doesn’t want more Majima in your game? A fan favourite character known for his eccentric performances now gets his own short story called Majima Saga that digs into how Majima become to be where he is between Yakuza Kiwami and this game. This content behaves like a Yakuza-lite, because there are no levels to gain or substories to find, it’s literally a story for Majima that also enables him to fight, explore the city and play some minigames. It’s only three chapters, but while it might be a shallow in content, it is new content, and one that features a character I enjoy seeing on screen. Just don’t go into it expecting exactly the same as the main story and you will enjoy what it offers.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 does a fabulously job recreating the original sequel, making it one of the best remakes available on the market. The visual update alone that comes with the Dragon Engine is worth the cash, as the cinematics and character models are enhanced by the graphical upgrade, and along with the brilliant performances from the voice actors, enables the fantastic story and emotions to shine onto the screen as one of the bests in the series. Yakuza Kiwami 2 might not be the game to start with, but for old fans it’s a lovely trip down memory lane, and for the newcomers who have discovered the series through Yakuza 0, this title will be a true delight for you, as you get to experience how brilliant Yakuza can be when it’s at the top of its game. There have been three Yakuza games released across various platforms this year, but it’s this remake that shines as the best example of the series to date.