Besides being a fantastic game, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is also a technical showcase for the long running series.
The last 20 odd months have been an absolute joy for Yakuza fans. Right from the day Yakuza 0 launched in January 2017, followed by Yakuza Kiwami’s released in August last year and then followed by Yakuza 6 earlier this year, it has been one crazy time for any Yakuza fanatic. Sega have now followed that with the release of arguably the best game in the series, Yakuza Kiwami 2. This continues the extreme remake branding that Sega has given to the franchise ever since Yakuza Kiwami came out in Japan. However, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a different beast compared to last year’s fantastic remake.
First of all, the game runs on Dragon Engine which powered this year’s Yakuza 6 compared to Yakuza Kiwami which ran on the Yakuza 0 engine. This immediately benefits the game with better physical based lighting, some of the best in class lighting effects and screen space reflection. This immediately makes Yakuza Kiwami 2 standout from Kiwami in terms of technology and rendering solutions. However, the surprise here is how the game stacks up against Yakuza 6 in terms of taking the engine ahead with visual updates.
The Yakuza games have always struggled in one graphical area…the distant jaggies which make the image quality suffer during gameplay. The series has most likely been using hardware anti-aliasing to soften the edges of different objects in the environments, but so far, the results have ranged from underwhelming to mediocre at best. Yakuza 6 remedied this situation by a bit, thanks to the power of the PS4, but you really don’t need to see hard to notice those annoying jaggies. In Yakuza Kiwami 2, the developers are using a different anti-aliasing solution and the results are immediately apparent. We now have an almost jaggy free image and although they are still visible on distant objects, it’s reduced by an appreciable factor in Yakuza Kiwami 2. Other improvements from Yakuza 6 includes a slightly softer lighting model compared to the darker one and a general uptick in texture and cinematic quality.
From a remake point of view, Yakuza Kiwami 2 will go down in history as one of the greatest remakes of all time. Having said that, what a year this has been for us nostalgic fans. First, we got Shadow of the Colossus remake which is one of the highest rated games of the year and now we have Yakuza Kiwami 2 which is one of the highest rated games in the series. However, there is one thing that is common in both games while developers visited them to remake for a new generation of gamers. They both have managed to respect (and in case of Yakuza Kiwami 2 rebuild) the original theme of the game and this is the precise reason why critics and gamers alike are appreciating the end product. Yakuza Kiwami 2, as the name suggests is an extreme remake, everything you see here has been recreated from the ground-up, and when one compares it to the original classic on the PlayStation 2, the differences simply put are staggering.
As we noted before, the one thing that drastically differentiates the PS2 version against the PS4 remake is the complete revamp of the lighting model. Gone are the static light behaviors and instead we have support for a full physical based rendering pipeline. Character models have been complete recreated from the original game, their tress effects feel more natural and the textures on their clothing have been completely revamped. In short, they don’t like those triangular boxes that we all loved and perhaps hated during the good old PlayStation 2 days. The audio, too, has been remastered, something that the recently released Shenmue 1 + 2 HD ports could learn a few things from. I also wanted to take this opportunity and praise the voice acting displayed in this entry. Usually, all Yakuza games are characterized by top notch voice overs but in Kiwami 2 it’s at an all together different level. The range of emotions displayed by each characters in varying situations really lifts the overall mood of the cutscenes.
But perhaps the biggest improvement comes in the form of a complete environmental revamp. Wandering through the streets of Sotenbori during the night time is an absolute feast to the eyes. The Yakuza series during the PlayStation 2 days, despite the presence of technical limitations never shied away from presenting the player with intricate details. And with the power of the PlayStation 4 Pro to back it up, the streets of Sotenbori are now literally lit up with shops, leisure activities and all of feels even better thanks to the first-person mode, which allows you to observe everything up c;lose. Furthermore, unlike the original game, Kiryu can enter shops without any loading times whatsoever!
I also wanted to talk a bit about the game’s physics model. Yakuza Kiwami 2, just like every other entry in the series doesn’t utilizes realistic physics, instead it uses rag doll physics. But the latest entry comes very close to realistic physics simulation, at least with certain objects. For example, enemies can kick objects such bi-cycles or benches towards Kiryu or enemy fights can also take place in a store which in turn will send all sorts of objects flying around. Speaking about the enemies, I assume that they have upped the AI here. During numerous occasions, street gangs will not only follow Kiryu but also gang upon him inside rooms that are located on higher floors in an apartment.
That’s it for visual and gameplay enhancements but how does the game perform on the PlayStation 4 PRO? For starters, the game doesn’t run at 60 frames per second like Yakuza Kiwami did. It seems the rendering tech was too much for the Dragon Engine to handle which made them scale back things as far as performance goes. Instead, we have an almost locked 30 frames per second experience. It’s kind of disappointing but at the same time we completely understand the need for a lower frame rate. But most importantly, we are looking at a fairly stable frame rate, so that’s a plus in our opinion. Overall, the image quality is ridiculously sharp, specially during the cinematics.
In the end, Yakuza Kiwami 2 joins Shadow of the Colossus as one of the leading remakes of this generation. And given how the development team has been consistently making improvements to the Dragon Engine tech, we cannot wait for the upcoming new entry in this amazing series.