The best story in the series makes Yakuza Kiwami 2 a can’t-miss for fans and newcomers alike.
If you’re a new fan of the Yakuza series, who might have hopped on board with last year’s superlative Yakuza 0, which finally saw Sega’s long running action adventure franchise break into the gaming spheres in the west, then all you need to know about Yakuza Kiwami 2 is that you need to buy this game right now. Close this window, and go to your nearest store so you can get it. You don’t need to know anything more than that.
If you’re still here, though, maybe because you need convincing, or because the prospect of the fourth Yakuza release in 17 months maybe wears thin on you, here’s what you need to know. In the vein of Yakuza Kiwami last year, which remade the very first Yakuza game, modernizing it with new mechanics (and giving many new series newcomers the chance to continue the story began in Yakuza 0), Kiwami 2 is a remake of the second game in the franchise. Yakuza 2 has widely been held among a lot of fans of the series to be the best story in the franchise- now you get to see why that is so.
"In terms of gameplay, the game is built on the Dragon Engine that also powered Yakuza 6 earlier this year, which means it brings all the same refinements to the table as that title."
And it is very much so- the game’s narrative indeed lives up to the hype. A direct continuation of the plot of the original game (or in this case, the original Kiwami), the game’s story beats are inextricably linked to what happened there, and follow the results of Kiryu’s actions, and the butterfly effect events he set in motion. The stakes are escalated, with the game starting with the large scale planning of a terrorist attack to send a message to the Tojo Clan.
Kiryu himself, tortured by the fresh wounds of the loss of the three people in the world he loved the most, has now vowed to retire from yakuza life and bring up Haruka, the daughter of Yumi, his former love, properly. However, as is often the case with poor Kiryu-chan, just as he thought he was out, he is pulled right back in. We’re not going to get into the specifics of what happens next- just know that the story follows incredible escalation, and one grim and nerve wracking development after the next, as a web of intrigue and terror is weaved around Kiryu.
As is always the case with Yakuza games, the strong storytelling is aided by a fantastic cast of characters- heroes and villains, returning and new, are extremely well developed, and very distinctly memorable. Dialog, as has always been the case, is really sharp (though in some instances I noticed the localization slip with some silly errors), and while you might think that the gravitas of what is going on in the game makes it hard for things to get as light hearted and goofy as in previous games, Yakuza Kiwami 2 manages to find plenty of time for levity, and to have a laugh (more in smaller moments by the side, but still).
In terms of gameplay, the game is built on the Dragon Engine that also powered Yakuza 6 earlier this year, which means it brings all the same refinements to the table as that title. Yakuza is still broken down into navigation, combat, and minigames- more on these in a bit- punctuated by increasingly long (frankly, at times almost absurdly so) cutscenes interspersing it all. Action here is pretty much the same thing that fans of the series might be used to by now- the same kind of free flowing brawling combat, emphasizing awareness of your environment, quick and reflexive responses, and stylish finishers. As always, you can use the environment to your benefit in combat, and as always, you can build up to extremely over the top finishing moves.
"If you’re a fan of the series and already played the original Yakuza 2, you know what to expect here- but that story has been fleshed out further, with discrepancies retconned, and events expanded."
Nothing has changed here- and as fun as Yakuza‘s combat can be (I personally never skip a fight in these games, even when I’m accosted by some thugs on the street for the sixth time in as many minutes), many will view it as a distraction from the main event, which is the story. Lower difficulty settings let you minimize the time you spend in fights (while higher ones basically demand that you actually pay attention to the game’s mechanics, or risk having your ass handed to you).
However, if you do enjoy the fights, you’re going to enjoy what Kiwami 2 has to offer in this regard. The one big problem with the combat is the camera, which seems to be entirely incapable at times of keeping up with Kiryu and the action on screen, getting stuck in weird corners, or helplessly zooming in on random textures, while you hear Kiryu grunting and brawling. Given how much combat in close and cramped quarters there can be in the game, this borders on being inexcusable.
Breaking up you trying to find your way around Kamurocho, Sōtenbori, and Shinseicho for the next objective (or the next fight) is a series of mini-games scattered throughout town. At this point, Yakuza is known almost as much for its mini-games as it is for its story, or for its stylish brand of action. Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues the legacy, and that includes a golf minigame, that is far too addictive (and madddeningly frustrating) for its own good; and, of course, the vaunted Virtual ON, Sega’s underrated arcade gem, being included in Yakuza Kiwami 2 as is. You’ve got a lot to break the monotony of the constant fighting (or to get a break from the sometimes oppressively high stakes story) in this game either way.
The story, as you may have noted, is something I touch upon a lot, and that’s because Yakuza Kiwami 2 basically is its story. The game exists to be a vehicle for the story, but that story is the star of the show here. I’ve already mentioned I don’t want to get into it much, but I do need to emphasize how central it is to the Kiwami 2 experience. You’re going to get the most out of this if you have at least played Yakuza Kiwami from last year- if you haven’t, the game includes a very succinct recap of the events of that game at the beginning, which I can’t encourage you enough to watch so you can get one of the most richly fulfilling stories in a game ever.
If you’re a fan of the series and already played the original Yakuza 2, you know what to expect here- but that story has been fleshed out further, with discrepancies retconned, and events expanded. If, however, you just want to play the game, you might often be exasperated at how much the story gets in the way of doing that, with cutscenes that can go on for minutes upon minutes, followed by more cutscenes (the early chapters are basically mostly cutscenes, with a few fights thrown in).
That said, the game’s story is at least great enough to earn that kind of indulgence. And, in a nod to the series’ fan favorite breakout star, Goro Majima, you get an all new story that follows him, from the end of Kiwami to the beginning of Kiwami 2– there’s a lot to unravel there, and fans who fell in love with him in Yakuza 0 will probably rejoice at his return here. (which also includes the return of the Clan Creation minigame- yay!).
"Much like with Kiryu, right as you might have thought you were out, you got pulled back in."
All of that apart, the game looks fantastic (as mentioned, it uses the Dragon Engine from Yakuza 6, but manages to look better than even that game, giving us some of the most expressive characters and cutscenes we have had yet). In terms of production quality, this is the best that Yakuza has ever been. All of which comes together to deliver the definitive Yakuza experience.
If you are not a fan of the series, then Kiwami 2 is good enough to make you one (though, again, my personal opinion is that you should play at least Kiwami before jumping into this one; that said, Kiwami 2 goes out of its way to accommodate newcomers).
Much like with Kiryu, right as you might have thought you were out, you got pulled back in.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Fantastic production values, and an incredible, thrilling story, polished gameplay, addictive minigames, and a ridiculous amount of content; hugely accommodating to newcomers and long time fans alike.
Cutscenes can get pretty long at times, the camera can often not keep up with the action in fights.
Of the four Yakuza releases in the last year and a half, Kiwami 2 truly stands as the best of them all, and is great enough for every fan of the series to experience. If you are one of said fans, the good news is, you are in for a treat.