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Yakuza Kiwami 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Yakuza Kiwami 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 19, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

From the global development studio that introduced the world to Kazuma Kiryu, Ryu Ga Gotoku returns in high form with Yakuza Kiwami 2.

Buy Yakuza Kiwami 2

The Western market is a tough territory for Japanese video games; only a few manage to gather enough momentum or hype to be considered anything more than niche titles. One of the more notable developments has been made by the Yakuza series, which sees regular releases and manages to improve upon its overall critical reception. Due to delays and Sega's porting efforts, we've seen the release of four new Yakuza titles in the past 20 months. Given that aggressive schedule, it's almost impressive that the mostly unchanged formula remains as captivating as ever in the most recent remake of Yakuza 2, which is titled Yakuza Kiwami 2 on the PS4.

In case you haven't had the chance to jump into the Yakuza series, now may be as good a time as ever to do so. With Yakuza 0, its excellent prequel, and Yakuza Kiwami, the remake of its first entry, this may have been the fresh start that the Yakuza series needed to properly arrive in more Western households.

As with all mainline games in the series, Yakuza Kiwami 2 puts you in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu, an on-off Yakuza — it's complicated — who gets involved in surprising events surrounding his crime family, the Tojo clan, his family, friends, and adopted daughter Haruka. Given that Kiwami 2 retells the story of the second entry, which was originally released on the PS2, the story is relatively uncomplicated by Yakuza standards. It can still demand your attention and appear slightly confusing at times, with many introductions and names thrown at you casually. Story is one of the core pillars of a Yakuza game, and while Kiwami 2 does an excellent job of explaining previous events, you'll get the most out of the game if you've played at least one of the two aforementioned titles. To avoid any spoilers, I'll keep the story short and vague.

After the partially shocking revelations and events in Yakuza Kiwami, Kiryu leaves the Yakuza lifestyle behind but is forced to return when an assassination threatens to spark an all-out war between his Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance. What starts out as a fairly straightforward affair soon expands and gets complicated. We're introduced to new and interesting characters along the way, some of whom may rank among the most memorable in the entire franchise. Its main story is told in a very tense and serious way that translates well to the gritty reality of Yakuza, and the writing and English subtitles are translated very well, which is crucial to enjoying this gripping tale.

Yakuza 2 is a fan favorite when it comes to the story, and everything that was part of the original story has been included in Kiwami 2, although it's been enhanced by additional cut scenes and animations. Characters are relatable and portrayed in an amount of detail that enriches the storytelling manifold. The only gripes are that some minor animations and facial expressions don't seem like they received the same treatment in this remake, as they can occasionally come across as wooden; previous entries that didn't use the new engine look similar or even better, at times. Moments like this can break the immersion that the Yakuza games work so hard to achieve.

Kiwami 2 was rebuilt from the ground up in the new Dragon Engine, which improves on the original Yakuza 2. The game goes way beyond quality of life improvements, and that really pays off. Yakuza banks on immersion in its game world, with a captivating story, cut scenes, and world building. You can roam around two distinct nightlife areas in Japan — Kamurocho and Sotenbori — with an extensive list of side activities and sub-stories to complete, to the point where it's easy to lose track of the main story entirely. If you've played any Yakuza title, you've probably ignored a very important life-or-death mission for several hours because you got hooked in a fierce dart match. This is where the grounded addictiveness of Yakuza sets in.

The story is exciting enough to get you hooked, but even if it doesn't, there are a million other things to do. There are faithfully re-created Sega arcades with completely playable arcade titles, such as Virtua Fighter, but there are also casinos, darts, golf, darts, mahjong — you name it. The fun is that Kiwami 2 makes all of these activities worth your time because they're all little elaborate experiences that have their own gameplay systems and aren't just tacked on or thrown in for good measure. One could complain that Kiwami 2 doesn't bring the series on equal footing with some of the previous titles in terms of side activities. If you compare it with Yakuza 6, which was the first title running on the Dragon Engine, it's a significant step up.

There are two substantial minigames in Kiwami 2, one of which is the Cabaret Manager game that was introduced in Yakuza 0 and has us managing a cabaret club and competing in the Cabaret Grand Prix. To win the big prize, we need to generate more income than our competitors across several leagues by matching hostesses to the appropriate clients, who stay to spend their hard-earned cash. We're in charge of making the club popular, hiring and managing our hostess roster, and keeping everything running like a well-oiled machine. If you're easily hooked by management-style games, this one will certainly hook you for hours.

The second, more prominent side activity is the Clan Creator, which surrounds the famous nutjob of the series, Goro Majima. Yakuza 6 had a strategy-style minigame to manage minions to attack certain targets, and the Clan Creator does the same thing at its core. However, we also have to defend a construction site against an onslaught of enemies in what's more akin to a tower defense game. Unfortunately, this one didn't click with me due to sometimes inaccurate controls. It wasn't a great addition to Yakuza 6, and I think it feels even worse here.

Kiwami 2 provides us with strongly improved visuals and an all-around more immersive experience with more buildings to access and no loading screens when entering or leaving a building. Nothing was more immersion-breaking than the constant loading screens in previous titles, however short, when entering a restaurant. Eating is becoming increasingly important in the series, since it's another source of XP and Kiryu's appetite grows over time. Drinks from vending machines also serve an additional purpose. For example, our goal is to use our stream of bodily fluids to blow up a girl's skirt. If you haven't guessed it, Yakuza combines the weird and the grotesque with dark and serious gangster business, and it does so successfully.

If you're playing Yakuza for the story,there are over 70 sub-stories in the open world, and they're evenly spaced out over the course of the game. You may seek out some, you'll organically stumble upon others, and some will feel like they're the most awkward thing you've ever done or seen in video games. Perhaps a series highlight is getting jumped by a group of guys in the street and getting invited by their Yakuza boss to join him in his favorite bar to make things right. It sounds harmless enough until we end up in a fetish club that has Yakuza dress up as babies to get fed and nursed. There's way more where that came from, but stumbling upon these distractions is one part that makes Yakuza a fun experience.

While it speaks favorably to the diverse and varied gameplay mechanics in Yakuza that we haven't talked about fighting yet, the fist fights are front and center in Kiwami 2. Whether it's random encounters in the street, fighting in a coliseum or dismantling the Omi Alliance one goon at a time, the fighting is as satisfying as ever. Kiwami 2 offers the usual style of quick jabs and strong kicks, with simple combat combinations to throw your opponents to the ground. Hitting an opponent builds up the heat meter and enables us to perform heat moves that are strong, brutal and cinematic takedowns that make the combat so satisfying.

If you've played the previous entries, Kiwami 2 may be a bit of a letdown, especially coming from Yakuza 0, which offered two characters with three distinct fighting styles each. Kiwami 2 has an advantage on the technical side, with a physics-based engine and the fact that fights can easily transition in and out of buildings without a loading screen, but the loss in variety is certainly noticeable. Physics-based also means that you occasionally flop through the environment after stronger hits. New moves and skills are mostly hidden behind certain progression barriers, causing some integral moves to be revealed hours into the main story.

Weapons are just as important for the combat, and this time, we're finally able to pick them up and store them in our inventory for later use — a system that is simultaneously very welcome and awkwardly restrictive. When we pick up a weapon during a fight, we have to pocket it right away or lose it automatically, and weapons cannot be picked up when the fight is over, even though they're visibly at our feet. Nevertheless, it's a start, and the improved number of heat moves for individual weapons makes it more rewarding than ever to experiment.

The occasional sub-stories also have an impact on your combat, with the option to gain allies by completing favors, which can then trigger heat moves during combat, such as a street musician lending us his trusty instrument to bash in someone's head. The progressions system leaves a bitter taste, though, because you have to actually buy the heat moves even after you earn an ally, which again feels restrictive for something that should be instantly available. Overall, it's super fun and packs a literal punch, especially considering the technical improvements that the series has seen in the last two entries.

A further valid critique is that while the series is great fun, there is a bit of Yakuza fatigue setting in with games that were originally released years apart but are now being pushed out at lightning speed. It didn't majorly impact the experience for me, but the overall same structure being reused for four games in 20 months lessens the impact of this truly great outing.

Overall, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is one of the best entries in the franchise. It's the technically most advanced and includes many improvements that significantly enhance the experience while also telling a gripping and satisfying story. It's not perfect, with a sometimes slow progression system and a few hit-and-miss additions in the side content. Some fun additions from previous iterations could've made Kiwami 2 even more special.

Score: 8.7/10

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