Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 8/28/2018

It’s been nine years since Yakuza 2 came out on the PlayStation 2, which I remember well because I reviewed that video game way back then! I remember the game fondly as one of my favorite games on the PS2, so it was almost with a mixture of feeling both anticipation and trepidation that I went into Kiwami 2. A decade is a long time for electronic media to age well in after all.

Happy to say that even though nine years have passed the remake of Yakuza Kiwami 2 holds up very well…though while it was remade on a new engine to look better than ever it also brings along some problems which were never in the original game to begin with.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 picks up a year after the events of Yakuza 1. If you aren’t familiar with those events the game provides a very lengthy and detailed overview of those events at the beginning of the game that’s also completely optional to sit through. In the beginning of this game Tojo Clan is in a precarious place, with the Clan weak from the devastation of all the in-fighting that happened, the loss of much of the Clan’s funds and their new and 5th Chairman being a former Omi Alliance officer named Terada. This is a big deal as the Omi Alliance are Yakuza from the Osaka area (Kansai) and the Tojo Clan are Yakuza from the Tokyo area (Kanto) of Japan so they have a sort of West Coast vs East Coast rivalry going on. Omi Alliance feels like Tojo Clan stole one of their officers while the Tojo Clan itself is trying to recover under a Chairman not all of them like, trust or agree with. War between the two seems inevitable and with the state of the Tojo Clan they’re unlikely to survive such a conflict.

The main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu stepped down as the 4th Chairman in the last game and is no longer a part of the Tojo Clan, however events take place in the game that cause him to be pulled back in and hopefully stop an all-out conflict between the two groups. About a dozen subplots also weave through this, including fallout from actions that the Tojo Clan made over 20 years prior which tie into the current conflict.

When I first played the game back on the PS2 I loved the story, and I still do. Now however I wouldn’t consider it among the best stories in video games out there while back then I felt, and still feel, that the layers of character motivations and how consequences to past actions have a huge play make it some of the better story telling in video games. On replaying what stands out for me now is how Yakuza 2, and Yakuza 3 in many ways, are paced like more of a soap opera. Which isn’t a bad thing though some stuff like body doubles (which isn’t the only time in the series they do that) or dramatic reveals about relationships make the otherwise serious tone of the plot come off as unintentionally corny. Later Yakuza games play along with the corny aspects of the plots a lot better.

What Kiwami 2 really does is show players exactly how much of a crime it is that Kauro Sayama doesn’t make another appearance in the series ever. It’s arguable that she’s actually the main protagonist of the game as most of the plot is somehow related to her, her growth and discovering her past. She’s a badass and was great in her scenes with Kiryu. She’s one of the characters that makes the game worth experiencing.

Another is the antagonist, often considered by many Yakuza fans as the best antagonist of the series, Ryuji Goda. Which in hindsight while playing the game is odd as he isn’t in the game very much. At the time the original PS2 game came out though he was the only character that felt like a threat to Kiryu, which other antagonists never really manage aside from Nishiki. There’s also no deviousness about Ryuji Goda, he states his goals clearly and punches through obstacles like Kiryu does which is another reason he’s so memorable.

The strength of the characters has helped the plot age well despite being a remake of a PS2 game. Later games would add some more intentionally corny or amusing things to balance out the serious tone with the over the top action a bit better but this is the game that set the foundations for some of that more off the wall content with sub stories like Be My Baby. The Kiwami version of the game also introduces Cabaret Club Management and Club Creator mini-games. While I’ll detail those more in a moment it’s worth pointing out that they’re forcibly introduced during the main story and it’s kind of jarring. Both have lengthy introductory cutscenes that comes out of the blue and I thought it hurt the pacing of the game, especially in the slower opening chapters.

There’s also a new three chapter Majima Goro sub story that’s completely separate and the chapters are unlocked by playing through the main game. While this sub story is in general a nice to have as it gives a great conclusion to some plot threads from Yakuza 0 and helps explain what happened to the Tojo Clan in the year between the first and second games…it’s just sort of there. It’s short, the story told is super obvious from the first couple minutes, and there’s no nuance to Majima’s fights as he only has a couple of heat moves and no upgrade path. All of the random battles and street bosses are a breeze. While I appreciate them giving us closer to for one thing and more background details it also felt like it could’ve been condensed to a 15-20 minute cutscene.

Visually this is a huge upgrade to the second game. It’s running on the Dragon Engine which they used for Yakuza 6 and it holds up visually with other modern PS4 titles. The series has never looked better and going back and looking at PS2 Yakuza 2 is like seeing the same game with Vaseline in your eyes. It runs better than Yakuza 6 as well, which occasionally has some slight frame drops and reports of some screen tearing. This run smooth with very rare dips in framerate, though there’s a pause before entering battle. You can still move around and it doesn’t freeze it’s just a second while the game switches from exploring mode to battle. Considering the original title had loading screens before each battle I don’t personally mind the change for a smoother game overall.

Mechanically is where the Dragon Engine’s problems start to show however. Yakuza as a series is a brawling game with an exploration component. In Kiwami 2 you return to Kamurocho and also can walk the streets of Sotenobori as well. During the game there will be random thugs on the street that will initiate a fight and then the game goes into the fighting portion. During this Kazuma Kiryu has light strikes, heavy strikes, can grab enemies and use weapons. Mixing this up are dodges, blocking, context sensitive actions and Heat moves which are typically a devastatingly brutal move.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a bit weird here for veterans of the series. After years of either multiple characters with their own style to games where characters could switch between different fighting styles Yakuza 6 went back to one style that felt fairly limited compared to past titles. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an improvement on the fighting style from Yakuza 6 but personally felt like a step back from the fighting in the original Yakuza 2 game. That one had more heat moves and just felt more brutal to me though it also had more QTE prompts as well.

One thing is that the physics engine still seems fairly wonky. Both enemies and Kiryu ragdoll around sometimes oddly and often in amusing ways. Furniture shatters as though it was made of Styrofoam and hope. This looks goofy but is also occasionally annoying, for example you can build up a meter to use Extreme Heat Mode and hulk out and use things like motorbikes as weapons. I hulked out and went to grab a motorcycle but my hip touched it first so it shattered and disappeared. In fact the most dangerous thing in any street fight is an enemy off screen kicking objects that fly like missiles into Kiryu.

That brings me to the difficulty of the game. While not as easy as 6 was, it’s also not a challenge. There are longer fighting sections and boss battles in the game but nothing that is too difficult. Really the most difficult fight I had is a boss battle right away near the beginning before I had gained much experience point and leveled attributes up. Even then I was able to just charge up a dropkick over and over and win. You earn enough money to never have to worry about if you’ll have enough to buy health items or food. They added weapons back to the game to buy, store and equip and it’s easy to fill your inventory with the ones just dropped by enemies. Boss battles are a breeze with the weapons though. My memories of the final battle of Yakuza 2 were that it was a hard fought battle and this time it wasn’t difficult at all.

New engine means not everything from the original stayed, however this title added a lot as well. What is gone from the original is bowling and pool, the Adam club and Host sub story, managing Club Marionette, YF6 (a bad first person arcade game), a very small additional location (though a memorable one from the original), and some music changes. What’s back are an indoor golf range, crane games/UFO catcher, baseball, mahjong, shogi, gambling card games, Purgatory and the arena, and there’s some fight training with Komaki. What’s new for Yakuza Kiwami 2 from the original is the Cabaret Management mode, Clan Creator, gravure photo shoots, the Majima Goro sub plot, Toylets, bodyguard missions, karaoke, and darts.

The more extensive additions to the game are the Cabaret Management and Clan Creator modes. Cabaret Management was in Yakuza 0 and is almost exactly the same here only with Kiryu running it instead of Majima. As a fan of this mode in Yakuza 0 I’m glad to see it return and there are a bunch of surprise returning characters and sub story missions from Hostesses that make this really enjoyable.

Clan Creator was in Yakuza 6 but is much different here. In this game its Majima Construction that needs Kiryu’s tactical strategy skills to help them defend against attacks from a property management group intent on taking Majima Construction down. Like in Yakuza 6 the antagonists of this mode are NJPW stars and the ones they chose for when the game was set is perfect and a nice surprise. The biggest difference is in 6 the game was sort of a RTS game, while this is much more a tower defense game. You get a roster of fighters and have to protect Majima Construction equipment from waves of enemies. Maybe it’s because I like that genre of game less but I found this less interesting than the mode in Yakuza 6. It is kind of cool in both this and the Cabaret modes that people you help in sub-stories join the ranks of characters to choose from.

Toylets is a toilet peeing mini-game. These actually exists in different parts of the world. In it you control Kiryu’s pee stream again the computer in one of two mini-games, Milky Nose, where you try and out stream the computer score, or another where the pressure from the stream dictates the amount of wind being blown as it attempts to blow a girl’s dress off.

The gravure photo shoots are disappointing. Essentially Kiryu takes photos and you try to string together a sentence in a conversation with the model. The internet chat rooms in Yakuza 6 were at least funny, this is mostly just comes off as kind of lame.

Between the return of things missing from 6 while adding new entertaining modes and the whole Goro Majima side story they’ve added more than they’ve cut and they kept the majority of sub stories from the original game intact. Including some of the more over the top ones that would later become a staple for all the games.

Oddly I think some of the things that the original Yakuza 2 game did really well initially that in turn became the foundations for the entire series almost hurt Yakuza 2. Some of the bombastic sub stories, the way the plot is structured, the amount of side content and so on are things that when I came into the game from Yakuza 1 on the PS2 made the game so amazing. Since many players came into the series at the 3rd, 4th, 5th game or Zero might seem repetitive or some of the side stories less interesting when those titles built on top of the accomplishments of Yakuza 2.

There’s also some older design decisions and odd mission structure which probably weren’t bad in 2009 but in 2018 are more noticeable. Of course it’s a remake so all of that’s expected, however when you add in the some of the new problems that the Dragon Engine added, like the wonky physics engine and new issues with the game difficulty balance, and you’ve got a remake that keeps the problems of the old game and adds in some new problems. Sure a lot of those issues are also very minor but they’re still there.

Short Attention Span Summary: In the end Yakuza 2 was one of my favorite games, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a faithful remake and thanks to the visual updates, less loading, and additional content is the best way to currently experience the game and I highly recommend it especially to newer fans who might’ve come into the series more recently with Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami.