Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review – The Song of Excellence
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release: 28th August 2018
Despite the fact the Kiryu-saga ended with Yakuza 6, SEGA isn´t done with bringing basically everything of the series to the west, finally. With Yakuza Kiwami 2 we get the remake of the 2006 released second game, along with more content than even the first Kiwami had. Even though some may ask themselves why bother with it now, there´s a simple reason, it is an absolutely great game, able to surpass even the final entry at times.
After retiring from the yakuza one year ago, Kazuma Kiryu just wants to live a peaceful life with Haruka. However, the cruel world he left behind soon catches up to him again, when fifth Tojo clan chairman Terada is assassinated, leaving a broken clan on the verge of destruction by the Omi Alliance. So Kiryu has to come back, in order to save the clan from the extinction which he started. Naturally, this task is everything but easy and he soon finds himself in the crossfire between the Tojo, Omi and Jungweon, while also having to deal with the Dragon of Kansai Ryuji Goda.
When you compare Yakuza 6 with Kiwami 2, one fact becomes evident: The latter tells a far simpler, believable story for the franchise. Frankly, especially when thinking back to some story twists, I can´t quite take the last entry seriously, due to the amount of giant, quite dumb revelations. As old as the second may be, the plot can hold up surprisingly well, in delivering something far more human, focused and believable. The mystery behind the Omi´s and Jungweon´s corporation, for example, keeps this perfect balance between telling the player enough to let him figure out some parts by himself, while never telling too much to make the twists unsurprising. Same can be told about pretty much anything in the story.
Why? Because the game never aims for the stars or is restricted by the ever-growing story of previous titles. It´s a more classic yakuza tale. However, compared to Kiwami 1, it can create a way more unique, complex one at the same time. Instead of the rather classic child mystery together with Nishiki´s cliché development, we´re presented with a way more complex tale about those three families, revenge and past mistakes. It´s just such a great mix between the complexity of future Yakuza titles and the simplicity of the first one. All while adding more and more depth to already known characters and creating a believable arc for Kiryu.
The only thing I actually didn´t like all that well, was the romance between him and the police inspector Sayama. In trailers and the game alike, it was evident there will be love between those two. Yet, the game never really sets it up in a satisfying manner. Given, one key scene tries hard to do exactly that but in less than a few minutes. As a result, it felt like they just went from criminal and inspector who may have some similarities and know it, to lovers who can´t accept their feelings until the end. Honestly, it wasn´t insulting but at no point as believable as it could´ve been, making the very foundation seem more rocky than necessary. Same with the Majima Saga, a 1-2 hours long side plot completely new in the Kiwami version, telling Majima´s story between the first and second game. Sadly, this too is pretty much only a short, simple story with nothing to write home about, except being a nice addition.
What´s also one of the possibly only fragments of Kiwami 2´s aged roots are the sometimes unnecessary seeming breaks in-between key events, which I didn´t see in later games at all. Often, Kiryu has to get a certain item to enter a certain location and trigger the next revelation, those side stories though are never fleshed out enough in any way to seem relevant. Sometimes they can appear in form of mysterious puzzles created by an unknown man but he´s never revealed. So when actually reaching the goal, I didn´t learn anything more, just lost 15-30 minutes to a rather pointless endeavour. Especially those segments felt like older filler content or side stories cramped inside the main quest, that was never as evident as here.
Otherwise, a lot remains the same gameplay-wise compared to Yakuza 6. Featuring the same stance-less combat, it feels pretty much the same in every regard, for better or worse. Naturally, some may complain that it lost depth due to the fact there´s only one stance, practically combining the previous three into one. However, at least for me, there never was much of depth to them, since they all were limited in what they were allowed to do, effectively making them artificially worse to work as intended. Still, a well executed Rush style made any boos easier than anything. So in my eyes, it´s actually a good way to streamline the whole thing and deliver a powerful feeling brawler. The hit-feedback is still absolutely fantastic.
It also has a super satisfying upgrade system, able to carry the thing over the 20-hour long playtime (if you rush it). Once again the five stats system returns, rewarding you for certain actions like beating up hooligans, eating or simply running by granting you more of those points. Those can then be spent on either battle, heat or life skills or even just upgrading your general attack stats. While there are practically no changes to the one in Yakuza 6, some new abilities were added that are more than just neat. For example, since Kiryu isn´t as experienced as he is on the end of his journey, things like Extreme Heat Mode are locked and have to be learned first, giving a great feel of progression over the course of the game.
Yet, what I found most appealing was the cheap Side Story Compass, effectively highlighting Side Stories in the open world. Even though it´s great to see Kamurocho and Sotenbori age over the years, Yakuza Kiwami 2 offers the same activities every title did until now. So the side quests are the thing to mix it up here as well and they´re once again absolutely great. Ranging from short, crazy interruptions to your daily life, to longer tasks accompanying you through a big part of your journey. Naturally, all of them are absurd in their own way, mostly delivering what everyone asks of those many entertaining stories. Unfortunately, most of them also lose somewhat of their magic after Yakuza 6, since nearly none of them reach the creativity or craziness of those “newer” ones, despite the fact they´re great on their own.
What´s a big potential time-waster as well, are the two main minigames: Cabaret Club and Clan Managment. Sound familiar? Well, sadly, they are in pretty much every regard. The Cabaret Club Managment stayed the same, giving you control over a little club, where you can recruit new hostesses, assign them to customers and see the cash flow in while you manage everything passively. I really like the minigame, I do but I already spent so much time with it the first time around and it doesn´t do a whole lot of new stuff here, so I found myself bored after some times. Same with the CLan Managment which copies the one from Yakuza 6 and turns it into a tower defence style game, where you place your guys first and the AI runs into them. There´s also Majima now, so that´s always a plus. Generally speaking, they´re in no way bad, I like them but I´m also a bit disappointed they didn´t add something truly unique here.
Another obvious fact is how amazing Yakuza Kiwami 2 looks, fully remastered in the Dragon Engine it´s up to par with the latest entry with ease. While it still suffers from occasional frame hiccups in the huge, crowded open worlds, there´s nothing worse or better than in the previous titles running one the latest engine. Only the fact how many dialogues were actually transformed into cutscenes, rather than the bland textboxes known from Kiwami 1 or 0, wasn´t only surprising but gave the game a really high-quality feel, though I preferred the “cinematic” textboxes of Yakuza 6 a little bit more.
When I played Yakuza Kiwami 2, I had fun … a lot of fun. In my 30 hours, it almost never occurred to me that this game is 10 years old. Everything remotely aged was replaced by up-to-date mechanics, overhauled and streamlined to fit into the proven, modern Yakuza concept. Honestly, it´s not only a hallmark of excellence in terms of a remaster, it´s also a damn great game, which captures the series’ magic with a more simple but still fantastic story and side quests. If not for the recycled mini games, this is pretty much another perfect entry in the series, able to beat even Yakuza 6 in terms of writing.
[A Review Copy was provided by Koch Media]