As I first regained control of Kiryu Kazuma after the opening scenes of Yakuza Kiwami 2 had passed by, all I could think was, “Aaaahh, it’s good to be home.” I would probably still be considered an initiate in the Yakuza fanbase, having only stepped onto the scene when Yakuza 0 was released. However, after many hours in that prequel installment, as well as the Yakuza 1 remake, Yakuza Kiwami, the streets of Kamurocho (and Sotenbori) have become very much like a childhood hometown. Sure, things change every time you visit, but you still remember where the pharmacy is, where you can get an awesome bowl of ramen, and where all the underground gambling dens are hidden.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a fresh remake of Yakuza 2, originally released on the Playstation 2. In addition to a very obvious graphical overhaul, Yakuza Kiwami 2 features an updated, deliciously smooth battle system, courtesy of the Dragon engine. Kiwami 2 has done away with the 3+ battle systems seen in Zero and Kiwami, and instead boasts a beautifully fluid single fighting style. As is standard procedure in any Yakuza title, Kiwami 2 boasts over 60 substories, some undoubtedly updated or created purely for the release of the remake. Minigames abound, such as karaoke, golf, and a weird new toilet-centric game.
Also new to this release is the addition of the cabaret club money-making minigame seen in Yakuza 0, although this time Kiryu is at the helm, and the brand new Majima Construction minigame and Majima Saga. In three very short chapters with little to no side content (this is a positive), the Majima Saga outlines what happened with fan favourite Goro Majima during the year between Kiwami and Kiwami 2.
The basic premise of Yakuza Kiwami 2 revolves around the struggles of the Tojo clan following the events of Yakuza Kiwami. Fifth Chairman Yukio Terada calls upon Kiryu, who has been living outside of Kamurocho with Haruka for the last year, for guidance on how to aid the struggling clan. Terada proposes a truce with the Omi Alliance, but is murdered before he can attend Omi Alliance headquarters to discuss this plan with their Chairman.
Series protagonist Kiryu is tasked with heading to Omi HQ with Terada’s dying wish, but he encounters one very large, blonde, mutton-chopped obstacle: the Omi Chairman’s rebellious son, Ryuji Goda – the dragon of Kansai. Working together with old friends such as Makoto Date and struggling to find compromise with new tentative allies such as policewoman Kaoru Sayama, Kiryu has to do everything he can to keep the Tojo clan alive, even if it means stepping back into the fray.
The story of Yakuza 2/Yakuza Kiwami 2 is exponentially better than that of Kiwami, and that’s not even to say that the latter was bad. Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s plot is simply more interesting, with more crime drama intrigue, a few twists I absolutely didn’t see coming, and a few that I figured out chapters in advance. I can’t say too much without giving away key parts of the plot, but there are a lot of moving parts that come together nicely to form a rich, interesting narrative.
However, as with Kiwami, it’s unmistakably clear that the storytelling was from the PS2 era. Multiple times throughout key points in the plot when things are really fired up, the game slaps you in the face with something irrelevant such as some extra content they needed to shoehorn in (e.g. Majima Construction and the cabaret club), or a “plot” piece that could have just as easily been a substory. It is absolutely jarring, and my overall opinion of the story lost quite a few points purely based on how the plot so often takes a backseat.
In truth, while it is better than in Kiwami, the pacing is utterly janky. It’s clear that they hit their stride with pacing later in the series (see: Yakuza 0, which had near-perfect pacing and storytelling). As an aside, the substories in Yakuza Kiwami 2 are much better than in Kiwami, and are hilarious, heartwarming, and everything in between.
As for Kiwami 2‘s shiny new battle system, it’s hard to find fault in it overall. There are a few minor, albeit pretty glaring issues like the delay associated with certain Heat Actions. Oftentimes if you enter a battle with a reasonable amount of Heat, you’ll be eligible to set off a Heat Action immediately (shown on the screen by a triangle button prompt). However, there is a definite delay in this prompt coming up, meaning that you go ahead and use a standard rush combo or other basic attack, only to see the Heat Action flash briefly across the screen before your chosen move cancels it.
Now and then you’ll happen across a short substory where an NPC on the streets or shops of Sotenbori or Kamurocho will need a bit of help. Help them out, usually by kicking the asses of some goons, and their special Heat Action will be made available on the skill catalogue for purchase with experience. These Heat Actions range from a store clerk throwing hot sauce to you mid-battle for you to splash in an enemy’s eyes, all the way to teaming up with a BDSM club girl to dish out some, er, very specifically-aimed pain. I enjoyed having the option of spicing up my battles now and then with an amusing friendly Heat Action, although I do think that once unlocked they should simply be available for use, rather than requiring actual purchase.
The new experience system in Kiwami 2 is fun, although at its most basic level it is under-explained. There are five elements of experience that you can earn: strength (red), agility (blue), guts (yellow), technique (green), and charisma (purple). The game never actually tells you what each of the colors/symbols stands for, just that you can earn experience in each of them. Not only can you gain experience through battle (usually a fairly even amount of each experience type across the board), but the game highly encourages you to spend your time eating in the myriad restaurants available in the two cities. While some foods earn you way more experience in certain areas than others (e.g. Komian in Sotenbori offers meals which can give you 90 Guts experience), there is also the opportunity to find and earn extra experience from eating pre-set combos of food items which can be found in the Completion section of the menu.
The skill catalogue is split into four categories, and their cost-per-experience-category is listed to the right of each skill, which gradually increases with each iteration or upgrade and can involve more than one type of experience to purchase. The basic breakdown of categories is stat upgrades (health, attack, defence, and heat gauge), battle skills, heat actions, and “life skills” (passive bonuses in minigames, improving your hunger gauge and metabolism, sprinting stamina etc.).
At first, the imbalance in the types of experience you earn acts as a fair and reasonable limiting factor to stop you from charging through all of the skills in the first few chapters. However, at the end of the game I had somewhere in the vicinity of two thousand to three thousand points of strength and agility experience each, but only a few hundred in guts, technique, and charisma. Even with foods that grant 90 of a certain experience type, it’s a long slog to eat, chug an AppStim to empty your hunger gauge, then repeating the process, especially since you can only hold 10 of each item at a time. In that regard, I think the experience system was great, but could have used a bit more balance or ways to earn large amounts in later chapters.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 ‘s score was far more memorable than that of Kiwami, though nothing holds a candle to Yakuza 0‘s impressive soundtrack. I’ve had certain battle themes on repeat for the last few days since finishing the game. The voice acting was spot on, once again, further cementing my understanding of how real yakuza simply must speak in real life. They just shout each other’s names really loudly, right?.
Anyone who’s walked down a busy city street in Japan knows the feeling of walking past shops screaming greetings and squealing about special offers in cute voices and booming shouts. That, and the way your ears are suddenly assaulted by the sounds of a pachinko parlor’s doors opening as you walk past, and the familiar sound of the beeps as you exit and enter a convenience store. As with previous iterations, Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a perfect cacophony.
Graphically speaking, the Yakuza prequel and remakes of the early games are graphical masterpieces. While some of the once-off substory NPCs have some…pretty gruesome-looking faces if they get really close up, they’re few and far between. I’ve never seen such realistic, varied facial capture and animation in a game in my entire life outside of the Yakuza series. Sotenbori and Kamurocho are beautiful, yet realistic enough to acknowledge the cluttered, often trash-filled nature of big cities. The neon lights, while tamed down from the 80s installment of the series, and other set decoration is vibrant without being overbearing.
Likewise, the map is cleanly laid out, uncluttered, and easy to read. It’s also very easy to identify objects which you can interact with in the environment, such as doors and vending machines. Also, did you know that the game features waypoints now? I’m delighted, as a person who regularly loses their way in real life, although I liked the way that the lack of waypoints in Kiwami and Zero forced me to get to know the two cities and their layout. The addition of waypoints didn’t force the memories of certain locations out of my head, but it did make me a bit more reliant on the new feature.
Touching briefly on the new money-maker minigames – Majima Construction and Cabaret Club Grand Prix. As I mentioned earlier, both of these are shoehorned into the plot hard. Their initial introductions take up an inordinate amount of time as part of the flow of the plot, and it’s abundantly clear that they’ve been shoehorned in to give either more Majima or Cabaret Club time, seeing as both are insanely popular. Majima Construction is a very long series of RTS games where you help Majima in his quest to build Kamurocho Hills where the homeless encampment used to be in the previous games.
You recruit people via substories to join your ranks, manage upgrading your people and the objects you defend, and have hilarious conversations with certain members of the minigame cast. Honestly, I’m not very good at RTS games, but my boyfriend dutifully completed Majima Construction and concluded that while fun, with great music, the storyline is just all right, you don’t earn much money from it, and it doesn’t add anything to the rest of the game. Cabaret Club, on the other hand, is damn near exactly the same as it was in Yakuza 0, with a few minor tweaks. It earns you a heap of money, it’s addictive, and adds a few substories and fun scenes. Ultimately, not much new, but if you’re a fan like I am, you’ll sink your teeth in very hard.
Finally, the Majima Saga. The Majima Saga is made up of three short chapters, allows you to play as Majima (the battle style is delicious, smooth, and agile) with no stats to increase, one small side objective that basically just gives sellable items to Kiryu in the main game. The storyline covers what happened in the year between Kiwami and Kiwami 2, which ends up mostly being a very hastily thrown together “plot” for the sake of reintroducing a fan favourite character from Zero. Was it absolutely unnecessary? Yes. Could it be considered a worthwhile plot on its own? Absolutely not. Did I like the fan-pandering? Oh yes, I felt some feelings and it was really nice. Ultimately, if you liked Majima‘s side of the story in Zero, you’ll probably enjoy the Majima Saga. It’s quick to finish (under 2 hours if you do literally nothing but the plot) and makes you feel all nice inside.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a spectacular game that is addictive, hilarious, and extremely fun to play, which is a hallmark of the series for me (and in general, I feel). It looks great, it feels great, but it has some minor flaws in the gameplay and balance which make it a tad annoying at times. However, there are lots of small features that are just plain nice, like Kiryu and Haruka holding hands whenever they explore the city together with you at the helm. The storyline was good, but the pacing really, really needed work. I expect to see this improve as Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 are remastered (but not given the Kiwami treatment), assuming they don’t screw it up by aggressively shoehorning in new content. I think that any fan of the series would be a fool not to pick this one up, and any non-fan…should probably pick up at least Kiwami first, although Yakuza 0 is truly the best starting place for a newcomer.