by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I hope that Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues to grow the franchise here in America, because we need the rest of the games to be remastered and brought to the West on the PS4 and Steam. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is easily the best game I have played in the franchise, with a wealth of content, quality-of-life changes, and plus, it’s the second game (in the West) where you can play as everyone’s favorite lunatic, Majima Goro! There’s also “Yakuza: Dead Souls” in Japan, but since that wasn’t released here, it doesn’t count.
But what is Kiwami 2? It’s a remaster/remake of Yakuza 2, originally released on the Playstation 2 back in 2008 (‘06 in Japan). The Ryu ga Gotoku series is one I fell in love with back in Yakuza 4 when I first did my review of it. Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place a year after the 10 Billion Yen Incident that was the central plot point in Yakuza 1/Kiwami. Kazuma Kiryu is just trying to say his farewells to the (many) friends who died in the last game. That is a trend in Kiryu’s life: people dying, and terrible, unfortunate circumstances. War is coming to Japan in the form of powerful Yakuza families. Two dragons will clash. Ryuji Goda insists that there is no room in Japan for two Dragons, and he seeks to prove he is mightier than the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is pretty accessible to beginners, even if you didn’t play Kiwami 1 (but why wouldn’t you? It was wonderful). As you walk with Haruka Sawamura, who Kiryu has all but adopted, you can relive the events of the previous game, who the major players were, and what they meant to Kiryu, much like Yakuza 6 does in the beginning. Then you have the standard fighting tutorial that helps players figure out how the combat works. It’s honestly simple: You have Light Attack, Heavy Attack, Dodge, and Grapple. However there are some changes from Kiwami and 0 to be aware of; specifically, there aren’t stances to switch between. In previous games, you had a few styles: Blue (Standard fighting), Yellow (Wild Swinging Madness), Purple (Rapid, Fist of the North Star strikes) and Red (The “Dragon of Dojima” style). Now you just have your Dragon of Dojima style, and three tabs for weapons. In Kiwami 2, if you pick up a weapon before the fight is over and hit the down arrow, you’ll put it in your inventory. That means you can equip them in your menu on one of those tabs, and swing till it runs out of strikes. That tedious feature remains where you’ll have to repair or replace weapons that run out. I get it though, some of these are ridiculously strong. But if it’s a weapon, you can keep it. It’s also important to note that Komaki will be back at some point in the game to teach you more advanced techniques.
You still have to unlock the unconventional Heat Actions in your Skills List on the Menu, but that leads me to one of the best features of Yakuza Kiwami 2. In past games, you have to go on a wild chase to find the “Trouble Finder” item, which alerts you to nearby Side Missions. That makes them an absolute frustrating chore unless you already have a list of them online (which does exist). Now it’s a matter of a few Purple Exp, and you can see them on the map at all times! Bless you, SEGA, this is the feature I’ve been desperate for. It’s taxing to try and review a game and experience the hilarious and awkward side-missions if you can’t find them! Now you’ll see a text box on your full map with where they’re located at. The blue text boxes are side quests you’re presently on. Speaking of the map, you can also see where the roaming packs of thugs are when they’re nearby, and if you are slow moving, you can avoid them, or if you activate a mission/quest/conversation. But why would you want to do that? Run in and do battle! Another one of the quality-of-life features comes at this point though.
Now if you walk into a shop or building, you don’t have a loading screen and aren’t stuck walking in slow motion. Enemies will chase you into shops and if you wreck up the place with your violent shenanigans (which will happen), they will refuse to do business with you and demand you leave. There are even achievements built around it! One of my favorite achievements is throwing someone through a window of a business (and another for Repeat Offending). Throwing is so much better in this version of the game, and as a side note, it’s very satisfying to hurl Yakuza into a river and hear that lovely, distant splash. Though you gain EXP for fights and missions, the best exp comes from eating at restaurants. Finding the right combos of foods gives bonuses, and the exp can be spent on increasing stats and learning new skills. Just remember you can’t eat but a certain amount before you either have to 1. Wait it out, or 2. Drink Appstim to reduce how full you are. There are also items to help with that digestion that you can equip. Red EXP is Strength, Blue is Agility, Yellow is Vitality, Green is Technique, and Purple is Charisma. Most of these skills are learned simply by spending points, but there are some that are hidden behind missions (RE: reading books/magazines).
There is so much to see in do between the towns of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, which are designed after Tokyo’s Kabukicho and Osaka’s Dotonbori/Shinsekai districts. It even has real buildings/chains/products, which is another Yakuza staple. From Don Quijote to Sushi Zanmai (which I learned about thanks to New Japan Pro Wrestling, shoutouts to Kevin Kelly), there are a bunch of true-to-life depictions in Yakuza as a whole, right down to Club SEGA and the real-life arcade games. In this one, we get one of the Virtua Fighters, Darts, UFO Catchers and my personal favorite, VIRTUAL-ON. That’s one of the mainstays of Yakuza that is not lost on Kiwami 2, the content outside of the main story. Dozens of side-stories, golf swings, trying restaurants, making friends and allies, and perhaps most important out of all of the side missions is the Cabaret. Previously, that was Majima’s gimmick, but now Kiryu finds himself running a Cabaret and participating in the “Cabaret Grand Prix”. It’s the best way to make money and has a really fascinating story to play through. It is very similar to the previous game, where you partner with local facilities, recruit new girls to help run the business, and keep the patrons happy. Grand Cabaret would be an article all on its own, and perhaps that will be an editorial in the future. But trust me, it’s the best way to make cash, and an enjoyable challenge/change of pace.
I’ll avoid talking about the main story, because it’s an experience that must be had first hand, but this war is going to be exciting and worrisome. There’s a new love interest, betrayal, violence, and more secrets than I know what to do with. Kiryu gets himself into the absolute most incredible situations, and though Kiryu wished to have nothing to do with the Yakuza again, it’s up to him to save the Tojo Clan. But things aren’t what they appear to be, and there just might be a third-party threat lurking in the shadows. 2006 is a wild year for Kiryu, and the storytelling is excellent. That’s one of the reasons I love the incredibly wacky side-missions because the main story for Yakuza can be pretty damn dark; it’s a nice palate cleanser. Not to mention that Yakuza Kiwami 2 has a brand new scenario built around Goro Majima to continue the threads that were woven by Yakuza 0. Some of my favorite side-missions: The Potty Mini-Game (Yes, that’s real), Rebuilding Sunshine (the Orphanage Kiryu’s from/helps), In the Name of Art (being roped into weird, erotic photographs), and We’re All In This Together (Helping some students nail an interview for work). This is just a taste of them. There are about 76 substories, each 100% worth playing through.
Kiryu: Why me? 4.5/5 (Great)
Yakuza Kiwami 2 being built on the Dragon Engine was a solid idea. The animations and character designs are even better than they were in Yakuza 6. SEGA’s attention to detail in the world around them is commendable, and one of the things I love is that playing these games makes me feel like I’ve actually been to these areas. They’re more alive than ever before, with traffic, more people wandering around and talking, and instead of people surrounding you for a fight, you aren’t restricted to that tiny space. You can throw people around, decide you aren’t up for a fight and run away, or toss them through a window. Or bash them into a parked car. Combat is smooth and fluid, the soundtrack is fantastic, the localization is sharp. You can even have local people help you in a fight if you allied up with them through missions.
There’s still plenty I haven’t even talked about, like how Clan Creator is back, and instead of New Japan current stars, it features some of the greatest legends in Japanese Wrestling history. The Yakuza franchise is going strong and is one of the only sandbox games that I can stick to until the end. The areas are not big, but like I’ve said before, Yakuza does so much with such a small amount of real-estate. Every single square inch of these towns is worth exploring. The people of Kamurocho and Sotenbori need Kiryu, and he’ll leave it a better place than he found it. Even if you missed out on 0 and Kiwami, this is a terrific place to leap into. The action starts up almost immediately.