The Yakuza series is so long in the tooth that if you haven’t played it by now, it’s likely you aren’t interested. Conversely, the release cadence in English-speaking regions has been so convoluted that the player base itself is somewhat fragmented.
There are those that started with Yakuza and Yakuza 2 on the PlayStation 2 and have played all of the games in the series. There are still others — like myself (Me too – Ed.) that started with Yakuza 3 on the PlayStation 3 and are only just getting to finish the whole series now with the release of Yakuza Kiwami 2.
Still, others may have started with Yakuza 0, and moved on to Yakuza Kiwami and now Yakuza Kiwami 2. I thought I’d approach this Yakuza Kiwami 2 review from the perspective of each one of these potential players.
Does this mean that Yakuza Kiwami 2 the place to start?
The simple answer is no. Start with Yakuza 0 instead and work on from there if you enjoy it.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review
The Yakuza series, if you’ve had your head in the sand for the last 12 or so years, tells the story of Kazuma Kiryu. Initially a low-ranking Yakuza badass, he very quickly decides the Yakuza life is not the way for him and he moves on.
Although, he’s not out before getting to the top of the hierarchy, no less. Unfortunately for Kiryu, the Yakuza life won’t let him escape. The story plays out over now seven distinct and lengthy tales. Yakuza Kiwami 2 covers an emerging war between fictional Kamurocho’s Tojo Clan (based on Tokyo’s Kabukicho district) and Sotenbori’s Omi Alliance (based on Osaka’s Dotonbori).
Starting your Yakuza experience with Yakuza Kiwami 2 won’t be a huge issue if you choose that. It provides a detailed retrospective by way of a flashback which can be viewed entirely at the player’s discretion.
It goes for about 15 minutes and covers all of the events that play out in Yakuza (Kiwami). Gameplay from that point on involves running about town, performing errands and fighting bad guys.
Between these errands, there are plenty of comedic side quests and mini-games. They range from a fully emulated version of Virtua-On and Virtua Fighter through to Golf and Darts, among many others. There is even a urinal-based mini-game game called Toylets.
Further, there are money-making ventures such as running a Cabaret club or dabbling in real estate. Clearly, there’s no shortage of activities.
Become the Dragon
I’d suggest there are two reasons to play a Yakuza game. On the one hand, you’re looking for a fun third-person beat-em-up, which Yakuza delivers in spades. Fighting mechanics are simple to learn, and complex if you choose to master them. I do tend to find that I relax into a series of habitual attacks though.
Fights award different kinds of XP, which can be applied to level up stats or unlock abilities. While the battles tend to get easier as the game progresses, with the exception of tough boss battles, they never cease being fun, which is important.
It must be noted that the multiple fighting styles introduced in Yakuza Kiwami do not return in Yakuza Kiwami 2.
The second reason to play is the story.
The developers are expert storytellers and every game in the series is equal parts melodrama, comedy, and batshit insanity. That said, the content is handled with so much attention to detail that everything from the voice acting, to the lighting, all the way through to the cinematography itself is absolutely top-notch.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is heavy on cutscenes, but I always tend to find myself completely engrossed. You don’t need to be a card-carrying Weeaboo either, but it helps.
For those that have played Yakuza 2 on PlayStation 2, there are a few good reasons to play through the story again. At 13 or so hours, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is somewhat shorter than other titles in the series but no less impactful.
Converting Horsepower to Dragonpower
Along with the original story, which has been recrafted, and is delivered using the Dragon game engine that was developed for Yakuza 6, Yakuza Kiwami 2 includes a brand new story mode focused on another favourite character in the series, Goro Majima.
It’s a short story, running only three chapters at an hour or so in total. Majima’s story does bridge the gap between Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2, all the while being entertaining. This is a bug help for new fans.
You CAN play this alongside the main story, so don’t do what I did and leave it until you’ve finished the core storyline.
The Dragon engine itself provides reason enough to replay Yakuza Kiwami 2. For one thing, it looks GLORIOUS and enables an almost seamless transition between exploration and battle and when entering buildings.
The voice acting has also been re-recorded. Restaurants, convenience stores, offices, and even the streets themselves all look true to life. As always, Yakuza Kiwami 2 immerses players in an environment that’s as close to actually being in Japan without actually being there.
Overall, the game looks, sounds, and plays better and there’s just more to do. Experienced players will see a number of quality of life changes as well. This includes little things like better tutorials and weapon management, through the ability to save at any time through the menu. So long phone booths.
All of this results in a more enjoyable game that streamlines and improves on what was already a satisfactory experience.
You can the Dragon out of the Yakuza…
For those like me that started with Yakuza 3, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is virtually a must play. Having worked my way through 4, 5, 0, Kiwami and lastly Yakuza 6 earlier this year, Kiwami 2 adds some extra flavour and context.
In truth, the stories in Yakuza and 2 set the stage for what plays out in the rest of the series. I’ve always felt like something was missing when I played through the other games in the series. Now, having played through Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2, I have all the answers I needed.
Honestly, though, that’s the main reason to play. By now, you’ll have seen all the mini-games and played all the separate ventures. It’s the story that’s what makes it worth replaying through all of this.
Lastly, for those that started with Yakuza 0? This is the best it’s likely to get, for now at least. The story continues, there are some interesting new additions and the game engine plays as smooth as silk.
It goes slightly downhill from here as you can only play 3, 4, and 5 on PlayStation 3. I’m hopeful that these are also ported to PS4. The experience in those older titles is not as fully featured as Yakuza Kiwami 2, with the exception of Yakuza 5. That game is packed to the brim with content).
The stories, though, are worthwhile. If you have access to a PS3, I recommend you continue.
*Dramatically removes shirt*
Regardless of where you come from, the Yakuza series is wonderful, but it’s not perfect. The camera often gets in the way, which is the biggest issue when fighting in a smaller environment. The story itself (particularly in the side quests) often gets a little carried away.
You might find yourself skipping through what feels like endless amounts of superfluous discussion. Some side quests activate during tense periods of the game too, breaking the immersion. Certain boss battles frustrate with cheap attacks and restarts, particularly the very final battle. It concludes with a quick-time event that will result in total failure and a complete restart if you make a simple error.
Times have certainly changed since Yakuza 2 was released.
Nothing is perfect.
I don’t think anyone expects anything to be, for the most part. Even the Yakuza series itself takes pride in its imperfections and provides a narrative structure based on the instability of human nature, all the while wrapped in deliciously ridiculous fiction.
In fact, you may be surprised at the emotions that the stories may arouse within.
Part of me is sad that the Yakuza storyline is now officially told in full. Although, Yakuza 6 is, of course, the conclusion of the actual storyline.
Another part of me is glad to have been able to experience it. Farewell, Kazuma Kiryu – hopefully the Ryu-ga Gotoku team has more in store for fans in future!
Yakuza Kiwami 2 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by SEGA.
Game Title: Yakuza Kiwami 2
The Dragon Engine makes it shine - 9.1/10
QTE causing total failure - 5/10
The COMPLETE Yakuza 2 experience - 8.6/10
Another go 'round with Kiryu - 9.4/10