As someone who came to the Yakuza series very late as a result of the excellent remaster remakes of Yakuza Zero and the first Kiwami, this has been a gaming experience really like no other for me as I continue to discover its charms and magnificence. Earlier this year my GOTY contenders were all knocked out as I reviewed Yakuza 6: Song of Life and it is still high on the list next to God of War, Ni No Kuni 2 and MARVEL’s Spider-Man as PlayStation 4 game of the year. I have been so hungry to feed on as much Yakuza games and story as possible so it was with legitimate excitement to finally get to play Kiwami 2.
It is strange having played the possible end of this series with Yakuza 6 and knowing where the story may end for Kiryu but thanks to these remakes coming to the west, it is a real joy to experience the early chapters in his life and see all the memories and events that lead to that end. Kiwami 2 picks up one year after the events of the first Kiwami games as Kiryu is now full guardian to Haruka and has walked away from his Yakuza life in the Tojo Clan. Fair to say that the game starts with Kiryu and Haruka in a rather happy place.
But as the Yakuza series so often does, that happiness is cut short as Yakuza politics and drama following the assassination of the Tojo Clan’s Fifth Chairman, Yukio Terada at the very feet of Kiryu as he and Haruka were paying respects at a cemetery. Terada’s final act was to ask Kiryu to step in to try and avoid a Yakuza Clan war despite of this assassination which forces Kiryu to return to the city of Kamurocho. But things are never as black and white as it first seems and as always with the Yakuza there are many twists and turns as this story unfolds putting Kiryu once again in the middle of everything.
The twenty-five hours it took to complete the main story just shows yet again how much the Yakuza games have to offer and that time still left plenty of sub stories and side content to still do. The strength in the writing of the story and characters is the foundation as to why these games continue to amaze and impress me. The drama along with each twist will just carry players through the story itching to see what happens next and despite the fact that all the dialogue is still in its native Japanese with English subtitles, none of the emotion of the story is lost as the voice acting along with the visuals, convey every scene and moment in the story in a completely captivating performance. On the visuals side Kiwami 2 using the same Dragon engine as Yakuza 6 but for me, this actually looks better with impressive character models and tremendous cinematic cutscenes throughout the main campaign and sub stories. In a year of such impressive PS4 titles like God of War and Spider-Man, the Yakuza titles this year are right up there at the top of besting looking games of 2018 for me.
As great as the main story is, the sub stories still serve as the side content to the game which allow for pause from all the action of the main and offers some very interesting tasks for Kiryu to undertake. The freedom to just explore Kamurocho and other locations in the game in between main story missions is a real joy, not to mention all the side activities such as visiting the SEGA Centre to play retro SEGA games or doing some Karaoke. One thing I will say about some of the Sub Stories is that they are rather grown up in terms of the subject and tone of the story with some ranging from simply helping strangers when you can to some very saucy and at times kinky stories of a sexual nature. These felt very strange but they reflect the Japanese culture and are fully optional with the ability to back out of completing that sub story altogether if you choose. With a main story that can get rather dark at times, the sub stories do offer some light relief from the heavy story driven main campaign missions. I did feel uncomfortable with some of them, but the writing for the quite grown up ones does tend to make it sillier by the conclusion and the majority are just fun and a great way to earn extra XP to help Kiryu level up his stats and skills.
A fun surprise was discovering that there is also a full side campaign for Majima with three chapters unlock via Kiryu’s main story progress. The Majima Saga serves as a prequel of sorts which allows the player to experience how and why Majima came to leave the Tojo Clan by playing through the events that lead up to where Kiryu finds him in Kiwami 2. This is purely fan service content really as Majima is a real fan favourite but the fact it is included is yet another example of the level of detail put into these remakes to honour but to also enhance the original experience. By playing Majima’s Saga you can also donate money for Kiryu to use in the main game so it is well worth playing through one the chapters unlock and accessed via the game’s main menu.
The levelling system is taken right from Yakuza 6 and it still works amazing well and easy to understand with XP rewards for every action and objective you complete used to upgrade Kiryu’s stats such as health and heat bar as well as improving attack and defence stats. New fighting moves and combinations can also be unlocked including some incredible finishing moves for when Kiryu has his heat at maximum. The further you increase his stats the more unlocks become available which allows for a very rewarding and balanced increase in Kiryu’s abilities as you move further through the campaign so you can feel in the combat just how much you are improving him.
The combat is still perhaps my favourite aspect to the game next to the writing and it is a joy just to bring Yakuza justice to the scum and villainy of the city. It is really just so easy to pick up but at the same time deep enough to put combos together especially when you unlock the finishing moves for the various weapons you can use in combat as well. Everything is fluid and smooth about the combat and you will literally have that badass feeling whenever you take care of a group of enemies. But the real power of combat has to come in when you tackle the boss fights throughout the campaign which are so truly cinematic it just becomes a real thrill and challenge each time. Some fights can feel a little cheap so a great tip is to make sure you are fully stocked up on medical drugs and boosters as well as food in order to quickly top up your health in these fights.
Only real complaints about this game will come in the camera, especially in combat when all you can do is reset the camera position rather than keeping it locked on to a target and sometimes the weapon damage can feel more of a nuisance than a threat but can interrupt a nice combo when the sheer number of enemies can overwhelm you. But really, I just had so much fun experiencing more Yakuza series and the quality of each remake that comes across to the west just makes me regret only discovering this series this late in my gamer life.
The Yakuza series is well worth your attention if you like a strong and engaging story and rich action adventure title. Kiwami 2 absolutely shows all the strengths of this series and is yet again a fantastic example of how you take old games and remake them the right way for a new audience to find and original fans to cherish even more now. If you are worried about jumping into the series with Kiwami 2 don’t be, as with previous titles recently released, the game has a great catch up to bring players up to speed with all the events that lead up to this point in the series and after you do play this, both Yakuza Zero and Kiwami can be picked up dirt cheap not to mention my own top runner for GOTY in Yakuza 6: Song of Life.
The Yakuza games have yet to disappoint me and the polish and quality of the remakes in Kiwami and now Kiwami 2 just make getting this series an absolute no brainer. I am intrigued and fascinated by the adventures of Kiryu with a life story told by an amazing collection of games that have yet to disappoint.
I cannot recommend a better time to pick up these games and Kiwami 2 only has me wanting more of the series to be remade and released for me to play. It has quickly become one of the top game series to experience and if you own a PS4, this is a collection worthy of your time and investment.