There have been four separate Yakuza releases since January last year as Sega has committed to remastering, re-releasing and building the Yakuza series in the West. It’s a decision that seems to have paid off for them so far, with each release receiving positive critical reception and favourable sales.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the latest attempt by Sega to bring the Yakuza series to a Western audience. Set a year after the events of the first game in the series, Yakuza Kiwami 2 follows Kazuma Kiryu as he tries to rebuild the Tojo Clan following the events of the previous year. A sudden death forces Kiryu to return to the clan, who are currently on the verge of war with the rival Omi Clan.
This sets the stage for Kiryu's fast descent back into the ranks of the Tojo Clan after previously promising to himself that he would lead a normal life for the sake of his adopted daughter, Haruka. It doesn’t take long for him to end up back on the streets of Kamurocho and living the life he had previously moved away from.
In typical Yakuza fashion, the story is incredibly deep with multiple story arcs all conversing on one major narrative beat. Fortunately, Sega have included an in-depth recollection of the previous games, giving new players a better understanding of the current state of affairs. I’ve played Yakuza Kiwami - quite recently in fact - but still found this feature incredibly useful. There are also a number of characters that Kiryu will bump into throughout the world, that are often preempted with a quick flashback to explain who they are. It’s clear that Sega understand there is a current influx of new players to the series, so they have taken steps in-game to reduce potential confusion.
One of the biggest additions to Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the seperate story mode that follows Goro Majima and his involvement in the Tojo Clan’s search for a new clan captain. Set two months after the events of the previous title, players meet some new and old faces, as well as gaining some insight into the events that bridge the gap between the two titles.
One of the biggest improvements in Kiwami 2 is the addition of the Dragon Engine. Created by Sega and first showcased in Yakuza 6, the engine offers a jump in visual fidelity over the previous remakes. The densely packed streets of Kamurocho are filled with citizens, shops, lights, vehicles and numerous other assets, all rendered with a crisp finish that makes it feel real.
A number of quality of life improvements have also been made to the game, with a reworked weapon system ranking as one of the most important. Weapon durability has been increased and Kiryu now has the ability to store weapons picked up during a fight. This changes the way a lot of fights play out, with there being a clear emphasis on utilising the weapon system.
Kiwami 2 is graphically impressive with a number of visual upgrades over the previous title, as a result of the Dragon Engine. Character models are incredibly realistic with fantastically modelled hair and skin alongside some of the most impressive eye animations that I’ve ever seen. It’s a visual design decision that adds a lot of weight to the game’s more emotional scenes.There is the occasional frame stuttering on PS4, but it's never enough to take away from the overall experience.
Kamurocho remains the heart and soul of the series, with Kiwami 2 adding even more depth to the world outside of the main story. Kiryu can find countless activities to take part in including baseball, karaoke, drinking, eating, darts, a selection of arcade games and many more. Fans of the Cabaret Club mini game - in which Kiryu manages a dating club - introduced in Yakuza 0 will be happy as that makes a return here.
There are also a number of sub-stories to be found throughout the game. These are most commonly found by exploring the world and finding people in need. Where the main story often takes a very serious tone, the sub-stories can be anything from comical to absurd to even being quite profound at times. I won’t go into the details of individual stories as finding them is incredibly rewarding, but I would encourage everyone to invest their time on the world outside of the narrative.
A mixed bag of a soundtrack provides a solid backing to much of the games action. Expect to hear a lot of jazz fusion and generic rock music as you make your way through the world, as well as the occasional pop song that plays alongside some of the emotionally heavy scenes.
Kiwami 2 isn’t without its problems, with a number of unusual design choices tarnishing what is an otherwise a stellar title. A number of key fights in the game's story mode have frustrating difficulty spikes, especially the fight between Kiryu and Majima in the early chapters. His hard hits and ability to stun-lock Kiryu resulted in my reliance on healing items to get through the fight. There are a few other battles towards the end of the game with similar levels of difficulty if not properly prepared for.
I also found the narrative pacing to be off at times with several key moments being followed with fetch quests or other derivative tasks. This kind of ruins the heightened tension during points of importance, especially when the game has tasked me with “wasting time”.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is another strong entry in the recent library of reworked and translated Yakuza titles. The city of Kamurocho is packed with interesting characters, fun activities and a number of excellent diversions, all backed up by a solid narrative that throws up as many surprises as it does heartwarming moments.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
The city of Kamurocho is packed with interesting characters, fun activities and a number of excellent diversions, all backed up by a solid narrative that throws up as many surprises as it does heartwarming moments.