Kazuma Kiryu has seen quite a bit of exposure over the last couple of years. Recently, we’ve seen the end of his story with the release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. It’s honestly safe to say that this franchise has been experiencing a bit of a resurgence thanks to these solid remakes making their way stateside. Thankfully, the sales of this series have been consistent enough to warrant constant localization of these games. Based on prior reviews by myself and our super-reviewer FireMarth, it’s safe to say there’s a reason that this franchise is carving out a faithful foothold for itself.
Now, new fans who were itching to get their hands on a modern release of Yakuza 2 finally get their chance to continue where they left off in Kiwami. Developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios and published by Sega, Yakuza Kiwami 2 comes to the PlayStation 4 as a console exclusive available at a $59.99 price point from its release date of August 28, 2018.
We open to a cutscene that precedes main plot of the game, but is related to it. A murder scene is discovered by a cop called to the scene. Eventually he discovers a man who is dying, who begs him to rescue his wife and child who are in a burning room. Despite the wife’s desire to jump out of the burning room, the cop convinces her and her child to come with him.
Fast forward to 2006, one year after the 10 Million Yen Incident from Yakuza/Yakuza Kiwami. Kazuma Kiryu is just trying to live a quiet life with his ward Haruka Sawamura. After trying to pay his respects to a number of characters, Yukio Terada of the Omi Alliance asks for his help. Unsurprisingly, the group is attacked and Terada doesn’t make it. Kiryu is quickly summoned to Tojo Clan headquarters and tasked by the acting chairman to head over to Kansai and help prevent an all out war with the Omi Alliance. This is what the meat of the plot largely centers around. There are some other plot points here, but half the fun of a Yakuza plot is watching it all unfold. Eventually you encounter Ryuji Goda of the Go-Ryu Clan, also known as the “Dragon of Kansai.” Goda’s clan might be affiliated with the Omi Alliance, but they’re basically a set of rogue actors intending on being the wrench in the works of both groups.
Eventually, Kiryu will end up teaming up with investigative cop Kaoru Sayama (nicknamed “Yakuza Huntress”) for a large part of the game. She’s definitely part of the plot here, and her hard-nosed attitude and determination for searching for the truth over a number of plot threads is pretty entertaining. I will say that the chemistry between Kiryu and Kaoru is something that I enjoyed as I played through. Both of them play off of each other quite well, and certain interactions between them are honestly kind of endearing to a point.
If the plot sounds typical for a Yakuza game, you’d be correct. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there is a bit of a formula, but you’ll feel right at home with many of the story beats if you’ve played through 0 and Kiwami. I don’t say that as a detriment, though. Throughout the main story, you’ll be treated to well-written and tense performances dashed with just the right amount of melodrama to keep things interesting. Most of these moments are told through lengthy franchise-standard cutscenes that you can thankfully skip when you want. There are instances where you’ll run into meandering points of the plot, but the story told here is decently paced and entertaining to watch. Thankfully, we’re not distracted by any obnoxious music or out of place sound effects. Tense music helps accent the action on screen in a decent way, and isn’t presented in a way that would pull you away from the plot. Voice acting here is exclusively in Japanese, but the acting is solid and delivered properly.
Substories are also entertaining here, and you’ll be running into quite a few of them as you play. Like other Yakuza titles, these stories don’t add anything to the main plot but are entertaining in their own right. Sometimes you’ll run into cute, endearing ones. Other times you’ll run into substories that are so ridiculous that you’ll keel over laughing. You’ll find these in the streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori by simply walking around both of these areas. For me, I found the reveal of one such substory to be so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but laugh for a good few minutes. Most of these are worth your time, so don’t ignore them.
Fans of everyone’s favorite Mad Dog will be happy to know that there’s a short two hour campaign called “Majima Saga.” This is mainly meant to serve as a way to tie together plot threads from prior games, but any excuse to play Majima in any capacity is always a good thing for me. You won’t be able to access the story in full until you progress through a fair amount of the main story, but it’s best to just play his campaign in one go since it’s so short. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that certain plot elements will hold more weight for you if you’ve played titles that precede this one in the timeline to get any significant satisfaction out of it. How everything plays out is a sight to see, but the last time we were able to play as Majima showed him to be way more buttoned down than he is here. But it’s a hoot, that’s for sure.
Constructing a Crisis
Instead of using the engine seen in Kiwami, Ryu Ga Gotoku decided to use the Dragon Engine that was used in Yakuza 6. For those who would be coming straight from Kiwami, this will be a bit of an adjustment. First of all, you’ll find that the multiple fighting styles are completely absent here. Instead, you’re stuck with a single fighting style with the ability to expand those skills through the experience points you gain as you play. While it is somewhat robust, I still pine for being able to change fighting styles on the fly in the thick of battle. This also means combat can get repetitive sometimes.
Since I found this to be a disappointment in Yakuza 6, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they added a feature to pick up and stow away blunt or piercing objects found on the battlefield. How much you’ll use it depends on your own play style, but the ability to pull out a crowbar or sword you grabbed from a random mook earlier is a nice thing to have when you want to lay waste in a haste. The gorgeous visuals and seamless transition that originated from Yakuza 6 also make the transition largely unchanged. Fighting random punks on the street stays consistent with this title, while retaining the Dragon Engine’s way of doing things. However, you can take on a street boss in certain circumstances if you take out the trash enough times.
You’ll find that the EXP system from Yakuza 6 also makes a return here, and it functions in the same way it does in that game. Expanding your skillset will require you to keep an eye on the categories they present here, and careful planning is key to an even experience. You will gain experience points through completing battles in the main plot and substories, but you’ll also want to keep an eye on Kiryu’s stomach to also maximize what points you scrounge up. There are plenty of restaurants and vending machines scattered around Kamurocho and Sotenbori for you to sample the various fare each city has to offer, and each food consumable will offer different areas of places to expand your experience points. While you can just get by on recovering health by purchasing recovery items, running around and pounding burgers, wings, and traditional Japanese fare is also a good way to recover health.
Kiwami 2 also features distractions that appeared in games released prior to it. Batting cages, indoor driving ranges, gambling, mahjong, and shogi are just a smattering of the things you can do within both of the cities. Sometimes you’ll end up unlocking substories by simply playing these side games. You’ll also be able to stroll into Club SEGA locations and play some Virtua Fighter 2 (though the omission of Virtua Fighter 4 here is puzzling considering it’s 2006 in this game) and try your hand at crane games. Most everything here is relatively accessible and fun to play. Naturally, you’ll be able to access more multiplayer-centric distractions straight from the main menu if that’s your thing.
The most well thought out distraction here though is the return of the Clan Creator and Cabaret Club (now with a Grand Prix!). With Clan Creator, you’ll once again assume the role of shot caller and use minions of different traits to defend the equipment and materials of Majima Construction. Yeah, it’s going to be that kind of silly. Using effective strategy and execution here is key and actually pretty fun, probably due to the fact that you’re helping defend your best bud’s assets. In classic Majima fashion, you’re treated to a goofy victory anthem that is 100% Majima silliness. I love it.
Cabaret Club is the distraction that I found myself sinking way too much time into, mainly due to how much in game money you can make. In this mode, Kiryu is implored by the staff of the fledgling Four Shine to pull themselves out of financial ruin and give their evil cabaret competitor what for. How this works is that you need to assemble a staff of host girls to keep patrons company and encourage them to spend as much money as possible. You’ll also get the chance to dress up your Platinum Hostesses in a pretty robust selection of dresses and the like. Making fat cash is how you’ll advance in the Grand Prix, so being on your ‘A’ game each round is absolutely essential.
Not only that, but you’ll need to gain a fanbase by partnering with businesses throughout the city. You’ll have to perform the balancing act of not only satisfying your patrons’ wants and needs, but play customer service and manage your staff effectively to maximize your profits during operating hours. Some of this sounds somewhat dry on paper, but it’s way more compelling in execution. You’ll be able to unleash a Fever state once you cross a certain threshold to make more cash, but managing your club efficiently is key to success. This is where the crux of the Grand Prix comes into play. You’ll climb through the ranks in a multitude of cabaret leagues to face that league’s champ in a one on one battle (Did I mention that there’s a play-by-play commentator? No?). Upon defeating your rival in each league, you’ll gain a new Platinum Hostess with stats that fit their personality. Honestly, this game could very well be a digital game all on its own. It kind of grips you in a way certain mobile games do, and having to manage everything is surprisingly fun.
Honestly, the more Yakuza titles that I play, the more I am impressed with the consistent level of quality seen with these games. In a way, firing up Kiwami 2 feels a lot like sitting down in your favorite chair. It’s familiar, it comfortable, and it’s sturdy. If I had to describe this game to people who might have played the other games available on PS4, my go-to explanation is to take the base of Yakuza 2 and the engine/features of Yakuza 6 and blend them together to get this revamp.
For those who were worried that they might get an underwhelming revamp in Kiwami 2, I can safely say that their fears can be eased for this solid re-entry in the franchise. The plot is fun and engaging, the multitude of distractions are a step up from its release predecessor, and Kazuma Kiryu’s steel resolve and Steve Rodgers-esque disposition makes for yet another fun romp through the seedy underworld we’ve come to know and love yet again.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sega for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.