Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2
After a massive explosion has rocked the HQ of my yakuza family, I'm in a panic. Despite the fact that I've tried to make a legitimate life for myself after a life of crime, I know I have to return. I have to find out who did this. I have to find them, and make them pay.
But first, I need to get the last remaining stuffed cat from the UFO crane machine.
Such is the legacy of the often-strange, often-exciting open world of Sega's Yakuza: a series that has lasted for thirteen years, spawning countless games, spin-offs, and remasters in the process. It's a series that hops between the ultra-serious and the cartoonishly silly, with some of the most entertaining ludonarrative dissonance you can find in a game.
But where can one even begin? Unlike similar open world experiences like Grand Theft Auto, Yakuza tells an ever-expanding story with dozens of characters and a veritable labyrinth of twists, turns, and betrayals.
Yakuza Kiwami to the rescue!
A remastered and retooled version of the first Yakuza game published in 2005, Yakuza Kiwami was the ideal situation for players who were interested in the series, but had no idea what was going on by the time they got to it. And its sequel, Yakuza Kiwami 2, continues that tradition with a fully remastered edition of Yakuza 2.
And it is glorious.
Not only is Yakuza Kiwami 2 another terrific step into the kaleidoscopic storylines and lore that have surrounded this franchises for years, it is recreated in a way that adds more of the details and minutia that have garnered it so much praise.
You play as the stoic Kazuma Kiryu as he attempts (unsuccessfully) to normalize his life and leave his yakuza roots behind him. It isn't long until you're forced into conflict with a rival clan: an all-out war between East and West Japan looming on the horizon.
Set in two Japanese cities, Kiwami 2 feels a little small compared to what we've grown to recognize and understand an open world game to be. But where some open world games are known for a loneliness that comes along with their enormity, Kiwami 2 values quality over quantity. The venues may not have changed very often, but there was never a lack for something entertaining to do. Whether it's helping a street busker with his song-ruining cold, or teaching a group of creepy photographers about the value of consent, Kiryu is in a perpetual state of tidying up the communities that surround him in ways that are funny, heartfelt, and sometimes truly bizarre.
In addition to the people that find you, there are a number of diversions for you to find. From darts to Virtua Fighter to the aforementioned crane game, you can spend hours perfecting your golf swing when you ought to be defeating the Omi family.
If the side quests were my favorite aspect of Yakuza Kiwami 2 (and they were), then the combat has to be my next favorite. Even when you're not hunting down thugs and assassins personally, you will be constantly in a state of one scrap or another. A mere half minute on the streets of Kamurocho or Sotenbori will present you with plenty of thugs and street toughs who've all got something to prove. And I might have found that annoying if the combat system wasn't so satisfying.
Every punch or kick you throw at an enemy slams into them. Adding weapons to the mix is fun, but not always necessary, as the Heat meter and experience upgrade system are always adding plenty of ways for you to feel like a legend on the mean streets of Japan. Boss fights pose an extra challenge for you as you get to know their style throughout the fight, and eventually take them down with brilliantly-executed cinematic finishers.
The newly-engineered visuals for Yakuza Kiwami 2 are beautiful, from the subtle face movements to the glittering lights of the cityscapes that surround you. This is particularly important during Kiwami's many cutscenes. It might sound obvious to say, but the difference between the graphical style of 2018's Yakuza Kiwami 2 and the original Yakuza 2 (released in the States a decade ago) is massive. The changes Sega has made are truly gorgeous.
If I had anything negative to say about Yakuza Kiwami 2, it would probably be centered around the main storyline. The ultra-serious story that is being told often clashes terribly with the funny, sometimes surprisingly cutesy side missions that I found myself perpetually on. Perhaps that's why so many of the main plot's cutscenes felt like they went on forever. Thankfully, if you're not interested in the warring relations between the Tojo and Omi clans, you can just skip through them and get back to working on your karaoke skills.
The yakuza series continues to impress, all these years later. Whether you're new to the series and want to learn more about the strange trials and tribulations of Kazuma Kiryu, or you just want another big world to explore and sink your teeth into, Yakuza Kiwami 2 has something that everyone can get behind.
You can buy Yakuza Kiwami 2 on Amazon for $49.99.
[Note: The developer provided the copy of Yakuza Kiwami 2 used for this review.]