It’s easy to see how a game like Yakuza 2 was well ahead of it’s time when it released on the PS2 almost ten years ago. But can a new graphics engine and a few more bells and whistles make Yakuza Kiwami 2 a relevant title in the year 2018?
Welcome To The Family
Yakuza Kiwami 2 picks up one year after the events of Yakuza Kiwami. Our protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has escaped his past life of gang violence and family feuds to live in solitude with his adopted daughter Haruka. However, when the newest leader of the Tojo Clan is assassinated, Kazuma is dragged back into the Yakuza in order to find a new leader for the clan and prevent an all-out gang war.
One of the best features of Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s story mode is that from the beginning you are treated with an in-game option to recap the story of Yakuza Kiwami. This is more than your average re-cap, as it is completely narrated with an in-depth retelling of the first games most important events. So much so that there are even breaks in between segments that ask if you want to continue.
This is extremely helpful for those who haven’t played Yakuza Kiwami. It does such a good job of catching the player up to speed that it even eliminates the need for players to go back and play the first game if they haven’t already. Meaning that newcomers to the series can start with Yakuza Kiwami 2 and not feel like they are missing out.
This is important because the Yakuza series is very narrative driven. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is no exception to that rule either. The story has its fair share of compelling moments that make it hard to believe that the game came out in 2008. There were very few stories in video games as dramatic and compelling as this in that era of gaming. It’s also very telling that many of the game’s story elements hold up by today’s standards as well.
Tales of betrayal and redemption help make Yakuza‘s cast of characters feel so relatable. Kazuma is a fighter with a heart of gold who has a tendency to get caught up in the wrong situations. He’s always so willing to help those in need that it makes it hard not to cheer for him throughout the campaign.
To balance the scales, Ryuji Goda is the ultimate villain that you love to hate. Every time he appears on screen it’s menacing and helps create the feeling that there is a real threat for Kazuma. Sadly Ryuji does not appear in the game as often as he should. Instead, many other clan leaders and mob bosses are given screen time in order for Kazuma to have another enemy to fight. But in the back of your mind, you will always be waiting for the next time Ryuji rears his head into frame.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is very proud of the story it has to tell and for that reason, you will be sitting through a lot of lengthy cutscenes. The good news is that very few of these feel like filler and ultimately help project the story forward. The only major problem with the story is its clunky conclusion.
By the games end, it began to feel more like a cheesy soap opera than a well thought out plot. This led to a couple of unintentionally comedic moments that were overly dramatic. Overall though, the story was able to deliver something worth telling.
All Fighting And No Play Makes Kazuma A Dull Boy
The first time you pick up a bike and take out an entire mob of delinquents you feel badass. The hundredth time you do it, however, starts to become pretty tiring. That’s because the combat system is unfortunately pretty bland and repetitive. It is a lot more responsive and fluid than that of the overcomplicated combat of Yakuza Kiwami. That is because Sega decided to get rid of the option to switch fighting styles for Kazuma and instead stick to one streamlined combat system.
Here you will find yourself cycling through a combination of kicks and punches mixed in with a few blocks and sidesteps for good measure. Landing combos and charged attacks will fill up the Heat Meter which can be dissolved to pull off some violent finishing moves.
On the surface, there is nothing that is inherently wrong with the combat because it is functional. After spending more time beating down rivals in the streets of Sontenberi, you will begin to notice its flaws. For one, the blocking and sidestepping mechanics are not the most reliable, as blocking only blocks the attacks that are forward facing and sidestepping more often than not can just land you into the range of another attacking foe.
This feels pretty primitive when compared to games like Arkham City or Sleeping Dogs where maneuvering between enemies and counter-attacking feels so effortless. Another problem that plagues Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s combat is that many enemies can be taken down by spamming combos. So much so that they may only get a few hits on you compared to the flurry of attacks you unleash on them.
That’s not to say that the game is easy, but the combat feels dated and leaves much to be desired, especially when considering that more than 90 percent of the story missions’ gameplay relies on that very mechanic. This means that story missions get very repetitive and lack any sort of variety. Especially when considering that besides appearance almost all enemies are fought the same way and do not require any real struggle to overcome.
Where the combat does shine is the one on one boss battles. Here the fighting feels more akin to Tekken and other 3D fighting games. Blocking is key and charging attacks at the right time during a block can lead to a satisfying combo on a boss that feels strategic and earned. Bosses will also put the hurt on you after unleashing their final form, glowing red with fury. During these encounters, the gameplay requires you to think on your toes. It’s a shame that more enemy encounters couldn’t have had this same level of excitement.
While the story requires you to put the beat down on street thugs, it’s the side quests and minigames that really stood out for me in Yakuza Kiwami 2. Taking leisurely strolls in the city’s small, but bustling open areas always lead to a new adventure that was just as strange as it was entertaining.
One sidequest had me testing my voice acting skills for an upcoming dating sim game, while another had me picking poses for a ridiculous photo shoot. These moments are bizarre, but the dialogue and character interactions often lead to some laugh out loud moments that felt well worth the time I invested in them.
Minigames are scattered throughout the city and can be enjoyed during any of the calmer moments between story missions. They can range from something as small as visiting the arcade and playing crane machines and darts, to a fully fleshed out club managing simulator that feels like a more risque Diner Dash.
Of course, not all of the mini-games are great. The karaoke is a very primitive version of a rhythm game that feels more like something you’d find for free on mobile, and the cringy flirting photo game feels a bit too pervy to be the slightest bit enjoyable. But highlights like the golf challenges and classic Sega arcade machines for Virtua Fighter and Virtual On are very good distractions from the games main story.
Speaking of the games main story, playing and completing chapters of Kazuma’s quest will eventually open up a new side story starring Majima, the loveable and comedic Yakuza favorite. This fleshes out some of the grey areas between Kiwami 1 and 2 and offers plenty of more content to keep players enjoying the streets of Sontebori.
The Dragon In The Details
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a re-creation of Yakuza 2 and not a straight port. This is important to realize as the game has several texture problems that would lead to convincing you otherwise. Cutscenes that feature close-ups on faces during dialogue look very good, giving plenty of detail, but clothing looks stiff and cars often look quite boxy in shape.
You can certainly tell that some cutscenes were given more care than others in the graphics department. There are a few moments that really look gorgeous while others are left looking dated.
Luckily, the redubbing of the voice acting during cutscenes is fantastic and really gives the characters a sense of life. Many times during long monologues given by characters, it’s easy to forget you are playing a game and not watching a film. However, it’s disappointing that many filler scenes and side quests leave characters voiceless, speaking in text boxes instead. This really dilutes the immersion that the campaign gives the player. Even though the written dialogue is often clever, the lack of voice acting does leave some of the personality of the NPC’s to be desired.
The menus and mini-map are really easy to navigate. Never once did I feel lost not knowing where to go next. Likewise, the upgrade system and inventory can quickly be accessed at any time, even during battles. A real surprise to me was some of the game’s music. Not every song was worth repeating, but I can still catch myself humming some of the games battle music tracks that featured a smoothy jazzy feel.
The Times Are Changing
Overall Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a very conflicting title. The narrative is surprisingly deep for a game that came from the PS2 era. But unfortunately, most of the game’s entertaining moments come from side quests and mini-games and not the dated combat system which takes up a major portion of the gameplay.
There is certainly fun to be had in Yakuza Kiwami 2, but many of the game’s underlying problems keep you from having as much fun as you’d like. When the game shows it’s age in the graphics and gameplay department, it’s harder to enjoy the elements that make the game more interesting.
Title: Yakuza Kiwami 2
Release Date: August 28, 2018 (NA / EU)
Price: $49.99 / £44.99
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: PlayStation 4