Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2 – Not even Majima saw this one coming

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Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the second remastering in the Yakuza franchise, allowing for a highly upgraded version of the game that is more visually, audibly, and even more enjoyable than ever before. With all of its classic elements and new implementations put into place, we now have a reason to enjoy Yakuza 2 in its ultimate and more definitive edition with its latest release.


Pros:
+The graphical upgrade is a delight to be seen and offers eye candy to fans both new and old to enjoy.
+The sound design remains flawless, giving fans a chance to enjoy a series unlike anything they’d experienced before
+Yakuza Kiwami 2’s combat systems and the saving system makes the game a little less hassle free and quite enjoyable

Cons:
-For newcomers, the massive world will be overwhelming and – at times – hard to take in at first


Over the past few years, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with the Yakuza franchise, a series I’d somehow managed to bypass in previous years. Since 2015, I’ve become a fan of the franchise, one that’s steadily growing into a much bigger place than what it had been when the series established itself in the West back on the PlayStation 2 nearly 13 years ago this year.

Now, here we are, seeing the franchise seeing a rebirthing of sorts, one that involves bringing a new generation of fans into the lives of Goro Majima, Kiryu Kazuma, and the families they will encounter over the span of the franchise. With a remastering of the second installment in the franchise by the name of Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Kiwami meaning Ultimate or Extreme in Japanese).

Using the engine from Yakuza 6, there seems to be a lot of potential for one such game and because of it, this means new graphics, new gameplay elements, better animations and a more responsive combat system that feels fluid-like and quite enjoyable. With extremely improved graphics and mechanics, it seems that Yakuza Kiwami 2 isn’t just an attempt to cash-in on nostalgia, but rather, improve upon those past experiences while offering something entirely new compared to that of before.

Since I didn’t get the chance to dive in on the PlayStation 2 versions of the games as I would have anticipated, I am not sure what to expect until the release of Yakuza Kiwami had hit the shelves. Now with Yakuza Kiwami 2, I’ve had a chance to explore a richer, more lived-in world that has plenty to offer compared to the limitations of its original version of the game.

With Kiryu and his friends making another debut on the PlayStation 4, we now have a chance to see Kiryu bring his street fights, family-to-family battles, and heartfelt moments on a bigger screen and more realistic look than ever before. But how do you review a game that’s a 12-year-old title that just received a major systematic overhaul? Well, you go back and play the original side-by-side with the brand new version of course. Since this is going to be a review of how the game has improved, you have to discuss the drastic changes that have been made and how much the game has been improved. So let’s get down to that.

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The streets of Kamurocho and major cities (avoiding spoilers) have received a massive upgrade all around

When it comes to upgrading a game, you have to wonder just how far SEGA will go to offer a full-on remastered experience. As seen with Yakuza Kiwami, SEGA isn’t holding back by any means when it comes to the remastering of Yakuza 2. Character models, voice files, landscaping, all of them have received massive overhauls from the days of the PlayStation 2. To put it bluntly, Yakuza 2 is back with a brand new bag.

If anything, you can thank Yakuza 6‘s engine for this overhaul. SEGA has taken full advantage of their latest engine, giving Yakuza Kiwami 2 an entire makeover. The character models are almost as realistic as you can imagine, granted Kiryu still walks around as if he’s got a pole strapped to his back.

But that small gripe aside, this game is a visual masterpiece. Reflections in water puddles are a satisfying ordeal as they bring the city to life next to when it’s raining throughout the game. The rain adds a small gloss to the world, giving it a pristine, lived-in feel, which is a welcome change from most modern games.

To put it bluntly, everything is immaculate. There’s not a single detail that feels as if it was just lightly skimmed over and placed into the game in hopes players wouldn’t notice. Even while fighting, it’s noticeable that fights wear Kiryu down, you can see it in both how his character model reacts to each blow he takes. They wear on him, wear him down, and leave him reacting in various ways from faint limps to holding his side once his health hits certain reduced levels.

While this reaction was in the older games, it’s here and it’s more pronounced than it was before. But what about things such as audio fidelity and performance? Let’s talk about this next.

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Is that a radio I hear and the city streets filled with life?

One of the most important things about the Yakuza franchise is how busy, how lively the city streets of Kamurocho actually are and how realistic they’ve been designed to be. With this form of liveliness and replication of the bustling streets and shops of cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, or even Fukuoka, Yakuza Kiwami 2 brings the beauty of Japanese life to… Well. Life.

Outside of just the admiration for townsfolk walking up and down the streets, sitting inside the cafes and populating various places where side games and mini-games exist, there’s, even more, to admire about this game. Its depiction of Japanese culture isn’t something to just shake your head at, it’s an admirable feat that’s brought to life through the flashy billboards on the sides of buildings, various fliers hanging over buildings, and even the way random characters interact with Kiryu and the cast.

The code of honor lives through and through with many of the crime families in the game. Whether it’s their attempt to unify the families or see them crumble, how they conduct their business is by the honor of their name, in honor of their families, and ultimately – the honor and code of the society in which they are apart of. However, this does come with a double-edged sword. To some, it’s odd and may be offputting at first unless they become acquainted with some of the context-sensitive interactions that get well underway.

This includes the various street brawls that Kiryu will partake in when various thugs or Yakuza members attempt to ambush him and make a scene. The denizens that are there when the brawls end will indeed react to what they just witnessed, some running the moment the fight has ended and Kiryu has begun to walk their way. In turn, some will acknowledge Kiryu’s accomplishment and applaud him for his “noble” deed in cleaning up the trash that wanders the streets and harasses the people that walk among them.

The sound design helps bring this bustling city to life, bringing forth random radios that play in random shops, the sound of citizens in the streets as you pass them by, air conditions running in alleyways, and even the motors of passing cars when near a busy street. Sometimes the clinging glasses when visiting a bar or the soft music when entering clubs such as Host Club Adam.

Additionally, much like more recent games, Kiryu has also upgraded to the times, obtaining a cell phone that allows players to save and upgrade his stats as they need. Long gone is the need for finding a phone booth in order to save. While this is a welcomed change, to some, it may be a little off-putting from the original games, but it makes saving less of a hassle and easier to access.

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Speaking of combat, remember how it I stated it was improved?

Compared to the old games, combat felt clunky, slow, irritating, and at times – downright infuriating. It wasn’t that combat was actually all that bad, but compared to modern games, the combat had felt dated when put side-by-side with titles such as Shenmue and Jade Empire. Luckily, the polish is there and combat flows as one would expect. It’s responsive, its fluid and characters react to every blow they take.

This isn’t a game where you are going just punch someone and them hit you in return within a seconds notice. No, they react as if they are a real person and they do so by even (not all the time though) dropping weapons if they have one equipped, which gives you the opportunity to take advantage of this window by picking it up and turning the tides of battle if you are overwhelmed.

Experience, just like in previous games, is earned in several different categories and allows you to focus on specific areas such as his strength, health, and combat capabilities such as his combos he can perform. As you play through the game, you can see him grow steadily as a worthy combatant against those he will face down such as the fierce and astonishing well-written opposition from Ryuji Goda of the Omi Alliance.

The fights themselves work much like in any other title in the game and are optimized by the player equipping items to enhance Kiryu’s stats, but even doing minigames and partaking in a nutritious diet to ensure that Kiryu is in tip-top shape before taking on difficult fights. This even includes ensuring that you’ve spent the time needed to get what weapons and items you need to be stocked up to ensure Kiryu can partake in the adventures that Yakuza Kiwami 2 will put before you.

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Yakuza Kiwami 2 is by far and large one of the best in the franchise.

The fame behind this installment isn’t anecdotal by any means nor is it something that was just put together by fans of the franchise. Yakuza 2 and now Yakuza Kiwami 2 will stand as one of the strongest games within the franchise. Even with this being an “Ultimate” edition of the game, this game does it right and follows through with how Yakuza 0 (you can read our review here) retconned some past events and manages to continue on to help mold a series that’s already been well-known for the past thirteen years into something bigger.

To help bolster this aspect of the game, SEGA got things right when it comes to the cutscenes themselves. They decided to keep them as they were, only upgrading them in their newer engine and keeping the story just how it was the first time around. This makes moments such as when Kiryu meets with franchise regulars such as Daigo Dojima where the game has more impact, the cutscenes have depth, meaning, and truly give the game a human aspect that it didn’t have before.

This stands out even more when Kiryu first encounters Ryuji Goda for the very first time at a local club and falls witness to the brutality of his unknown rival at the time. It’s not just these small upgrades in graphics that do it either. It’s the fact that facial animations themselves look human, natural, not as robotic as they had once been due to hardware limitations of yesteryear.

Now, here we are, enjoying things such as a story that remained true to its former self and not deviating from what fans came to know and love, but instead, appears as a more fleshed out variant of what it could have been had the hardware been available at the time. Toss in the side quests that involve helping out those falling victim to local thugs or some struggling to find peace among the chaos and you have a game that is true to what it sees itself as; a title about hardship, family, honor, and dedication to a noble cause even if you are odds with what the past has provided.

To be honest, because there is a good chance this is the first version of Yakuza 2 many people will play; mostly due to the exponential growth of the franchise’s fandom since its establishment in 2008; this bold move to remaster the classic game is an important one as it will be exposing many more people to a franchise they’d never before partook in. This “reboot” of sorts for the franchise is arguably the best approach SEGA could have taken to growing its fandom in any way shape or form.

While bold, not-so Japanese Grand Theft Auto-style series is a great one, one that is prideful about where it stands, what its roots are and how deeply embedded the Japanese Yakuza subculture is within the franchise itself. Even with Kiryu having walked away from his past, denouncing himself as a member of the Yakuza organization, we can only appreciate what we have had put before us and enjoy this newly “relaunched” franchise.

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Platform(s):
PlayStation 4
Developer: Sega, Amusement Vision
Publisher:
Sega
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $49.99

And now, it’s time, my scotch is almost empty and the bar is closing. This one’s for Kiryu, Majima and friends.

As a newcomer to the series, I remain breathtaking by the story that continually unfolds before me and even more appreciative about the depth of the series itself. It’s one that doesn’t forget past events, but instead, moves forward with acknowledging that they happen and forging a deeper story than ever before. With Kiryu in his second remastering under his belt, we can only hope that SEGA/Atlus will continue remastering their past games, giving this franchise a continued chance to grow for the newer age of fans that they have obtained.

My only complaint is clear and not one that hurts this review or the game by any means. It’s the fact I stand here, in a waiting period to see if SEGA/Atlus decides to port their other games over, giving us a chance to play Yakuza 3 as a remastered title, a more fleshed out than it was before. A game that will help continue the story from a place where I had yet to experience it and now find myself wanting to play it now more than ever.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game.  For information about our ethics policy please click here.


 Final Score: 9 out of 10


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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