Yakuza: Kiwami 2 Review: War of the Dragons
Kalvin Martinez / Oct 11th, 2018 No Comments
It’s not that the Yakuza series hasn’t had a strong following in the West. The series has garnered as a loyal following, but it never pierced the video game zeitgeist. While Yakuza 3 and 4 received western localization shortly after their Japanese release, it took three years for Yakuza 5 to make its way to western shores.
However, Sega has certainly gambled with Yakuza over the last two years, releasing four Yakuza titles in short order. That gamble has paid off with a revitalized interest in the series that has raised the franchise into one of Sega’s flagships.
One of the most revered titles in the series’ history is Yakuza 2. Originally released for PlayStation 2, the game has become quite rare. Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is a remake of this landmark title. It isn’t simply updated with enhanced textures and slightly better models; the game has been rebuilt in the Dragon Engine with additional content and mini games.
There is no mistaking it, this may be one of the best remakes ever.
There Can Only Be One
Life has been different for Kiryu after the fallout from the Tojo Clan’s scramble for 10 billion Yen. He now lives a quiet life with Haruka. But sadly, nothing is ever simple for Kiryu. No sooner has he put his life as a yakuza behind him when the struggles of the Tojo Clan pull him back in.
The clan’s Fifth Chairman, Yukio Tereda, asks him for some advice on how to deal with the Omi Alliance. As one would expect, things go haywire quickly.
When an attempt on Tereda’s life is successful, he implores Kiryu to broker a deal of peace between the Omi Alliance’s Chairman, Jin Goda, and the Tojo Clan on his behalf. Since Kiryu is a man of strong principles and a strict personal code, he honors Tereda’s dying wish, even if it means his peaceful life with Haruka may never be the same.
With Tereda gone, there is a power vacuum in the Tojo Clan. Chairman Dojima’s widow is acting as its de facto leader, but there is much unrest among the officers. Eventually, they agree to let Kiryu head to Osaka to propose the peace accord.
When Kiryu arrives in Sotenbori with Daigo Dojima, it all gets even more complicated. Any peace between the Omi Alliance and the Tojo Clan was never going to come easily.
Peace talks break down immediately when Jin Goda’s son, Ryuji Goda, the Dragon of Kansai, stages a coup. Ryuji has his eyes set on a fight to the death with Kiryu to determine the one true dragon, but not before he crushes the Tojo Clan and becomes the new chairman of the Omi Alliance. His methods are ruthless, going so far as to kidnap his father and make an allegiance with a foreign threat.
To make matters worse, the Jingweon Mafia — long thought dead after a brutal massacre by the Tojo Clan 26 years ago — shows up again in Kamurocho. For Kiryu to help the Tojo Clan through this turbulent time, he must find out the truth behind what happened 26 years ago and deal with a violent power struggle between Ryuji and the other officers in the Omi Alliance.
There is something sublime in how effortlessly Yakuza: Kiwami 2 makes you feel invested in its main story. While the narrative is more than two dudes fighting over pride, it ultimately is a conflict based on wanting to prove that they are the one deserving of the mantle of dragon. As a result, Ryuji is a perfect foil for Kiryu. Where Kiryu is a man of honor who is cool under pressure and driven by a strict personal code, Ryuji is impulsive, hot headed and only motivated to prove he isn’t to be f-ed with.
What puts Kiwami 2 over the top is how it intertwines gangster intrigue, mystery and noir vibes into a complex narrative. Even though much of the story seems surface level — stop Ryuji and save the Tojo Clan — it is evident early on that there is much more going on beneath the surface. The fight over turf and power sets up a deeper story about revenge and how a collective trauma never fades and the dire consequences of that trauma.
Oh, and then there are side stories. While Yakuza: Kiwami 2’s story is serious, its side stories are anything but. It is the juxtaposition of the two that has created such a compelling and utterly fascinating series. Where else will you find a brutal feud along with stories about a yakuza boss forcing his underlings to be into an adult baby fetish? Kiryu is tricked into shooting art photos for a greased up, jacked dude in a speedo, recording voiceovers for a b4b video game and helping a bad rapper get his music heard. What makes the writing so good is how it weaves all of these different types of stories and tones together in such a cohesive fashion. If this doesn’t make sense, you need to experience it for yourself.
Fists Clash and Other Diversions
While there are sure to be some new people jumping into the Yakuza series for the first time with Kiwami 2, you probably have some familiarity with the series. If you’ve played any recent Yakuza game, you know what you’ve signed up for in terms of gameplay. However, for the sake of those who may not know, Yakuza’s gameplay centers around beat-em-up style action.
Kiryu runs around two areas of Japan: Kamurocho and Sotenbori, chasing down leads to move the main story along. As he moves through each area, he’ll come across random enemies who are eager to punch his face. Basically, thugs, delinquents, yakuzas and any other manner of wild character wants to hit Kiryu in his pretty face as hard they can. Fortunately, Kiryu isn’t a pushover and he punches, kicks and hits harder than anything that is thrown at him.
Yakuza’s gameplay style centers around stringing together light and heavy attacks. Different types of combos result in extra visual flair, such as a leaping punch or a scissor kick. Kiryu also has the ability to throw charged light and heavy attacks for extra damage and to break enemies’ guards. Defensively, he can also dodge, block and parry, making him a well-rounded fighter.
The game rewards you with heat for landing successful combos, blocking attacks and generally being a badass in combat. Your heat meter gives you the option to perform heat attacks, which are devastating moves that let you do massive damage to your enemies. When using weapons, these attacks are brutal. You can stab someone in the gut with a knife, then kicking the knife in with a jump kick. If you happen to have an iron, you can perform a nasty combo on an enemy’s face. Later on, you open up the extreme heat mode, which uses up a full heat meter to grant you extra melee power, lets you lift up heavy objects to use as a weapon, and to perform powerful extreme heat actions.
It isn’t all random battles in Yakuza, the main story has its share of harried fights. Combat culminates in difficult boss battles, which test the limits of your skills. In these boss battles, the AI is much stronger than the riff raff you face on the street. Bosses utilize defensive strategies, exploit weaknesses, and can activate heat mode when in low health to rally a comeback. If you aren’t up to snuff, you’ll be taken out easily.
The crown jewel of Yakuza: Kiwami 2’s boss battles are fighting Ryuji Goda. Like the shark in Jaws, Ryuji lurks in the background of Kiwami 2, creating an overall sense of dread. As another Dragon, his main goal is to kill Kiryu and eradicate the Tojo Clan. He is fierce and deadly. The fights against him are cataclysmic and put all your skills to the test.
What makes Yakuza: Kiwami 2’s combat so satisfying is that in spite of being slightly button-mashy, it is so visceral. Every punch, kick and weapon strike has weight behind it. You feel like you’re Kiryu running through street punks or in a dogged fight with Ryuji. Kiryu looks haggard after taking too much damage, which means you need to take care in battle. The presentation of heat moves adds a sense of violence and consequence to fights.
And that’s just the core gameplay of Yakuza: Kiwami 2. There is much, much more that makes the game so addictive. One of the greatest strengths the Yakuza series has is crafting addictive mini games that combine both story and complex mechanics to suck you thoroughly into them. In many ways, Kiwami 2 takes two of the best mini games from the recent PS4 games to divert you from the main game in a spectacular fashion.
Both the Cabaret Club and Clan Creator mini games make a triumphant return to Yakuza: Kiwami 2. Cabaret Club is largely the same as it was in Yakuza 0, except now Kiryu is managing the club. There is a similar story setup where Kiryu must help a struggling club overcome a more affluent and ruthless opponent. The one twist is that they are now competing in a Cabaret Grand Prix tournament to keep their foe from shutting down the Four Shine. While the mechanics are largely the same, the Grand Prix makes for a deeper experience and makes it a much greater barrier to challenge the stronger clubs.
While the Cabaret Club’s mechanics are largely similar to Yakuza 0, Clan Creator has gotten a major overhaul since Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. No longer are you summoning minor goons with your generals running down corridors to take out the enemy. Now, the real-time strategy is based more around defense. That’s because the storyline is wrapped up in the new Majima Construction project ran by everyone’s favorite lunatic, Goro Majima. Kiryu gets wrapped up in the conflict between Majima Construction and the Great Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and the Three Musketeers. If you loved the NJPW storyline in Yakuza 6, you’re in for a fun treat with these legends of Japanese wrestling.
In Clan Creator, you have to defend important construction resources from waves of enemies. The classes are similar to the last game, with the addition of new tank units with high health to help slow down enemies. Unlike before, the key to victory is strategically placing your lieutenants around the map to defend your construction equipment. This time, there are no soldiers to buff your numbers. It is just you and your team against seas of enemies and tough bosses all eager to destroy your equipment.
Clan Creator was one of the coolest mini games when it made its debut in Yakuza 6. Much of that was the fun NJPW storyline and wrestlers who could bolster your numbers. However, thanks to an aggressive lead time for the game and a code system, you could stack the deck for your clan, easily removing much of the difficulty. This time, there are no codes to get rare cards. More than that, by having to protect resources, there is a lot more strategy and difficulty involved in each level. It is not hard to lose if your team isn’t up to snuff or you forget to maneuver units to help stop a relentless attack.
The other major difference for each of these mini games is that recruiting new members is mainly achieved through random summons. While you still can find good hostesses or fighters by completing sub stories, trying your hand at summoning is your best bet to boost your numbers and find super rare or platinum characters. Be wary, though. Summons cost Yen, and every time you make a summon, it increases the cost of the next summon. If you’re not careful, summons can get very pricey and drain your bank account quickly. Fortunately, being successful in either mini game nets you a ton of Yen.
Whether you’re engrossed in hitting dudes in the face or running a successful hostess club or construction company, the gameplay in Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is addictive and easy to get lost in. The game is a masterpiece. It completely breathes new life into a lauded game with gorgeous new graphics, exciting gameplay and superb additional content.
Getting lost in Kiwami 2’s story, substories or numerous mini games is impossible to avoid. The game sucks you in and keeps you glued to your controller with an engrossing plot and remarkable gameplay.
Yakuza: Kiwami 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher
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