Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted Sep 18, 2018
What do you get when you cross an open world adventure with mild RPG elements, a martial arts game and Grand Theft Auto? You get Yakuza, a series that often times flies under the radar of general audiences that recently made a resurgence on the PlayStation 4. I was excited to get into this cookie - it's effectively a remake of Yakuza 2, but with modernized gameplay and a brand-spanking new paint job. It's quite a big title, and it's open world as well, so I put on my samurai outfit, sat down, grabbed my controller and prepared for a long stroll through Kamurocho, Tokyo and Sotenbori and Osaka.
Sep 18, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): August 28, 2018
  • Release Date (EU): August 28, 2018
  • Release Date (JP): December 7, 2017
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Developer: SEGA
  • Genres: Action Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an Action Adventure game by SEGA available exclusively on the PlayStation 4.
Jakub Kowalski


A War is Coming...

Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place a year after the events of Yakuza Kiwami, putting you in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu - an ex-yakuza, the Dragon of Dojima and former Tojo Clan chairman. Kiryu has an uncanny ability of getting entangled in all sorts of trouble, most times against his best intentions, and this adventure is no different. The man just cannot catch a break, even when he just wants to enjoy his retirement, the events that occur around him pull him right back into the fray. The Tojo Clan was not in the best of shape after Kiryu's retirement and the unexpected assassination of Yukio Terada, the clan's fourth chairman, only made things worse. The duty of finding a worthy replacement falls upon Kiryu, and the stakes could not be any higher - should he fail, an all-out war between the Tojo and a rival clan, the Omi Alliance, is inevitable and spells complete annihilation of the clan. Will he succeed in his task and finally get to enjoy his retirement? Well, that is entirely up to you!

Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun!

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Yakuza is a peculiar series. I cannot help but find it tremendously amusing how a video game can simultaneously be such a realistic representation of Japan while not taking itself too seriously. From the moment you launch the game you are greeted with relatively accurate representations of various Japanese locations, which is a reason to pick it up in and out of itself. Playing Yakuza is a lot like taking a humour-filled trip to the land of Nippon, except as a former big wig of the Japanese Mafia. Yakuza is as close as you can get to a video game representation of the old school karate movies of the 80's and it delivers precisely what it promises on the tin. You would think that being entangled in the web of the criminal underground would be a serious matter, and a lot of times it is, but Yakuza manages to serve the plot with a wink and a smile by introducing various subquests and minigames, ranging from simple fetch quests to outrageous side activities like managing your very own host club, playing with a "Toy-let" or having a throw-down in a bizarre diaper fetish club. I spent at least an hour inside Club Sega just playing Virtua Fighter 2, one of my favourite fighting games from my youth on one of the fully-fledged arcade machines. Kiwami 2 presents you with an open, living world full of NPC's leading normal lives, stores and restaurants to visit, wealth of content at your fingertips if you happen to be the exploring type like I am. At times I found myself unwilling to actually do my job as Tojo's "chosen one" simply because I had other pressing matters, like watching the latest "naughty VHS" in the "private" cinema.

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Oh boy, it's been a while since I've seen my main man Jacky!

All the Shenmue types out there will definitely feel right at home with Yakuza, the game is very similar in many aspects, especially the exploration elements. In fact, I cannot help but prefer Yakuza, simply because there is just more things happening at all times. Just walking downtown opens you to the possibility of encountering threats of all sorts, from delinquents just cruising through the town looking for trouble to enemy gang members that are out for blood - your blood. The Yakuza experience boils down to dashing from one side quest to the next while fighting waves upon waves of relentless enemies, with your main quest... somewhere at the bottom of the list of your priorities, and I love that kind of approach to open world games. Sure, you can just stick to your objective and breeze through the story, but man, being a Yakuza is tough - tough enough to justify the occasional round of golf, or maybe a karaoke song or two at the local pub.

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Kiryu is a... tremendous singer...

As far as the plot itself is concerned, it is a pretty straightforward story of good versus evil, a good-hearted former Yakuza versus a young and careless mafioso with delusions of grandeur, a tale as old as time. Thing is, the story doesn't need to be complicated at all, it just has to be enjoyable, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 fits that bill perfectly. There is a war coming, two Dragons will face each other, and only one can be left standing - make sure it will be you. The best part? Kiwami 2 starts with a lengthy-but-skippable introduction to the events from the previous games which quickly catches you up - no previous experience is required, for the most part.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon...

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Assemble your crew and get ready to rumble, Dragon!

Of course us gamers are interested in a bit more than just story - fortunately the gameplay in Yakuza is top notch as well. Expect to see some good, old-fashioned fist fights that sometimes escalate to a little bit more than just fists. One of the major changes between the older titles and Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the way it handles character progression and combat, as this remake utilises the system introduced in Yakuza 6. Instead of spending money on your skills, just like you would for equipment, Kiryu gains experience points. Your experience is divided into five distinct categories - Strength, Spirit, Agility, Technique and Charm. How to gain experience, you ask? Any way you want, really - you could do it exactly like a typical Yakuza would and focus on beating up your foes or you could choose a more peaceful approach and spend time in the local restaurants, creating tasty meal combinations which reward you with a more flavoursome experience. Anything you do, from a simple side quest to just filling your belly up with the local cuisine gives you experience points which, in turn, can be exchanged for new moves, improved health, stamina and so on. This leaves your coin purse a little bit heavier, which means more shopping, and there's plenty of things to buy, from clothing and weaponry to snacks you can eat on the road for that sweet, sweet experience.

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When your fists can't do the trick, anything can be a weapon, including a bicycle or a traffic cone!

In terms of combat, Kiwami 2 is a fast-paced melee where everything and anything can be a weapon. Kiryu's moves are pretty sweet and he can deliver a punch that would down a mule, but in a pinch he too will resort to weaponry. You will see the traditional staples like knives, guns and katanas, but Yakuza allows you to be creative with your tools of destruction. I cannot even remember how many times I would finish a fight by building up my Essence gauge to the brim and knocking my enemies out with a bicycle, a traffic cone or a fence. If there is one thing to be said about the game, the combat is just buckets of fun.

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The next obvious difference between the original and Kiwami 2 is the complete graphics overhaul - the Dragon Engine enabled the developers to create beautiful renditions of the locales and the in-game fight scenes can be pretty breathtaking. The game just feels modern while staying true to the original, it delivers the plot while introducing new mechanics and a brand-spanking new paint job - it is precisely the way remakes should be made, refreshing them for a new generation of gamers.

Yaku-yes or Yaku-no?

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Just a handful of the wacky hijinks you can engage in... poor Kiryu...

It is time to ask the all-important question - should you give Kiwami 2 a try? I would say yes. If you are in any way interested in the subject matter, enjoy martial arts and like to have a good laugh, Yakuza will give you just that and more. It can be formulaic at times, but in small doses the game brought a smile to my face. It certainly encouraged me to try out the other installments of the series - that will kill some time between now and long-awaited Shenmue 3, not to mention that it will be fun in and out of itself. So, what are you still doing reading this? Suit up and get out there, you have a clan to save!

+ Plenty of side activities to keep you busy between the main story missions
+ New and revamped experience system which makes more sense than spending money on skills
+ Beautiful and geographically-accurate renditions of the in-game locations
+ Wealth of items and collectibles
- Some of the finishing moves can be repetitive, depending on the item used
- Certain side quests can feel like busy work compared to the more elaborate ones
- The never-ending waves of enemies can be frustrating when you're just trying to be a good samaritan
8 Presentation
Kiwami 2 applies a new coat of paint to an older title without sacrificing anything of the original's charm - the Dragon Engine does wonders in refreshing the game for a brand-new audience as well as returning players. While by no means perfect, the game looks good by today's standards.
7 Gameplay
The gameplay is buckets of fun, the combat is fast and slick and the new experience system makes perfect sense, even if it feels overly complicated at first. If you enjoy martial arts in any capacity, you will enjoy Yakuza Kiwami 2, as there are plenty of combos to try out on your enemies. If I had to complain about something it would have to be the frequency of encounters with enemies while you are exploring - you can avoid the gangsters quite easily, but nevertheless, no matter how many you beat, there always seems to be a roving band of delinquents or Yakuzas precisely where you intended to go.
9 Lasting Appeal
Yakuza Kiwami 2 offers mountains of content sprinkled over the in-game locations, from tiny subquests through larger story lines to full-on side games, like complete renditions of SEGA's arcade hits. You can spend hours just wandering back and forth finding new and interesting things, which is mostly why this review took so long to complete. Don't worry - you're getting your money's worth. The game is linear and doesn't offer branching story options, but the sheer amount of content more than makes up for it - it will keep you busy.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
While by no means a perfect game, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an example of a remake done right. It feels fresh and modern, it takes the original story of Yakuza 2 without losing its spirit or charm. If you've never played a Yakuza game before, Kiwami 2 is a good place to start as it introduces you to everything you've missed so far, keeping the doors open to new players. You've tried being an American gangster in GTA, perhaps being a Japanese one will be to your liking as well.

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