Disposed Hero's Blog

Posted on Sep 29th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Yakuza, Sega, Ryu ga Gotoku, Japan

My first exposure to the Yakuza series was back in 2010 with Yakuza 3. I enjoyed the game so much that I have made it a point to play each new title as they release, and after several years and several new titles, I can confidently say that Yakuza is one of my favorite series in all of gaming. However, I missed out on the original two PS2 titles when they were released, and I have never gotten around to playing them over the years. Thanks to Sega's release of Yakuza Kiwami last year, a remake of the original Yakuza game for the PS2, I was finally able to experience the series' origin firsthand. With the recent release of Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of the second game in the series, I have now been able to experience an updated remake of what some consider the best game in the series.

Developed and published by Sega exclusively for the PlayStation 4, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the latest in Sega's cult action/adventure franchise about Japan's organized crime syndicate. Released in Japan on December 7, 2017 and on August 28, 2018 for the rest of the world, Kiwami 2 is a remake of the original 2006 title Yakuza 2 for the PlayStation 2. The game has been well received by fans and critics alike.

Set one year after the events of the first game, Yakuza 2 finds series leading man and ex-yakuza "Dragon of Dojima" Kazuma Kiryu pulled back into the criminal underbelly of Kamurocho when the current Tojo Clan Chairman Yukio Terada is assassinated by the rival Omi Alliance. With the Tojo Clan currently in disarray, Kiryu must find a capable replacement to lead his former organization while preventing a massive conflict between the Tojo Clan and Omi Alliance. This brings him head-to-head against the Omi's "Dragon of Kansai" Ryuji Goda, who will stop at nothing to defeat Kiryu so he can be the one true dragon of the yakuza world.

Meet Ryuji Goda. He's kind of a jerk.

Filled with shocking revelations and gripping plot twists, the stories in the Yakuza series have always been a highlight, and Yakuza 2 is no exception. In fact, I would say that Yakuza 2 has possibly the best story in the series. There is a large cast of both new and returning characters, and while some can be a bit one-dimensional, almost every one is a character that you will love (or love to hate). After watching some scenes from the original 2006 release, I was surprised at just how closely the story elements of Kiwami 2 match its PS2 counterpart. Aside from some additions and a revised translation, they are nearly identical.

But as great as their stories may be, the real meat of a Yakuza title lies in its gameplay. Kiwami 2 is the second entry in the series to use the new Dragon Engine which features new fighting mechanics, enhanced physics for objects, and a more seamless world that is mostly free of load times. Yakuza 6 was the first title to use this new engine, and a major criticism of that game was how lacking it was in terms of fighting mechanics, side content, and areas to explore, causing it to feel rushed. I am glad to say that Kiwami 2 improves on all of these aspects, delivering a Yakuza experience that feels much more complete in comparison.

Just like every game in the series, Yakuza 2 drops you into the fictional city of Kamurocho (based on the real life city of Kabukicho in Tokyo) where you are mostly free to explore the city at your leisure. Most titles in the series have at least one more city that the player can explore, and Yakuza 2 originally introduced the recurring location of Sotenbori (based on the real life city of Dotonbori in Osaka). Sotenbori is easily my favorite of all of the secondary cities that have been available in the series, so I was glad to be able to visit it again in Kiwami 2. Both cities are filled with shops, restaurants, people to interact with, and activities to participate in.

Kamurocho, home sweet home!

Combat is fairly straightforward but also offers a decent amount of depth for those who wish to delve into it. Light and heavy attacks can be chained together to form combos, and a grab can be utilized to either throw or further pummel enemies. There are also commands to block and evade, as well as counterattacks that can be unlocked. Almost anything in the environment can be picked up and used as a weapon, and certain weapons can be stored in your inventory for later use. Consumable items can also be used to refill health and 'Heat.' Combat has a satisfying weight and fluidity, so it is always fun to bust some heads when the time comes.

But the most entertaining aspect of the combat is easily the Heat actions. Kiryu has a blue 'Heat meter' that, once filled to a certain point, allows him to unleash one of the many contextual Heat moves in the game. Heat moves will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as your current location, the weapon you're currently holding, or the weapon that an enemy is holding. These attacks range from straightforward attacks that you would expect street fighters to perform to wacky and amusing attacks that probably wouldn't look out of place in a Jackie Chan movie. Heat actions are often brutal and always satisfying, and pulling them off never gets old. You can also fully charge your Heat meter and activate 'Extreme Heat Mode' which will make you much more powerful for a short period of time, but, while it does have its uses, I personally preferred using individual Heat actions instead of Extreme Heat Mode.

Feel the Heat! Literally!

There is also a ton of side content if you feel like taking a break from the main story. Available minigames include karaoke, darts, golf, batting cages, and an assortment of Western and more traditional Japanese gambling games. There are also arcades that have playable cabinets of Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtual-On, as well as the return of the UFO Catcher machines that were conspicuously absent from Yakuza 6. One odd new addition is the Sega Toylets minigame that tasks you with urinating in a special urinal and trying to earn a top score, and believe it or not, this is an actual game that exists in Japan.

There are also plenty of diversions for those who just can't get enough of the combat. Bouncer missions feel more like a traditional beat 'em up by tasking you with running through a short area and clearing out any thugs in your path, usually with some sort of special condition. Coliseum bouts are a fun and challenging way to test your might against a variety of opponents in a variety of match types. There are also the occasional 'street bosses' that pop up, but these encounters aren't particularly noteworthy.

But what has always been one of the biggest highlights of the series are the dozens of substories scattered throughout the game. Substories can be thought of as side-quests and find Kiryu coming to the aid of the everyday citizens, usually with comedic results. During these misadventures, Kiryu will find himself becoming haunted by a suspicious video tape, confronting an impersonator of himself, and helping out a man in a public restroom who has soiled himself, among many other things. They also contain quite a few references to other games in the series that Yakuza veterans will surely appreciate. The goofy substories are a nice contrast and change of pace from the serious main story and are always highly entertaining and well worth seeking out.

Substories typically end with a bit of parting wisdom.

Originally introduced in Yakuza 6, Clan Creator is a real-time strategy minigame/storyline in which Kiryu becomes a battle planner for Majima Construction while other organizations try to move in and destroy their construction site. Basically, you can command a squad of nine units in real time and defend against multiple waves of enemies. Each unit has their own unique special ability they can use, and their stats can be upgraded by leveling them up between battles. Many people that you help during substories and defeat at the coliseum can be recruited to join your team. I personally feel like the Clan Creator minigame is underdeveloped and did not enjoy it much, so I didn't spend much time with it.

Cabaret Club, on the other hand, is a minigame/storyline that I did enjoy quite a bit. Making its return from Yakuza 0, Cabaret Club finds Kiryu taking a management position at a local hostess club and helps lead it from the verge of collapse to becoming the number one hostess club in the area. You will have to match customers with a hostess that best suits their personality and style and then attend to their needs as they arise. There are many hostesses that can be hired, and the main 'Platinum' hostesses all have their own substories that can be completed. It may not sound compelling on paper, but I found Cabaret Club to be a highly enjoyable and addicting addition to the game.

I probably spent more time staring at this screen than I should have.

Almost everything you do in the game, whether it be fighting, eating, or partaking in one of the many substories or minigames, rewards you with experience that you can use to upgrade Kiryu's attributes and abilities. There are five different pools of experience (divided into Strength, Agility, Spirit, Technique, and Charm), and each upgrade requires a different combination of experience to purchase. Attributes such as Health, Strength, and Defense can be upgraded, and abilities such as counterattacks and new Heat moves can be purchased, although some moves need to be unlocked through substories first. However, having the experience divided into five different pools is a bit cumbersome, and I really prefer the more linear form of character progression found in the earlier games.

Last but not least, there is the Majima Saga side story that can be played independently of the main story. Unlocked after witnessing key events in the main story, the Majima Saga stars fan-favorite character Goro Majima and helps flesh out some of the events that occurred during the time between the first two Yakuza games. Majima's fighting style is completely different from Kiryu's, and while it is fun to play as him for a while, his moveset is so limited that I became a bit weary of it by the end. Fortunately, the whole episode is short and sweet and serves as a nice adjunct to the main game.

The new Dragon Engine gives the series a huge step forward for visuals. While it may not be on par with many of the AAA blockbusters releasing these days, the environments and main character models look great with a nice level of detail. My only real criticism of Kiwami 2's visuals are that models and animations of minor character NPCs tend to look far less detailed than main characters, but otherwise the game looks great.

Kiryu looks better with age!

The Yakuza games typically have great music, and Kiwami 2 is no exception. Comprised of remixed versions of tracks from the original PS2 Yakuza 2 as well as all new original tracks written specifically for Kiwami 2, the soundtrack will keep you listening even after finishing the game. The music is always appropriate, with high energy tracks during fights, jazzy tracks in bars, epic tracks for boss encounters, and melancholic tracks for story segments. The voice acting is excellent as well, but keep in mind that there is no English dub for the game if you are opposed to reading subtitles.

While I personally don't think it quite reaches the heights of Yakuza 0, my favorite of the series, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is still one of the best entries in this already great series and a must play for fans. However, I would not recommend it as a point of entry for series newcomers due to it being the third game in the series timeline. For anyone looking to get into this series for the first time, start with Yakuza 0 and work your way chronologically through the timeline. Kiwami 2 will be waiting for you and is something to look forward to when you finally get to it.

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Great write-up. Yakuza 2 is my favorite so I really need to pick this up. I'm really far behind in the series though. 5 is the last main entry I played.
Man, this is an excellent review! I haven't played any of the Yakuza games yet, but with 0 and the 2 remakes on PS4, I might jump in and start grabbing these. I really appreciate the depth of your write-up, and the comparisons you've made to the original version, and other recent entries/remakes in the series. Very thorough!
@GrayGhost81: Yeah dude, get on it!

@MetalFRO: Thank you for the kind words. The Yakuza series has been criminally underrated for years, but I'm glad to see that it has been picking up steam recently in North America. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you jump in!

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