Yakuza Kiwami 2
The best Yakuza game to date.
Since January of 2017, I've had the good fortune to be able to review every Yakuza release that has come out on the PlayStation 4. It started with Yakuza 0, followed by Yakuza Kiwami, and then Yakuza 6 just a few months back. I have seen the beginning and the emotional end to this franchise. I have played it across two different game engines. Every entry has offered up something new and unique to experience while still maintaining a certain alluring appeal that kept me hooked through dozens upon dozens of gameplay hours.

Fast-forward slightly and we arrive here at the present day with the Western release of Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of the 2006 PlayStation 2 game, Yakuza 2. It runs on the all-new Dragon Engine that we first saw with Yakuza 6. It also adds on a heaping helping of additional story content on top of the original title. It also somehow manages to incorporate tons of mini-games, side-stories, combat moves, collectibles, two-player content, and even a separate Majima focused game mode! This perfect storm of new content, fluid combat, gameplay refinements, incredible cutscene direction, the always top-notch voice work, and engaging story have immediately propelled Yakuza Kiwami 2 to being my new favorite Yakuza game.

I had a few gripes about the Dragon Engine that I made note of back in my Yakuza 6 review. Specifically, I found that the game would have some framerate issues show up from time to time. I can say here and now that nearly all of the issues I encountered, as they relate to the Dragon Engine, have been addressed for Yakuza Kiwami 2. It seems as though the development team was more comfortable with the engine after having already shipped Yakuza 6 in the months prior. However, on the base PlayStation 4 system, you still will not get a full 1080p image. I believe the team targets 900p resolution for this game in order to keep the framerate at or right near the 30fps target. This can sometimes produce some aliased edges and "shimmering" effects both in cutscenes and during gameplay. In the end, I'll happily take a less than full HD image if it means I get to experience the gorgeous lighting and wonderfully amusing physics interactions that the Dragon Engine seems to deliver in spades. I will never tire of seeing Kiryu knock over objects like a bull in a china shop or punt an enemy into a bunch of bikes halfway down the street.

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The maps are packed with things to do

Speaking of streets, you will once again get to explore the mean streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. These familiar haunts have been staples of the franchise and, thanks to the Dragon Engine, look absolutely fantastic. Streets are filled with reflective puddles and damn if I am not a sucker for a good puddle. Bright, neon shop signs cast fantastic lighting throughout the environments, both inside and out. There are so many areas that are tucked away down alleyways, inside buildings, or on rooftops that you may find yourself ignoring missions just to soak it all in. The insides of stores, restaurants, arcades, and the like are all fully modeled. Moreover, thanks to the Dragon Engine, you can enter or leave these places without seeing a loading screen. Only by really looking hard did I notice a few low-res textures here and there, but that gets an easy pass with how much is going on in each city. The environments that have been built are on a level all their own and the art team deserves an incredible amount of praise for their work. Not only are they packed with little visual details, but they also include a near stupid amount of activities to partake in.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 packs in many of the mini-games that fans have loved from the previous releases. These include the batting cages, the SEGA branded arcades, karaoke, darts, mahjong, casinos, fighting arenas, and so much more. They have also added a driving range with its own set of challenges for us golf fans out there. Kiryu can now also hit up restrooms to play a mini-game in the bathroom. Kiyru can show off his photography skills with yet another mini-game where he takes virtual photos of real Japanese idol models. I mean, it's a Yakuza game, you knew they had to have models in there in some capacity.

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Ryuji "Dragon of Kansai" Goda

Oh right, there's a story in Yakuza Kiwami 2 and damn is it one of the best in the franchise. For as much as I enjoyed the story in Yakuza 0, I feel as though Kiwami 2 manages to surpass it in a few key aspects. First, the game does not start out nearly as slowly as Yakuza 0 does. So far, my experience with these games has been to expect that the first few chapters will be slow going and the real meat and potatoes will start to kick in maybe a third of the way into the game. That is not the case with Kiwami 2. Kiryu is largely free to start exploring the cities as early as chapter 2. If you focus solely on the story, you are looking at a substantial time sink, with each chapter averaging maybe an hour and a half each. Although the game starts faster than previous games, the middle chapters do slow the pace down a bit more than you may be used to. With that in mind, you should know that there are at least 16 chapters and damn if each chapter does not end on some cliffhanger or big revelation that entices you to keep playing just a "little" longer.

For those of you who are new to the series, like myself, I'll give you a brief overview of the core story for Yakuza Kiwami 2. Don't worry, I'll try to avoid the spoilers here because, much like the rest of the franchise, the story is fantastic from start to finish. Kiwami 2 opens with Kiryu being pulled right back into the middle of some Tojo Clan drama after the clan's fifth chairman was murdered by some Omi Alliance jerks. This sets off a chain of events that finds Kiryu trying to prevent a war between the two rival clans, find a replacement for the fifth chairman, and deal with the threat stemming from the short tempered Ryuji Goda, the so-called "Dragon of Kansai" from the Omi Alliance. This rivalry between the Dragon of Kansai and Kazuma "Dragon of Dojima" Kiryu will span the length of the game and makes for some very interesting encounters. Kiryu is often joined throughout the story beats by series newcomer, Detective Kaoru Sayama, as she tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to her biological parents.

Yakuza Kiwami 2
A secondary story, accessible from the game's main menu, follows the story of Goro Majima and how he came to leave the Tojo Clan and form his own construction company. Yeah, Majima got into the construction business. I bet you didn't see that one coming. This additional content does a great job at further expanding Majima's backstory beyond Yakuza 0. Aside from Majima there are other unique and interesting characters that Kiryu will become acquainted with throughout the game. This includes the quirky but determined staff of the Club Four Shine establishment. To touch upon the visuals briefly once more: The models and texture work on all major characters are great. The only issue that I noticed were the occasional issues with lip-syncing, but this is a very minor issue.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 seems to have a much greater focus on the use of weapons during combat. Much like in the previous games, you can still pick up and utilize nearly any object near you during a fight. However, Kiwami 2 also allows you to find and store various handheld weapons for later use. Swapping weapons is as easy as a tap on a d-pad direction to bring them out during combat. You can equip these weapon slots from your inventory. You can also "store" weapons you find during fights to use later on. Nearly every weapon seems to have its own special finisher in addition to Kiryu's usual array of Heat moves.

Yakuza Kiwami 2
The changes to combat carry over from Yakuza 6, providing a more fluid combat experience when compared to Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami. Combat styles and techniques change depending on context, which allows the player to sometimes get a bit more creative in their approaches. There are also far more finishers and general combat moves when compared to the comparatively lacking offerings in Yakuza 6. This includes bonus finishers for a number of boss fights. Though Kiyru starts out the game with a not-insignificant number of moves, he can expand his abilities by leveling up through experience orbs, engaging in specific sub-stories, or watching various technique videos. I will note that battles may be far too easy for Yakuza veterans and I strongly suggest that returning fans start on the hardest difficulty offered to them.

As far as the rest of the game goes, it's par for the course for the recent Yakuza releases. By that, I mean you will experience superb localization, fantastic voice work, a banging soundtrack, and plenty of plot twists. You can tell that the developers really care about their product because these are aspects of each game that have never failed to deliver.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 has proven to me to be the best entry in the franchise thus far. It manages to deliver on all fronts and is an absolute must play for action-adventure fans and especially for those that are fans of the previous games in the series. However, if you have not yet played any of the previous releases, I strongly urge you to play those first, especially Yakuza Kiwami. While I could argue that starting with Yakuza 0 is the best option, the first Kiwami introduces characters and story elements that will carry over through the rest of the games and should not be skipped. Now, if I still have not sold you on Yakuza Kiwami 2, I'll let you know right now that you can fight tigers in this game. You. Punch. Tigers.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an amazing game. Get it. Now.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

Yakuza Kiwami 2 review score - 5 out of 5

Additional Information
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (Developed and published by Sega)
Starting at $49.99 (USD) for PlayStation 4
Rated M for Mature 17+ for blood, intense violence, sexual content, strong language, and use of alcohol
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

Additional Screenshots
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