If you’re yet to experience the Yakuza series, then you’re missing out on one of the best franchises currently available on the PlayStation 4.  Sure the Japanese language with the English text might not be everyone’s thing, but if you can look past that, then you’re going to discover a gem of a series and the latest Yakuza Kiwami 2 is no exception.  Kiwami 2 is a remake of the PS2’s Yakuza 2, and is built from the ground-up using the impressive Dragon Engine, which was first used in the development of Yakuza 6: Songs of Life.

Now I won’t give anything away in terms of spoilers, because I don’t want anything ruined for you, but if you follow the story of Yakuza, you’ll know that it’s full of drama, suspense, betrayal and humour.  In typical whirlwind fashion, the story of Yakuza Kiwami 2 kicks off all guns (and kicks) blazing as our hero, Kazuma Kiryu aka the “Dragon of Dojima” tasked with repairing the Tojo Clan after following the aftermath that was caused in our previous outing, and you know nothing is straight forward or ever simple in the world of Yakuza, especially when it involves our unfortunate Kiryu-san.

As I was late to the Yakuza party, starting off with Yakuza 0, until now I have ever experienced the new Dragon Engine that was used in Yakuza 6, as I want to play the Yakuza series in chronological order, so my first experience with this new engine is with Kiwami 2, and the improvements over Yakuza 0 (a prequel to the series) and the first Kiwami (a remake of the original Yakuza) are clear to see.  The first thing that you’ll notice is just how gorgeous the game looks, especially when exploring the fictional city of Kamurocho (based upon Kabukicho, Tokyo) and Sotenbori (based upon Osaka).  Of course if you’ve already played Yakuza 6, this will be nothing new to you, but for me, I was impressed with not only now detailed and vibrant the city’s looked, but also improvements made to character animation.

Don’t get me wrong, the animation in previous Yakuza games on the PS4 is very impressive, but it’s taken up a level using the Dragon Engine.  One of the other many impressive aspects from previous games was the amount there was to do and explore in the game.  Its world is filled with plenty of meaningful side-quests, interesting and oddball characters, and awesome mini-games such as classic Sega titles like Virtua-On and Virtual Fighter, to other games such as baseball, golf, darts and more.  I admit, the maps of Yakuza Kiwami 2 aren’t as large as other open-world RPG’s, but Yakuza is designed in such a way that  every encounter and mini-game has a purpose, as well as being brilliantly executed, and in that respect, few games can boast the kind of depth that the Yakuza series has to offer.

However (and again this is new to me as I’m yet to play Yakuza 6), when entering almost any building in the maps, you have no loading times, unlike Yakuza 0 and the original Kiwami.  It was quite odd at first, because I continually found myself pressing X as I approached a door, but it feels and looks great to see Kiryu walking through a door with no loading screen.  The only time you do tend to get loading times when entering a building is when a story mission is about to play out, but that’s pretty much about it.

The combat has also been improved with the Dragon Engine.  It’s by no means perfect as you will often throw wayward punch and kick as you try to rely on the auto-aim, but its improved upon none the less and it feels very satisfying, especially with the humorous ragdoll physicals, both for your enemies and Kiryu.  Also, being an RPG of sorts, you’ll also be upgrading Kiryu as you progress earning EXP, and gone has the previous RPG-style skill-tree, in favour of a more streamlined approach.  Now essentially you’ll have a listed format of the skills that you’ll want to upgrade, with combat being broken up into four categories of Health, Attack, Defence and your Heat Gauge, all under the ‘Stats’ tab.

In addition to the Stats tab, you have Battle Skills tab that caters for your fight moves, the Heat Actions tab for your Heat moves and finally the Life Skills tab which includes upgrades for EXP boasts, (side) mission finders, as well as aids for your Hostess Club and for Majima Construction, which the later is a Base Defence game where you must fight off hordes of enemies from taking over Goro Majima’s construction company where the area ‘Purgatory’ used to lie.  To be honest, I’m not overly keen in this Battle Defence game, but that’s just my personal preference, but some may find fun where I can’t.  You can also recruit civilians by helping them out in the world, which will result in some joining your Majima Construction clan, with the Clan Creator returning from Yakuza 6.  Thankfully, if there’s a mini-game in Kiwami 2 that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s bound to be plenty of others that do.  It’s also worth nothing that there’s a all-new story scenario that features Goro Majima returing as a playable character, which can only be a good thing.

Before I finally jumped on the Yakuza bandwagon, the main aspect that put me off was the fact that the game was in Japanese with English sub-titles, unlike its spiritual predecessor Shenmue II (original release) which gave you the choice of English or Japanese voice-actors.  However, please, please do not let that put you off, because otherwise you’ll be missing out on a brilliant series.  If anything, with the game having Japanese voice-actors, it only makes me more attached to its fascinating characters and me immerse myself into what this fantastic universe has to offer.  However in saying that, it just wouldn’t sound right hearing different voices coming out of the Yakuza characters at this stage.  Then on top of that, the voice-actors in the world of Yakuza are once again superb, and the soundtrack is as fantastic as it is quirky.

The Yakuza series has never been everyone’s cup of tea, which is why it took so long for it to become a success in the West and as already stated, I was one of those late to jump on the bandwagon.  This in hindsight, actually benefited me as I can now go through the series in chronological order.  In saying that, it took me a while to truly get into Yakuza 0, but once I got hooked into its world and with Yakuza Kiwami to follow, I soon became one with Yakuza.  Other then the Shenmue series, Yakuza is like nothing I’ve ever played and I’d struggle to find a game that has me immersed to the level that this series has, and perhaps no game has me feeling quite like an unbeatable badass playing as Kazuma Kiryu.  If you’re already invested in this series, picking up Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a no brainer, but if you’re yet to experience this phenomenon, then I urge you, like I had, to start with Yakuza 0 and work your way up.  In doing so, not only will you see the vast improvements with each release, but you’ll also experience an RPG series like little else you’ll ever play and you’ll soon find yourself being Yakuza for Life and Yakuza Kiwami 2 is arguably the strongest in the series yet and one of the best games to release this year.



Author

Richard Lee Breslin
Richard Lee Breslin

Gamimg has been my life for 30+ years and will always be my passion. I have a BDes Hons Games Development and Digital Media, and I hope to one day turn my passion for gaming and writing into a living. My favourite gaming series are Resi Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and The Last of Us. I collect gaming merchandise, comics and movies. I love football (namely Aston Villa) and WWE. I can also often be found wondering the outskirts of Raccoon City. Follow me on Twitter @Solidus5nake