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Game Review

by Myles Gibbs,

Yakuza Kiwami 2

XBox One

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2's recent release on the Xbox One means that the title is now accessible everywhere, and if you love the Yakuza franchise, there's no reason not to play it. It stands as a beautiful remaster of one of the best stories in the series, and with the same exceptional presentation and varied gameplay that players have come to expect from Yakuza titles, this one is a jam. If you're new to the series, you may want to look at other entry points, but if you're more concerned with the level of polish than understanding the nuances of the story, this is the game for you.

The Yakuza series is notorious for its unique balancing act – depicting a striking and gritty realism offset by moments of ridiculous lunacy. Kiwami 2 is no exception to the trend, and it executes the franchise's characteristic mishmash of elements in style. I got to sit with Kiwami 2 for its recent release on the Xbox One, and my expectations have been blown out of the water. With its strong narrative, beautiful presentation, and varied gameplay, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a gem in any shelf it sits on.

When I first sat down with Kiwami 2, its presentation slapped me in the face before anything else had the chance to. Yakuza titles have always been grounded in realism, and this game – which is essentially a remaster of Yakuza 2 – achieves a pristine level of polish in its aesthetics. The voice acting and sound design are all on point here. Pair that with some astonishingly detailed facial mapping and every cutscene turns into a cinematic powerhouse. This can be a strength as well as a weakness. The beginning of the game was so littered with cutscenes that it began to feel more like a movie than an interactive experience, which may be off-putting to more gameplay-attuned players. For myself, though, it did a phenomenal job at drawing me into Yakuza's gritty narrative. Even outside of cutscenes, the presentation of Yakuza's world is astonishingly detailed and elevates the story it's trying to tell. Once the game finally opened up, I immediately walked Kazuma (our protagonist) up to a Boss vending machine and bought a can of iced black coffee, something I would often do during my time spent on the streets of Tokyo years ago. What I'm trying to get at is that Japan is fantastically realized in this game. It's rare to see a place so authentically brought to life in a game. The main setting, Kamurocho, modeled after the Kabukicho district of Tokyo (named after the Kabuki that were once frequented there), feels vibrant and lived in. Colorful NPCs and intricately designed locations litter the overworld, and walking from place to place whilst discovering secrets feels very much like exploring the alcoves of one of Japan's red-light districts.

Kamurocho and the other locations featured in Kiwami 2 are all littered with an expansive variety of attractions. In my time playing, I spent just as much time playing golf, shooting darts, hitting the SEGA arcade (which featured an early version of a game I recently reviewed called Cyber Troopers Virtual ON), and singing karaoke as I did navigating the main storyline. Many of these minigames have deep enough gameplay and such fleshed-out narratives attached to them that they almost make for fully-fledged plotlines in their own right. The core gameplay is no slouch either. It stands as a brawler that can basically be broken down into attack, dodge, and block. It's simple but flashy, and offers an extensive upgrade system for managing the growth of different types of XP in order to become stronger and unlock new moves. It, like everything else in the game, delivers on the aspect of gritty realism and makes you feel like a big-shot yakuza badass. Even for masochistic gamers like myself, the “hard” difficulty ramped up the challenge enough to make me sweat. It's not like I was dying often, but I enjoyed the fact that I was being forced to try. All in all, each and every aspect of Kiwami 2's gameplay is a resounding success.

While Kiwami 2 improves upon certain shortcomings of earlier titles like Yakuza 0, it also created new pitfalls. Gameplay overall is much more consistent, and the mechanics for each minigame feel better polished, but they also lose out on some of their original visual charm. Cutscenes and dialogue are vastly improved from its predecessors, however. Whereas in other titles I would have to settle in for a read-through of five pages of dialogue, in Kiwami 2, just about every line is affectionately voiced. Like many of the games we take a shine to here at Anime News Network, there's no dub, but that's hardly an issue for me since the Japanese voice-acting here is effective at drawing me into Kiwami 2's story and setting.

The Yakuza franchise consistently produce games that are unlike any other, and if you haven't experienced them before, I urge you to give one a spin. While Yakuza 0 is arguably the best starting point, you can honestly jump in anywhere, as each title – especially this one – does a great job at familiarizing you to its characters and story before the plot gains too much momentum. Kiwami 2's newfound level of polish, paired with its solid gameplay and storytelling, make it a surefire hit.

Overall : A
Graphics : A+
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : A-
Presentation : A+

+ This game looks beautiful, has crisp and varied gameplay, and tells a riveting tale of betrayal and revenge. It has a knack for Toshihiro Nagoshi's unique brand of comedy and has so much content within it that you'll never really be done experiencing everything it has to offer.
An overreliance on cinematic storytelling may be off-putting to certain players, but even the main story can be completely ignored to experience a very unique blend of grit and absurdism.

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