What's the Greatest Video Game: Yakuza Kiwami 2

This is an ongoing list where in an attempt to tell you what the best video game of all time is, I play/complete/and rank every game in the known universe.

Longtime fans of the series may see the title of this episode and say:

"Phil, What the hell.. You rated Yakuza 0 and now Yakuza Kiwami 2, but skipped Kiwami 1.. what gives?"

Now to answer them I would first ask, how did you get my name? because I don't think I listed it in other entries, but regardless. I did play through Kiwami 1 before playing Kiwami 2, but it was before I started this series, and I don't remember a lot about it. That's not a telling sign that I felt it was an unmemorable game, or anything of the sort, I barely even remember the plot, so a review now would not be doing it justice. I promise that at some point, I will re-visit the game so we can put it on the list, but for now it will remain off.

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With that digression out of the way, yes, we will be talking about Yakuza Kiwami 2, which is the remake of Yakuza 2 with a nice fresh coat of paint and additional features added in. I will admit that I never played the original game, as I got into the series essentially at the release of zero, while I have no issue with going back to play old games, when I heard they were remaking games for the series, I just patiently waited so that I could play those versions. However, this series isn't about having that knowledge, it is whether or not Kiwami 2 can stand as the greatest game of all time.

For those unfamiliar with any of the Yakuza games, they are pseudo-open world beat-em ups, with some light RPG mechanics. You play as Kazama Kiryu who whilst going through the story (we will talk about later) is running through two cities getting into street fights, eating at restaurants, shopping, and helping out the locals that he comes across. Nearly every quest, whether side or main, has Kiryu exchange fisticuffs with yakuza, thugs, ruffians, etc. When these fights come up, the game becomes a brawler with light/heavy attacks and finishers that you can unleash if you fulfill the right requirements.

I want to pause here to talk about the fights, I did not find them as enjoyable as Yakuza Zero and I think there are some very basic reasons why. Obviously this is built on the bones of a previous game, I understand that and don't question it, but Yakuza 0 gave us a beautiful fighting system where there were multiple different stances and a use for each stance. In this game there is only your default stance, and while there moves from all stances kind of molded into the mix, it simply doesn't have the depth that zero did. That is not to say that getting into fights isn't enjoyable, they are, but it isn't on the same level. When I first started the game, I was getting enjoyment on trying out different combos, seeing what Heat actions (finishers) were in the game and everything was hunky dory. However, midway through the game you are probably only using the same two combos over and over again on regular thugs, and have seen the same heat actions multiple times as well. In a game that is 75% fighting, that can be a drag. This is especially tough coming from zero, because it is cutting move lists and heat actions down to a fraction of what they were in a previous game. There were more than a dozen occasions where I found myself surprised that a heat action didn't exist for what I wanted Kiryu to do. I would be dragging enemies throughout the small fight map, hoping to see unique environmental heat actions, but to no avail. While some heat actions can be purchased with experience points, even after having purchased them all, I felt there were too many options missing. Again, I know this is probably because of the bones of Yakuza 2, but towards the end of the game, I was actively running to avoid fights rather then get into them which is a complete reversal of how I was in zero.

Yup.. you fight a Tiger in this game
Yup.. you fight a Tiger in this game

Boss fights are a huge mixed bag, and that is really because of the limited stances you have in how you deal with characters. Without trying to spoil the game, I breezed through the final 3 bosses, because I busted out some low level weapons (blow torch, pliers, wooden sword), but got my ass kicked by bosses from the Korean mob, because those characters were faster and I didn't have a strong counter in my repertoire I could reliably use outside of drinking energy drinks and mashing heat actions. My advice is to always make sure you are stocked up on energy drinks and have some bailout weapons equipped just in case when heading into these fights, just in case you need them.

The leveling up system has been revamped as well. Purchasing upgrades with cash is now long gone, and instead you use your many experience currency to level up different skills. There are roughly 5 different experience currency, which supposedly would relate to things like Strength, Agility, Heat, etc. and when you are looking at buying an upgrade they might require more of one currency rather than the other. In theory I think this is a good system, If I get in a lot of fights I should be able to level up my strength more, play a lot of minigames and level up my Misc section more, but I felt the game didn't go far enough in that direction. Nearly all fights give you equal amount of experience in every category, and there never seemed like a clear cut way to improve on one section outside of just missions/fights. I would find myself waiting to save up enough experience points in blue (lets say that's agility), but outside of picking fights outside or eating at restaurants I had no idea how to get experience in that field, which meant either I would have to grind or just ignore the level up that I wanted. I never felt I was under-leveled so, this isn't a huge knock.. but when moves are tied to unlocks and the game seems a little bereft of moves, waiting to get those felt like a long drought. Without tying your level up to money, it does make money pretty pointless for the whole game. Sure there are things to buy that are expensive, but if you play the hostess club you will eventually find yourself sitting on Millions of yen with nothing to worry about. I only "ran out" of money once and that was because the first time I did the Majima mini-game I fully upgraded the base right off the bat.

The Hostess club is back! Sadly its just a carbon copy of Zero's version with some new girls.
The Hostess club is back! Sadly its just a carbon copy of Zero's version with some new girls.

Before we get to the story, lets talk extras. One of the great things in Zero, was that there was something for everyone. I am pleased to say that is back for Kiwami 2. All of the minigames you wanted are back (batting cages, darts, golf, arcade games, UFO catcher, mahjong tourneys, koi koi, etc.). They added some new ones: Bouncer missions - long street fights, Toilets - a game about using the toilet, and a real pervy camera game - take pics of a real woman who will undress if you get answers correct. They brought back the hostess club, and added a tower defense battle system starring Majima. I made sure to play each game at least once, and for the most part enjoyed myself with everything. There is a caveat that if you are trying to platinum this game, you will go insane. I initially thought I would platinum the game (because I was having so much fun) but there are SO MANY LEVELS to some of these that it becomes a real time commitment. The Bouncer missions have something like 40-50 fights and they get incredibly tough towards the end that you can real only beat them by bringing in your best weapons and armor. The hostess club is sadly a carbon copy of Yakuza 0 with no new depth, and the tower defense system is interesting and easily the best mini game featured, but it did feel a little too easy. Learn from my mistake, do not try to play and complete them all, just come at them on occasion, and play the ones you like.

The biggest extra, is that Kiwami comes with a side story that you slowly unlock through the game, where you get to play as Majima to basically see how he went from Kiwami 1 to Kiwami 2. The saga is a short 3 hour affair if played straight through and is mainly a love story to all of the things he did in Yakuza 0. I won't spoil it, and its an enjoyable experience, but it mainly exists to tie his story together. While you get to run around in the same cities Kiryu does, outside of additional fights there isnt much to do besides go from story beat to story beat.

Majima is back, and is handled much better than in Kiwami 1. In 2 he isn't just a psycho, but someone who has substance.
Majima is back, and is handled much better than in Kiwami 1. In 2 he isn't just a psycho, but someone who has substance.

Finally, lets talk story here. I'm starting to suspect that all Yakuza games are giant hodgepodges of ideas, that they then all try to cram into one story arc. That isn't a negative statement, I love it, I am here for the silliness, but this game has an A, B, and C story that presumably don't relate until they do at the end of the game. I won't go step for step here, but the Story begins with the chairman of your old clan being gunned down in front of you, which drags you back into the yakuza, a life you tried to avoid. In the game's A story, Kiryu is up against the clan that essentially murdered your captain and declared war on your home turf. The B story is essentially a war between a Korean gang that was massacred by Dojima (remember that old guy) who want revenge on not only the clan that murdered them, but also those their own kind that don't follow the creed. The final C story involves the story of a cop who takes you into custody who is looking for her parents, while also trying to prevent you from killing/being killed and starting the turf war. It is absolute insanity, and the end of the game where everything wraps up, has no short of twenty twists just so that everything can line up. From what I have read in the yakuza circles, a majority of people seem to think that 2 has the best story, and while I enjoyed it, it felt too busy in comparison to zero, and what I remember from 1. Listen, I get it, Yakuza tells bombastic stories, and I certainly enjoyed it, but I will lean towards Zero being a greater story. Even when I had no attachment to the characters in the game, and didn't know their outcomes, I liked the smaller scope of a story. Zero was really about real estate for one plot of land, and it certainly had tangents it went off on, I could envision how each piece fell into that small puzzle. It made sense that the whole world was moving around you, because no one else cared about this plot of land besides warring yakuza clans. However in Yakuza 2, there are multiple story points where the whole damn city and country should be involved (bombs littered across a city, a gang war, etc.) that are still left up to your small smattering of heroes to solve.

Overall, I think Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a really solid game, and this write-up may have seemed more negative then that result, but that is because I don't think its highs ever quite reached Zero, and its lows were certainly lower. From what I remember, this game will probably be ranked higher than Kiwami 1, but I won't make that official until I actually go back and do another playthrough. I'm excited to eventually start 3, but I think Kiryu has earned himself a little break after what he just went through.

Is this game the Greatest game of all time: No, it will not dethrone its father

Where does it rank: I am placing Kiwami 2 as the 9th greatest game out of a list of 42 games. Its still a really solid entry and would probably be even better if you didn't play zero, but Zero is the superior Yakuza game. It sits between Nba 2k18 (8th) and That's You (10th)

Up Next: The legend of Zelda (NES)

Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion). Here

Thanks for listening.

P.s. How does anyone have time to platinum games these days? Like Seriously, I tip my hat to those that can. I really tried for Kiwami 2, but I found myself working so hard on beating bouncer missions, the coliseum, completing restaurants that I started resenting the game for having so much in it and I had to bow out before I made myself miserable. Is there a secret couple hours in the day that I don't know about?