Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an expanded remake of the PS2's Yakuza 2 and, in my opinion, definitely the better way to experience that game in 2021. A word of advice to those considering starting the Yakuza series for the first time - MAKE SURE you play Yakuza 0 BEFORE you play Kiwami 2. I was originally going to play them in release order and just substitute Kiwami and Kiwami 2 in for 1 and 2; fortunately, I decided to play 0 after Kiwami but before Kiwami 2. There are a lot of things in Kiwami 2 that are either easier, make more sense, or outright can't be fully appreciated without having played 0 first. There's my little PSA for y'all.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place about year after the events of the first game. Fortunately, for those who played the first game long enough before this one to forget a lot of details, there's a spot right at the beginning that lets you view recaps of the events of Kiwami to refresh your memory. I usually give a synopsis of the story, but given that the events of this game are so closely tied to the events of the first game, and that game is such a masterpiece, I'm going to skip the synopsis so as not to spoil anything about Kiwami 1 accidentally for anyone who may not yet have started their Yakuza journey. As far as the core game goes - as is always the case with Yakuza, there's a TON of optional side stuff to do - it's a highly cinematic masterpiece that never really slows down until the credits roll, and even then, there are after credit scenes to wrap up a few story elements. If that's all you do, though, then you're missing SO much of what Yakuza has to offer. There are literally dozens of side stories as well as two entire optional storylines embedded in the game's two major mini-games.
The first of these two major side story mini-games makes a return of Yakuza 0 - the Cabaret Club Czar, although this time it's called Cabaret Club Grand Prix. The premise is basically the same - there's an evil conglomerate that controls a bunch of shady cabaret clubs, and you've got to beat them in a competition to put your club on the top of the food chain and shut down the shady dudes. If you played through the cabaret club storyline in Yakuza 0, then you've got a head start here because the hand signals that the girls use are the same. There are a few tweaks to the stats and whatnot, and the "Trouble" events that happen when you badly mismatch a customer with a girl have been refined to make more sense and be MUCH easier to resolve, but at its heart, it's the same. You won't be rolling in billions of yen like you were in Yakuza 0, but since you don't use money to upgrade your stats and abilities in Kiwami 2 (more on that in a bit), you don't need NEARLY as much cash, so you end up an equivalent level of "unnecessarily wealthy."
The other major side story mini-game is Majima Construction. Majima has left the Tojo Clan and started a construction business. However, a shady rival business (see a pattern?) is trying to shut him down by wrecking his equipment. Kiryu finds himself in the position of foreman in charge of the construction crews and has to order them about to protect the equipment. This basically Majima: Total War. You can have up to nine Majima Construction employees on a team, and you have to protect the equipment against wave after wave - plus the occasional boss (or bosses) - of enemies. This is more of a money sink than a money maker, so I personally would suggest completing Cabaret Club Grand Prix before tackling this one, but you don't have to; I did Majima Construction first. It's also to your benefit to wait till towards the end of the game to do this storyline because a lot of the employees you can recruit to fight are unlocked from sub-stories and side encounters as you play through the game. This is also true of Cabaret Club Grand Prix, so that advice applies there, as well.
I'll be frank in that it's been long enough since I played Yakuza Kiwami that I don't remember exactly how it handled upgrading your stats and abilities, so I'll refrain from drawing comparisons. In Kiwami 2, you get experience points from eating, fighting, completing objectives, and checking things off your Completion List. There are five different categories of experience points, and different upgrades and stat increases require different types and amounts of experience points. You want to make sure you're eating a LOT because that's a good regular way to keep the experience points coming in. You have an appetite limit, and eating above that keeps you from getting any experience points, so keep an eye on that and have a snack whenever you pass a restaurant.
As fantastic as the combat in this game - and it's truly satisfying - the story is definitely the star of the show. The characters are AMAZINGLY developed, the voice acting is fantastic even if it is exclusively in Japanese, and the narrative is riveting. Of course, if you've played other Yakuza games, you'll know that that's just par for the course; part of what makes Yakuza so damn good is that it's consistently telling an amazing story with amazing characters. It's almost frustrating to have the side stuff in the game because the side stories are too good to ignore, but the main story is so incredibly good that you don't want to deviate from it. It's an amazing problem to have, but it does get a bit frustrating.
I had originally planned to dive straight into Yakuza 3 after finishing Kiwami 2. As with Kiwami 1 and 0, however, I find myself in need of a Yakuza break after this game because of how long it is. It took me roughly 50 hours to get through Kiwami 2 between the side stuff, the main story, and just trying to experience all the game had to offer (and I still only got about 2/3 of the trophies). You absolutely get your money's worth here both in quantity and quality of game, but you will probably feel some game fatigue by the time you're done. The Dragon of Dojima never disappoints, but he does exhaust.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a masterpiece of a game. I've only played three Yakuza games so far - 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2 - but all three have been absolute masterpiece games. If any game series deserves a television adaptation, it's Yakuza (although they'd probably screw it up). The characters and stories are just so deep and well-written that you'll NEVER be bored with the main story. Some of the side stories and mini-games can get tedious at times, but the main story is turned up to 10 from start to finish. The entire series (almost) is on Game Pass, so if you're an Xbox or PC gamer, you're in luck; Yakuza is no longer a solely PlayStation series. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea - you definitely need the attention span for long games to get through Yakuza - but if you're into long and heavily narrative-driven games, Yakuza is about as good as it gets, and Kiwami 2 is an exemplar of that.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.