It’s the smells and sounds of a place that brings you back to it first. The clangs, creaks, and aches that are unique and vibrant to each individual location. It’s home. Nothing else connects to the soul of who you are as much as this town, this place, this city.
You unlock its secrets, its back-alley shortcuts, its places to be. Nothing lays hidden as you sleathly but assuredly build up a mythology to this place, to this mighty home of yours. Its special, it’s entirely and completely your own. The air, the noises, and the sights are yours, intertwining with yourself to craft something larger, to form a symbiotic bond with who you are. There is no where else in the world like it.
Kamurocho is the same old place with the same old sounds and sights. After all, it’s only been a year. However, something is different, something doesn’t click the same way anymore. Over the past 12 months since the events of Yakuza Kiwami took place, the city has kept going. Like any real place, a city grows all around you. It hums along with your energy and mood, slowly coming to depend on you. It builds itself around you until one day you get up and leave, and suddenly realize it never needed you at all. That maybe that special bond was never so special to begin with.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a strange game. Disappointingly so much of the time. When I wrote of Yakuza Kiwami a year ago one of the major themes I kept returning to was how the game was actually rooted in Shakespearean storytelling. It was grand, epic, sweeping, and a tragedy at its core.
Kiwami 2 doesn’t really match the restless, frenzied energy of what came before. It’s far more measured and much more of a slow burn. The game stumbles around early on, trying to establish its footing and bouncing between two different cities – neither of which fully capture the magic of Kamurocho in the first game – does nothing to help with this. It meanders and frets away time in what often feels like padded, thrown-on objectives just to make the game long enough. It never manages to recapture the frantic, must-be-told story of Kiwmai 1.
Yet, what Kiwami 2 does carry at its most interesting is a heavy weight of melancholy. A lot of people were lost in the previous title. Indeed, Kiryu’s life was rocked by a series of betrayals, deaths, and a wave of pain. He and Haruka – who is criminally sidelined in this title in a shockingly wasted way – were virtually all that was left standing as their worlds were consumed in flames and loss in the last title.
When Kiwami 2 leans into those feelings of sorrow it’s at its strongest and seems most self-aware. The pathos of characters dealing with trauma are well-handled moments. Particularly regarding Kiryu’s conversations and relationship with new character Sayuma, the game shines when having these discussions. Both have been wounded and left with jagged edges from the losses they’ve endured and when they discuss and debate acts of vengeance in easing the pain it is a thoughtful, contemplative series of exchanges, one that crucially is left open-ended. These are quiet but important moments wonderfully pondered by the game and its characters.
Kiwami 2, in its quietest moments, dives into the weight of years of decisions and mistakes by Kiryu and company, with a particularly poignant moment having him talk of how he regrets his time spent as a Yakuza, how his path shouldn’t be the model or guide for anyone. Kiryu was a man out of time in the last game but here it really hits home that maybe there never was a time for a man like Kiryu, maybe he’s always been the abnormal, the one trying to fight against an uncaring and broken world.
Yet, the game just as quickly jettisons all of the heavy story beats for mini-games, tedious tasks, a cabaret club, and construction management games within games that each feel so out of place and disingenuous to the story that it appears Kiwami 2 is aiming for. It forces you into absurd and nonsensical tasks and where there was always a sort of glimmer in the eye regarding this stuff in Kiwami 1, almost like the developers had a decade to really understand how silly some of it was, none of that is present here and so instead we are left with tasks galore in poor taste, tedium, and that stop the game’s momentum. The game has no idea of what it really wants to be, no central theme it really seems to be going for, and no reason for being other than to have another Yakuza game.
Kiwami 2 ditches the brilliantly realized fighting system from its predecessor, with its four different fighting styles each unique to certain enemies and to individual playing styles and instead settles for one single basic fighting system. No choice, no variety, none of the flavor and spark of before is retained. It fails to keep the prior menu layout and instead delivers one that seems to be less advanced and enjoyable to look at.
It also ditches added on features that Kiwami 1 had, like the ability to read evolving biographies on all the characters introduced, something that was particularly helpful given Yakuza games’ large cast of heroes and villains, and the many plot twists that go with them. It also fails to keep the updating list of the major plot beats of each chapter of the games sprawling tale to keep things straight.
I can’t understand the decision to remove any of these features, which only serve to weaken the game. The decision to gut the fighting system, dumb down the menus, and strip the game of many of the supplemental world building features is a bafflingly and horrendously made choice. All that has occurred is a weaker Yakuza game being put out. Yakuza Kiwami was a PS2 game that was given a fantastic PS4 remaster from the ground up, with added in storylines and a major flashback arc for the games key villain. Kiwami 2 is simply a PS2 game that looks nicer, with any added on features being woefully inadequate to the tower of ones removed.
It’s those gameplay and mechanic decisions that ultimately drag the experience the most. Kiwami was a joy and delight to play and while Kiwami 2 is still enjoyable, it doesn’t seem to really have any of the insanity or lean into the bonkers set-pieces in the same way the first one did. Even when it taps into a moment similar from the first game like fighting your way through an abandoned building, Kiwami 2 loses much of the restless energy and magic of it through bad pacing, poor enemy placement, and the absence of the different fighting styles from before which forced you to evolve and constantly be on your toes throughout. Kiwami 2 seems both more straight-laced and also somehow less believable and real at the same time. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be and thus stumbles along lots of different paths not really nailing any of them.
The poor taste is one area I really want to zero in on for a second. Kiwami 2 is a staggeringly sexist video game. I am floored by the refusal to change any dialogue or scenes from the original regarding scenes with female characters. Constant condescending statements, derogatory remarks, and a baffling number of close-ups, zoom-ins, and lingering glances at women in various states of dress pockmark the game’s entire proceedings. Sayuma, the main female character, is woefully treated here. From wearing nothing but a towel for an entire cutscene for no reason, to constantly finding other male characters marveling at her appearance and how there is a brain inside her after all, to snide comments to be more like a lady, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is utterly inept and failed at the most basic understanding of how to treat female characters. One could say the game is merely making a commentary on the state of sexual relations between men and women but that is so clearly not the case.
All of this is to say nothing of the numerous and staggering amounts of mini-games involving women in various positions of over-sexualization with the explicit purpose to be ogled at by the player. One game involving taking pictures of a woman while earning points for saying certain comments to make her feel more comfortable getting more and more undressed left me disgusted and wanting a shower after playing. Then there is the cabaret club management sim, where you oversee the employees of the club, changing their physical appearance to make them more desirable to the customers to earn more money. Attitudes, costumes, and other traits can also be switched around to make the females the ultimate money making machines, all traces of humanity and dignity stripped away unless it can lead to a few more bucks from the regulars.
Kiwami 2 has a problem with women. Among the games many sins this is the one that kept rearing its ugly head up the most, and damning the game to the status of a failed dinosaur of a story. None of this was acceptable in 2008, but in 2018, with the outpouring of women of incredible bravery sharing their stories of harassment, abuse, and just general disrespect daily, Yakuza Kiwami 2 suddenly becomes a horrifying minefield of a video game. Jokes made at a trans characters expense, a weak, constantly demeaned main female character who shockingly finds herself the victim of physical abuse numerous times, and a game that allows a radically outdated, offensive, and ugly view of a womans place in the world and the hero worship of men, Yakuza fails to understand others. Maybe this was always there. Maybe I mearly missed it in Kiwami 1, and maybe my love for that title was always misguided. That’s my own problem. What I do know though, is that we have to do better then this.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 doesn’t know what to be, where to go, or how to continue things. Sometimes it succeeds in its different approaches to things, far more often than not it doesn’t though. Yakuza Kiwami 2 stumbles around in the dark desperately trying to recapture the magic of what came before. It without question is a massive faceplant compared to what came before and to where we as a society and culture now stand in 2018. It forces Kiryu and others to make decisions that don’t seem reflective of who we have learned them to be after hours together in Kiwami 1. It rips out the heart of the first title with Haruka kicked aside, and loses the searing importance and soulful tale from before. There will be those who say that Kiryu isn’t sexist, isn’t problematic, and actively goes out of his own way to help all the female characters large or small in the game. To that I say, one mans actions don’t counterweigh the heavy cross of institutionalized and systematic rampant sexism.
Devoid of much pacing, woefully out of date in 2018, and oftentimes stunningly tone deaf to what this series is and the pillars that have defined it, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is among the most disappointing games I’ve ever played. I wouldn’t have recommended it when Yakuza 2 came out, but in this day and age, in this new empowered world it is simply an unacceptably offensive title.
This game was reviewed on a Standard PlayStation 4 system with a review code provided by the publisher.