TL;DR: Buy Yakuza Kiwami 2. Don’t play Mahjong.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a remake and expansion of Yakuza 2, and a high point for the series. It includes a new translation and rerecorded voice work, and tells the story more accurately than before (while keeping some classic lines that were worthy of preservation). It’s a great story, too. If you’re experiencing it for the first time, prepare yourself for one of the best storylines in the entire series. It may be a little slow to start while introducing the cast and their backgrounds, but everything ties together brilliantly by the end of this lengthy campaign.
But for players that have already played the original, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is still worth playing. In fact, it often feels more like a sequel to Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6 than the original Yakuza (or its Kiwami remake).
The cabaret management minigame makes its return from Yakuza 0, and though Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place decades later, it still feels like picking up right where you left off thanks to the returning characters and connected storyline. It’s also been updated with some quality of life features that make it easier to play than before, even if the core gameplay hasn’t really changed much. Still, fans of this mini game should be very satisfied!
And from Yakuza 6, the Clan Creator is back. This time around rather than pushing your army through a large map to eventually reach a boss or two, the player is instead tasked with protecting vehicles and objects in their base. I consider this an improvement because the real-time strategy aspect of this just works better in a defensive context. In Yakuza 6 I felt like I was just constantly spamming to move my army forward, but in Yakuza Kiwami 2, the positioning and classes of your units really matters.
There are a few other new minigames too, including Toylets, where you literally have to pee to victory (and Kiryu—the protagonist—now has a persistent bladder meter throughout the whole game just for this), and Bingo Golf, which involves hitting golf balls onto a giant bingo card. The Sega arcades also have Virtual-On and Virtua Fighter 2, which are frankly two games that I can’t stand playing, but your mileage may vary.
There’s also another minigame that involves scantily clad live action girls posing for Kiryu’s camera where he has to—wait for it—come up with complete and grammatically correct sentences it order to see more scenes. This actually requires fairly significant mastery of the English language, as you will need to understand the context of completed sentences before you even know what the available word choices will be. It was a fun distraction, but I think I liked the Live Chat in Yakuza 6 better.
I would like to say that the biggest new addition to Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the Majima campaign, but I wrapped that up in less than two hours, which made it actually far shorter than both the cabaret management and Clan Creator storylines. It’s still very much worth playing, especially for fans of Yakuza 0, because this is once again an example of how Yakuza Kiwami 2 acts as a sequel to more than one game, and it ties up some loose ends beautifully. But I still would have liked it to be a more fully featured experience. Given its length, it’s not surprising that there’s no way to level up Majima, but it still seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Honestly, those are the most important new features this time around. Everything else is either rehash or quality of life improvements. I love, for example, that you can carry every type of consumable and that each has its own inventory limit, rather being limited to only 15 or so items in total. Now when I walk up to a vending machine, I just buy a bunch of all of the different drinks, and actually use these items that I so thoroughly ignored in previous games! Combat, experience and the learning of skills is almost exactly the same as in Yakuza 6, which means combat is okay enough to occasionally be fun but is still more of a masher than anything else (but let’s face it, nobody plays Yakuza for the combat). I will say that weapons finally feel powerful, and can make the most difficult hand-to-hand fights of the game trivial. And as far as returning minigames, we once again have UFO Catchers, Karaoke, Poker, Blackjack, Koi-koi, Oicho-kabu, Shogi, Batting Cages, Darts, and Mahjong….
MAHJONG! Okay, so that’s pretty much it for my Yakuza Kiwami 2 review. The rest of this document is just going to be telling you a story about Mahjong. So there’s a side story in which Kiryu is asked to play Mahjong for an NPC down on his luck. That would be fine and good, except the game Kiryu is forced to play starts him at a severe disadvantage. Mahjong is a difficult game to learn, and even once you get good at it, you’re still lucky to win 25% of the time, as it is a 4-player game. So imagine that rather than starting with the same number of points as your opponents, that you start with only 1000 to their 33,000 instead.
It. Is. Fucking. Awful!
Most games go like this… You lose the first round, you lose 1000-12000 points, the game ends because one of the players has fallen below 0 points and the NPCs laugh at how bad Kiryu is at Mahjong. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
So I’ve never really learned Mahjong before, but for some reason, this challenge called to me, and I was determined to succeed. I played Mahjong for 6 hours. Finally, at 2:30 in the morning, I failed yet again and decided to call it a night. I rolled around in bed restlessly for a couple of hours and finally fell asleep around 4:30. A few hours later the alarm went off, and I groggily started my work day. Guess what I did at work?
That’s right! I studied winning hands for Mahjong. I learned which hands were worth more points and which ones were enough to end a round but didn’t really accomplish anything. I learned why the hell it was that sometimes it seemed like I should have been able to go out, but the game wouldn’t let me. I pored over websites and spreadsheets so that I could finally get a grasp on how the hell this game was supposed to work.
When I got home, I hunkered down and dug in to this challenge yet again. Again and again, the NPCs would laugh at Kiryu as if he was the worst Mahjong player on Earth. Occasionally I’d have a good win or two, but inevitably I would play the tile that handed victory to another player, and watch my score dip below 0 yet again. And even when I had a couple of good wins sequentially, the game would eventually end due to a limit to the number of rounds allowed, before I was able to overtake the top player (and this was on the long game mode).
That’s how severely the odds are stacked again Kiryu in this side-story: this side-story which, for many American players, will be their first introduction to Mahjong; an introduction which is as unfair and cruel as I could possibly fathom.
“Worst. Side-story. Ever.” I posted on social media, to a reply of “I skipped it” from one of my far more rational colleagues. Yes… skipping it… that would have been the wise thing to do. I’m a reviewer. My time is valuable and limited. I should focus on the main story… but no… 12 hours of Mahjong… TWELVE HOURS OF MAHJONG is what it took for the tables to turn. Hand after hand went my way, and somehow, I achieved victory! It was sweet! A “Mile-High Club” caliber accomplishment! Yatta!
Anyway, a short time later I found an item called a Peerless Tile (I later found out there are three of these in the game). It lets you draw “Thirteen Orphens,” which is a rare and valuable hand, and is single-handedly worth enough points to take 48,000 points each away from your opponents, winning the entire game instantly.
Truth be told, I knew such an item had to exist. I used a similar item while playing Shogi, though that one just allowed an A.I. to take turns for you (and took a good half hour of playing to give the A.I. enough time to think about what moves to play). But I played through this side-story without cheating anyway. I’ve always kind of wanted to learn Mahjong.
When I finally won, after so many hours, and after so many struggles, I was finally able to do the logical thing: I, of course, started another game of Mahjong. I must be good at it by now, right?
WRONG. I lost. Fuck Mahjong and fuck that side-story.
Ari completed Yakuza Kiwami 2 in 50 hours (of which only 12 were spent playing Mahjong). He received a copy of the game for review purposes from Atlus U.S.A., Inc.
+One of the best stories in the entire franchise
+Lengthy main campaign and plenty of entertaining distractions
+Cabaret management is back
+Great cast of characters, including the always entertaining Goro Majima
-Shogi is still too hard to learn
-Still no Go minigame (I know, I know, wishful thinking)
Available on: PlayStation 4
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4 Pro