This post contains spoilers for Yakuza Kiwami 2 (and by extension the series as a whole). Click off if you plan on playing the game!
If you're my friend, or hell if you just happen upon this website (see: the site logo), it's probably no secret that I've been going through something of a Yakuza series phase. I started 0 around the beginning of this year, but ultimately got caught up with other obligations and wasn't able to finish it. During that period, I liked what I played, but I wasn't wowed initially. In April or so, I started a new save on 0, and immediately got super hooked. I went on to beat the main game in a little over two weeks, and continued to play after for the substories and side-games. By the time I had gotten everything I wanted out of the game, I had sunk more hours into it than any other game in recent memory. I was gripped hard by the main story and the sheer will and ingenuity many of the characters showed. Right after wrapping up my time with 0, I bought Kiwami. Taking a cursory glance online, it's seemingly a common thing for people to play 0, love it, and then be disappointed with Kiwami. Me personally? I loved it just as much. I'm glad I played 0 first; seeing Kiryu and Nishiki in their salad days made the main plot a hell of a lot more emotional and three-dimensional, and definitely made the city of Kamurocho feel a lot more lived in. I was fine with most of the changes to the combat, but the Kiwami move mechanic during bosses was incredibly frusturating and I wish they'd either not implemented it at all, or atleast let standard heat moves cancel out the recovery. Also, god I love Haruka. She's a much-needed wholesome beam of light in an otherwise pretty emotional main story; I never cease to smile a little when Kiryu goes full dad mode with her. I didn't spend as much time in Kiwami's aftergame, mostly just because I played substories and sidegames as I chipped away at the main story, rather than just running through it like I did in 0. I started Kiwami 2 after, and I just finished it last night. My opinions are complicated to say the least.
For starters, I guess there's the elephant in the room: the new engine. Personally, I liked it quite a lot. The fighting felt much more fluid, and I liked a lot of the new mechanics. By far I think the two new combat features that add the most, are the ability to stash weapons found in battle for later, and Extreme Heat mode. The latter you unlock later in the game, but it's a massive game-changer and one I'm surprised wasn't thought of sooner. By pulling the right trigger with a fully charged Heat gauge, you can burn it for increased defense and damage. This adds a great amount of choice to the game. You can either use your Heat to trigger a powerful finishing move on your enemy, or you can burn it for a more strategic, but just as deadly boost. Visually, the new engine looks stunning, too. Sotenbori in particular looks beautiful at night, and everything just feels a hell of a lot more dynamic. The side-content, although a little lacking in the side-games department, excels in substories. There are some really really good ones this time around. My favorite is "Overwhelming Affluence", in which you meet an elderly man who makes a big point out of flaunting his wealth. Eventually, after attempting to buy out Majima's Kamurocho Hills plan, he goes destitute. It's a great display of karma and it manages to be funny as hell in the process. "Legendary Dragon", which has you fight someone impersonating Kiryu to shake people down for money was also really great.
However, the real bones of the game lie in the main story, which I found to be not as good as the other games, but still a very engaging story nonetheless. The game opens with a flashback inside a burning building. You see Shintaro Kazama shoot down a man, who swears at him in Korean before seemingly dropping dead. This is followed by an (at first) unknown man approaching and asking if he's okay. He responds by begging him to save his child and wife, which he does. Meanwhile, in the present day, Tojo Clan Chairman Yukio Terada pleads with a now-retired Kiryu to negotiate a peace treaty with the Omi Alliance. Terada is ultimately shot and killed by Omi hitmen, bringing the Tojo Clan into frenzy. Kiryu decides to make good on Terada's dying wish, going to Sotenbori to negotiate the peace treaty. This peace treaty is never reached, due to the Omi's most powerful family, the Go-Ryu Clan, and it's leader, Ryuji Goda, being against it, wanting complete power over the Omi Alliance and the Tojo Clan. Through all of this, we meet Kaoru Sayama; a cop who accompanies Kiryu for most of the game. From the very beginning, her motivations are clear: the Tojo Clan killed her family. She wants to know who they were. She puts Kiryu into protective custody in attempts to get closer to the Tojo Clan. I'm still not really sure what I think of her. She starts off pretty obnoxious, and that side of her often sprouts up even later in the game, but she does end up pulling her weight a lot. The thing that upsets me most about her character is that around the midpoint, she randomly shifts to just be a rather one-dimensional love interest for Kiryu. Also, at numerous points, she begins to question her allegiance to the police force, but this is never really expanded upon and she stays a cop in the end.
It's revealed pretty early on that many of the events of the game are connected to a Korean group called the Jingweon Mafia, who were thought to all have been slaughtered by the Tojo Clan twenty years prior to the game. This event is the one shown at the opening of the game. The man who we see approach the injured man is a detective named Jiro Kawara who we become accustomed to throughout the course of the story. The game shows us this event numerous times, each time adding a new major detail. We learn that Kazama never wanted to slaughter the Jingweon, he just wanted them out of Kamurocho. He even managed to let a few people leave unscathed. Then, we learn that a young Kiryu was present during the event, and screwed up the peace negotiations, thinking Kazama was in trouble. Finally, and possibly most notably, we learn that the woman Kawara saved was Kaoru's mother, whom he fell in love and eventually had a child with. This child was Kaoru.
Eventually, we get to the final face-off with Ryuji Goda, who partnered with the Jingweon for the common goal of destroying Kamurocho. We learn that the baby Kawara rescued was Goda, making Kaoru his half-sister. After the fight against Goda, we get quite possibly the most contrived plot twist I've ever seen in a game. Fucking Terada, who's believed to be dead for the entirety of the game, just waltzes in and reveals he was one of the survivors of the Jingweon Massacre, and his entire tenure in both the Omi Alliance and the Tojo Clan were him biding his time, waiting to enact justice for the murders. Yeah, he somehow managed to fake getting shot in the chest and flatlining in an ambulance, and even managed to make it convincing enough that the Tojo Clan held a funeral for him. You fight him, and then he reveals that a bomb is on the building, set to explode in ten minutes. Goda recovers from your earlier fight with him, and you battle him again, the two knowing full and well that there's a ticking bomb right next to them. Goda dies after the fight (was shot prior), and with a couple of seconds left on the clock, a helicopter ready and willing to rescue them (with Kiryu's adoptive daughter, Haruka on board!), and an entire city below, Kiryu and Kaoru make out, over the dead body of her newly-discovered half brother. But thankfully, it's revealed that the bomb was a fake. Only after Kiryu and Kaoru made out next to it instead of doing anything. I really didn't like this ending. What's more, whatever romance is shown between the two doesn't even matter because Kaoru moves to the US after the events of the game.
I should probably also mention that the Jingweon are a fucking weird antagonist, mostly in how they're depicted. This game sometimes borders on straight up nationalism with how they depict them. We're shown multiple times that the Jingweon are murderous, soulless people who forego their humanity and will forfeit their lives to protect their creed. Characters refer to them as "Illegal Aliens" or "the Koreans" numerous times. I understand that the original script for this game was written in 2007, therefore there's gonna be at least some dated shit, but it felt so very uncomfortable to me.
That being said, most of my time with this game was positive. I had a really good time playing it, even if there were moments that felt a little uncomfortable. The ending is just so stupid to me that it kinda ruins a lot. As it stands, I'm kinda experiencing burnout on the series as a whole. Not because of my experience with YK2; playing three games consecutively in the same series just kinda does that to you. I started 3 but I'm probably gonna drop it for now and play something else to cleanse my pallette.