By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
PART brawlers, part Japanese dramas, and part open-world experiences, Sega’s Yakuza games have always been a ridiculous but compelling blend of action and adventure. While they initially seem like compilations of conflicted ideas from a fever dream, their interesting, over-the-top antics and enjoyable combat systems are truly anything. Their stories keep you invested, and their atmosphere, taken individually or collectively, is nothing short of engrossing. Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of 2006’s Yakuza 2, follows pretty much the same formula. Featuring better graphics and sounds, enhanced gameplay, and new story elements, it does its best to keep the spirit of its source material while tacking on some of its own unique flair.
In Yakuza Kiwami 2, you follow the story of Kiryu Kazama, a former gang enforcer who struggles to put the old ways behind him. After the assassination of one of the Yakuza leaders threatens to spark an all-out war in the streets, he is reluctantly deprived of his peaceful existence and forced to take matters into his own hands. He finds himself back in the life he had tried so hard to avoid, and through the use of his fists, his charisma, and the sheer stoic nature of his character, he moves to find the men responsible for the killing and prevent any further bloodshed.
The main plot of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is solid, its serious tale of gang politics and violence complemented by its larger-than-life set pieces. Propelled by a great-looking and sounding foundation, the narrative elevates it and continually hooks you in. It can border on the absurd at times, but the way it flows seamlessly from one sequence to another is nothing short of sensational. And with new chapters added to fill in the blanks evident in the original, there’s plenty of the story to experience — and all of it interesting, if not great. Kiryu is thrown into all sorts of trouble, and when violence greets him, he possesses the wherewithal to hold his own against his opponents.
To be sure, combat is something Yakuza Kiwami 2 does very well. The battle mechanics aren’t overly complicated, and, in fact, make for fluid action and reaction. They reward aggression, patience, and skill. And while they don’t offer the stance-switching capacity of Kiryu in Yakuza Kiwami, the fast-flowing nature of fight sequences more than make up for the omission. He is able to dart, weave, and beat down his foes with his fists or any weapons he can lay his hands on, and Heat moves are just as flashy as ever. Earned by landing hits and dodging attacks, they entice you to engage in multiple sidequests.
Fortunately, Yakuza Kiwami 2’s nonlinear pursuits are anything but boring. Not always serious but invariably sure to entertain, they show that while the game’s open world may not be as expansive as other titles, it is nonetheless filled to the brim with content. Activities are always on hand for those willing to do them, and even as they would definitely be out of place in any other gang-themed action brawler, they’re right at home in the Yakuza series. What other game can have you singing in karaoke bars or playing golf, in the process giving that feeling of utter drollery, and yet keep you extremely engaged in its setting?
In a nutshell, Yakuza Kiwami 2’s ability to be comical and yet totally immersive is what makes it so engrossing. While the Yakuza series has never quite taken itself so seriously, the many antics Kiryu can perform in its latest release are just absurdly funny, but never too fantastic that it’s next to unbelievable. It takes itself seriously, but knows when to lighten up and have a laugh, even at its own expense. It can keep you hooked with its main story and, at the same time, entertain you with its side quests. It offers a stylized charm that no other series has been able to mimic, presenting a juxtaposition of comedy and drama without the slightest hint of regret.
In the final analysis, Yakuwa Kiwami 2 wonderfully treads the fine line between being weighty and being silly. It’s a brilliant game from start to finish; you never run out of things to do while uncovering a deep storyline at your own pace. Parenthetically, its biggest flaw isn’t that it does anything badly, but that it has to end at some point. Until then, it’s a heck of a ride that both those new to the Yakuza series and longtime fans will definitely love. It’s a high point that will make you look forward to more of the same.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (PS4) — It takes a lot for developers to make games that prove more than what they seem and ultimately leave players with a lasting impression. While some titles don’t try to be anything more than temporary diversions, others strive for more than just a fleeting experience. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is significantly of the latter kind, with The Bearded Ladies striving to combine environment-prompted storytelling and turn-based mechanics to produce a gripping and enjoyable release inspired by — believe it or not — a series of pen-and-paper role-playing games.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden builds upon and brings its tabletop roots to life on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Personal Computer. Players are thrust into the action as part of a group of Stalkers, mutants tasked with retrieving supplies and resources to fuel the settlement of Ark’s survival in a post-apocalyptic world. When one of the teams goes missing while on an expedition, they get to control a party of three characters in an effort to find Hammon, the chief operator of the city’s systems, as well as look into the existence of the mythical land of Eden. Along the way, they are compelled to scavenge for supplies and weaponry, and fend off the many dangers that lurk beyond the safety of Ark’s walls.
Graphics-wise, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden looks fair but doesn’t push the limits of its technology. Nevertheless, it sets itself apart though its character and background designs. Vegetation and ruins are heavily contrasted with stylized cityscapes. Abandoned shacks and dark forests are par for the course, and constructed well enough to make them feel unique and interesting. Alongside a wide variety of mutants, both friendly and otherwise, they succeed in setting the proper tone for the narrative to move along.
Parenthetically, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s gameplay holds up well. Its combat mechanics are straightforward but engrossing, playing out similarly to Firaxis’ XCOM releases, with characters being able to move and perform actions or dash to designated areas in turns. Pretty much standard fare as far as these games go? Perhaps. The Bearded Ladies makes its work stand out by adding a twist to exploration: Players are able to maneuver their squad in real time around the map, picking up much-needed supplies and even being able to ambush patrolling enemies and whittle them down one by one. It’s a simple quirk, but it creates some interesting scenarios and gives players some leniency on how to neutralize threats. Do they go in guns blazing once they’ve found some defendable areas? Do they lure enemies into manageable firing zones? Or do they move about the map and risk detection, but also get to take down stragglers to reduce the overall number of enemies?
The extent of freedom offered players is what makes Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden so unique. Its interesting blend of gameplay elements framed within its grim and dark setting creates a captivating experience. That said, it has set rules, and is far from perfect as a result. The Random Number Goddess system, for instance, can lead to frustration, especially during times when a crucial shot can mean the difference between survival and death. It certainly doesn’t help that some enemies are brutally unforgiving and can easily beat players down if not approached properly. The lack of a meaningful level progression for characters is also a hindrance; the skills earned during gameplay and the weapons and armor that can be scavenged and bought seem like minor upgrades rather than major overhauls and do very little to spice up the gameplay once a routine is established.
For all the unpredictability of dicerolls in combat, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a straightforward story from beginning to end, focused more on its themes and less on its replay value. Nonetheless, it’s absolutely fantastic at its best and leaves players wanting for more. The first playthrough is especially revealing, cementing its status as a solid addition to the PS4’s extensive library of role-playing titles despite its flaws. (7.5/10)
Video Game Review
Yakuza Kiwami 2
• Outstanding production values
• Compelling narrative
• Fun, fast-paced combat mechanics that rewards skill and smart play
• Plenty of side activities and minigames on offer
• Comedic elements may seem overbearing
• Sidequests flirt with redundancy
• The “open world” can feel small at times