Every month you can watch reviews and read our thoughts on the games we've been playing, old and new. This month we have two video reviews and a lot of little bits and pieces for you to read.
YAKUZA KIWAMI 2
Confession time: this is my first real shot of Yakuza 2. At University, when Joe and I lived together, I’d mainly watch him play the game and maybe occasionally do a couple of fights, so in many ways Kiwami 2 is like being gifted a whole new Yakuza game and I imagine a lot of people, both regular Yakuza fans and those new to the series feel the same way.
The game picks up a year after the events of Yakuza 1 and deals with the aftermath of Kazuma and Nishki’s battle and the impact it’s had on the Tojo Clan. Like big Al Pacino in The Godfather, Kazuma is pulled back into a world of double-crosses, karaoke and topless battles, both in Kamurocho and Osaka, last seen in Yakuza 0. Being back in Osaka is fun, and there’s plenty to do when you first arrive, from playing some golf mini-games, losing at mahjong, getting acupuncture, playing Virtual-On in the arcade or making new pals.The new pal missions, or Ally Missions, are short side quests that unlock new heat moves you can use in certain locations, although you’ll still need to spend some experience points to use them.
Talking of experience and levelling up, the Yakuza 6 system is back again; for those of you who haven’t played Yakuza 6, every time you eat, fight, complete a side-quest or activity, you get different points for strength, health, heat etc, and you use them to either increase your states or unlock or level-up your abilities.
It sounds more complicated than it is, but compared to Yakuza 6 the game has felt a little tighter with the points this time around and having to use experience points on moves you’ve already unlocked, either by watching DVDs in the porn shop, visiting the acupuncturist or doing the Ally Missions, feels a wee bit unfair. At least it gives you extra encouragement to try out every restaurant you come across and the side-quests though, so it isn’t all bad! Or you could just get fired right into some Omi clan bastards on the streets of Sotenburi.
It goes without saying that the combat is as good as ever, with Yakuza 6 serving as its base with a few cool differences; holding down square or triangle will now charge up a special move, which depending on the context will deliver a drop-kick, mad triple flying kick or just a massive punch, and you can even start holding the button down while you’re on the ground so you can unleash it upon standing.
Storing weapons is also back, so remember to stock up before taking on a big mission because you never know when the difference between living or dying is having a pair of pliers or a portable stove in your inventory.
For me, the big thing that really impressed me about properly playing Yakuza 2, is Ryuji Goda.
Before the series got too bogged down in having the ultimate villain be someone completely unexpected, Ryuji Goda is the perfect foil for Kazuma; he’s ambitious, strong and younger than big Uncle Kaz and he’s not going to settle for being the second best Dragon in Japan. In many ways, he’s the other side of the Yakuza coin from Kazuma, willing to be underhand and rough where Kazuma is driven by a stricter moral code and sense of duty. The build-up, the introduction and the first fight you have with Goda is perfectly pitched and you finally get a rival who isn’t just a surprisingly muscular salaryman. The whole story of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is great and I don’t want to spoil any of it, because going in without too much knowledge is the best way to play it.
It would be irresponsible for me to finish this review without talking about the internet’s boyfriend, Goro Majima. Majima’s role has been greatly expanded from the original game and is even playable, but don’t get your heart set on a Yakuza Zero style experience, this is definitely more of a big mouthful as opposed to the full banana. After you meet the big man in chapter 5, which is also when you’ll unlock Kiwami 2’s version of Clan Creator, you’ll see the option appear in the main menu to explore Majima’s story, taking place in the year between Yakuza 1 and 2. You can’t level up Majima and, criminally, there’s only one karaoke song available, but the Mad Dog is great fun to play as, and while you only get a taste after you finish chapter five, you unlock more chapters of his story as you progress through the main game.
To help save time, I thought I would put together a quick Q&A session to answer your questions:
- Is Yakuza Kiwami 2 a good place to start the series?
You can start with any game you like, but I’d start with 0, then Kiwami 1 and then 2. Minimum Kiwami 1 though.
- Is Kiwami 2 better than 1?
I’d say so! There’s a lot more to do this time around, including managing a hostess bar again, being a bodyguard and Clan Creator is back again too. It’s a real big package this time around. It’s like a greatest hits version of the last few games, compared to the lighter offering of activities in Kiwami 1.
- Is it better than Yakuza 6?
That’s big question. For me, Yakuza 6 is probably my favourite entry in the series. I think because it meant so much to me in terms of the story and even more so because as a new Dad I was really touched by everything Kazuma does for his family. Each to their own though, and I think it’s great that Yakuza 2 is finally getting the audience it richly deserves.
- What’s next?
Well, we have Shin Yakuza coming sometime next year, hopefully, and the team behind Yakuza have made the new Fist of the North Star game which is due for release in October, so I’ll be getting fired into that.
- No, I mean, do you fancy getting some lunch?
Ehhhhh, yeah, alright!
Shenmue 1 & 2
I have no idea where to begin. Shenmue 1 and 2 are probably two of my favourite games ever made. I’ve been playing both games for years, pretty much since release. A yearly ritual of starting at disc 1 of Shenmue and playing through to the end of Shenmue 2’s fourth disc, and then playing the waiting game till Shenmue 3 gets released.
I know these games inside out.
Or at least, I thought I did.
The great thing about rereleases of older games is it’s a chance to start fresh, like a new player; no powered-up save files to rely on. Playing Shenmue on PS4 is a wonder; an eye-opening glimpse into a world where every minute detail is fully rendered, waiting to be perused, poked and prodded by Ryo Hazuki’s giant, veiny hands. I don’t think I’ve opened every drawer in the Hazuki household since the first time I played Shenmue almost 20 years ago, but playing again on PS4, I couldn’t help myself. I even found a move scroll I forgot existed in the washing basket.
Shenmue and its sequel are special. While most open world games give you the tools and freedom to destroy them, Shenmue’s Yokosuka and Shenmue 2’s Hong Kong ask you to just exist as a teenager. Well, a teenager with a murdered father to avenge and a proficiency in martial arts. And his own dojo to practise in. Handy, that.
The plot of Shenmue is ridiculous and intriguing and majestic and mundane all at once. Ryo’s father is murdered by Lan Di, so he embarks on a quest that’ll take him to Hong Kong and mainland China to get his revenge, but not before asking every inhabitant if they’ve seen guys in black suits. Or a guy with a tattoo. Or, yes, any sailors in the area.
It’s easy to mock Shenmue, but only if you’re a prick. It’s a game that asks you to find the fun in just wandering about and distracting yourself between the big story beats, which are poorly voiced from an extremely cheesy script. Shenmue 1 also has a lot of waiting about in it; I don’t mind finding an empty car park and practising martial arts moves to pass the time, but you might.
It’s safe to say there’s a lot of nothing happening in Shenmue 1; the virtua Fighter-based combat is barely seen until the third act of the game, and at a high-level barely anything happens in the plot. Ryo discovers Lan Di has left for Hong Kong, so he gets on a boat and then the credits roll.
But that ignores all the wonderful little moments of emotional connection you’ll make with the first game’s world and characters. Yokosuka is a small town where everyone knows Ryo’s name; witnessing Ryo’s distance from his pals and the potential love of his life is heartbreaking. Meanwhile, there are hints of something fantastical and mythical lurking just beneath the sober, bleak reality of Shenmue’s world. 20 years later, I’m still dying to find out just what the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors are all about.
Shenmue 2 fixes any problems Shenmue 1 might have had. Time can be skipped to avoid waiting about, almost every single inhabitant of Hong Kong can lead you right to where you want to go so you’ll never be lost, and the cities you visit are huge compared to Yokosuka. Shenmue 1’s air of bleakness is also gone from Shenmue 2. The first game is a complete downer; every facet, from the soundtrack to the moss-covered alleyways, is bleak and miserable, and while I love that, Shenmue 2 is a rollercoaster ride in comparison. It’s full of chases, fights and every king fu movie cliche imaginable, including not one but two wise masters using trees to teach lessons in martial arts prowess and general morality, and a dizzying chase to the top of a bamboo scaffold that inevitable topples down.
So yes, Shenmue 1 and 2 are amazing, incredible games. Before you get too excited though, there’s something you need to be aware of: this rerelease, or at least the PS4 version I’ve played, is a bit of a disappointment.
The image is weirdly dark, and the in-game contrast slider doesn’t really help much. There are sound glitches everywhere, and sometimes cutscenes don’t play properly, with the camera just sitting there looking at a bush. Sega know there are issues, and have said there will be a patch. Hopefully it’ll come soon because a lot of these issues leave a bad impression.
The worst issue though, and one that Sega didn’t actually list in the incoming fixes document we got along with our review copy of the game, is Shenmue 2’s soundtrack. There are easily fixable sound glitches throughout both games, but Shenmue 2’s beautiful soundtrack, specifically, sounds extremely bad in this rerelease, and it’s going to be a hell of a job to fix it. Notes are sustained to the point that everything sounds out of tune, and entire instruments are completely off key. The moment in Shenmue 2 where Xiuying lets you stay in her apartment for the first time is somewhat ruined by the gorgeous, serene melody that plays sounding instead like a melodica cover. I let Scott hear this and he thought I was playing a joke; the two of us pissed ourselves at the hilariously tragic music.
Look, in this day and age, games get patches. It’s just an inevitability now, so I’m going to give Sega the benefit of the doubt when they say they’re aware of the issues and are working on a fix. I just thought I’d make you all aware of how I feel.
Keep playing though, through the glitches and the terrible music, and you might end up entranced by the magic of Shenmue. As I’ve said, it’s a special game, one that feels like a proper, living world that you get to experience as a real person. There are entire blocks of flats with endless mazes of doors and rooms that are just there to reinforce that the world of Shenmue exists in the background with or without Ryo being there.
Almost 20 years on, and in a post-Uncharted age, Shenmue still delivers the big set-piece thrills that have come to define modern games too; huge scale Kung-fu fights, market-stall brawls. The chase where Ryo is handcuffed to Ren still sticks in my memory as one of the coolest sequences I’ve ever played.
The magic of Shenmue is something intangible and unique, and the issues with this port aren’t enough to ruin the spell completely. I don’t think I’d call this version the definitive edition, at least not until the issues are fixed. However, there is something undeniably great about playing both of these wonderful games in widescreen, with no frame rate dips and loading times so short they’re barely noticeable. On Dreamcast I’d avoid going indoors so I didn’t have to sit through a loading screen, but now I’ll happily go round to the pizzeria just to say hi to Boaby as he bakes his delicious pizzas.
If you’ve never played Shenmue before, and you want to play something truly different from all the other third-person open world action games, then Shenmue 1 & 2 is essential. If, like me, you’ve played them to death but feel the urge to revisit them, then it’s worth picking them up too. Just be aware that right now, while the core games might be incredible experiences, there are some glitches and issues that were never part of the original games.
They might annoy you from time to time, but if you’re like me they won’t stop Shenmue from being an unforgettable experience.
Signed, sealed and completed! I’ll be doing a wee video about it next month, but honestly Ys VIII is a game that all action RPG fans should play! Played on the Switch and loved every minute of it.
The last Guardian
I traded in my old shitey vanilla PS4 for a 1TB PS4 Pro. I don't have a 4K telly but that's a hit of a blessing in disguise for The Last Guardian; at 1080p it runs smooth as butter. One of my favourite games of all time, now even better!
Right, I know it’s good, but I’m finding it hard to get enthused about it after playing the brilliant Ys VIII. I might be the only sad-sack in the world to hold this opinion.
Tried it on Steam a wee while ago and stopped when I heard a Switch version was coming out. Atmospheric metroidvania style game where you go a wee bug-thing with a nail for a sword. It’s good!
NON-GAME ALERT! I finished reading The Invisibles this week and I loved it! Grant Morrison is at his best when no-one cares about what he’s writing, and his passion for the subject shines through. Well worth reading if you’re a fan of THE UNKNOWN SECRET ORGANISATIONS THAT CONTROL SOCIETY.