Boss fights are a tricky business. Most games understand how to serve up wave after wave of minions and goons to build your confidence and supply you with loot or points or XP. It’s so ubiquitous we don’t really ever stop to consider how ludicrous it is for one hero to rack up such startling body counts (looking at you Nathan Drake).
But boss fights are where games can slam on the brakes and halt your punchy/shooty momentum dead in its tracks. Sadly, many boss fights are utterly forgettable. They make a big ballsy show with a grand entrance, some snappy dialogue or a cutscene so it's crystal clear this isn’t your average foe. Most are felled by aiming for the glowing red spots three times in a row or spamming buffs, heals and special attacks.
The other end of the boss spectrum sees encounters that are damn near impossible. Rage quit-inducing battles against a boss that is massively OP or incredibly cheap or housing some hard-to-define weakness. Praise be to guides writers for getting us through those. But what if there was a boss battle that was not only perfectly balanced in its difficulty, but perfectly choreographed to be both distinctly memorable and not out of step with the game world itself?
Yakuza Kiwami 2 from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios is a remarkable game. The Yakuza franchise has been celebrated for decades now, constantly finding new fans in the U.S. as diehards proselytize to friends and followers about the series’ unique charms. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a re-release of Yakuza 2 that, in part, caters to this newfound fandom that wasn't around when the original launched in Japan in 2006.
Players follow Kazuma Kiryu a.k.a the Dragon of Dojima a.k.a. the Best Boy (unofficial). Kiryu is a magnetic protagonist, every inch a heroic leading man with a towering frame, perfect hair and impeccable ethics. Sure, he's ex-Yakuza, but we only see him traffic in honor and nothing else. In Yakuza Kiwami 2 he is caught in the middle of war between his former Tojo Clan and the ascendant Omi Alliance, resolving the conflict the only way he knows how - through fisticuffs.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 goes beyond being a mindless brawler with a bevy of addictive minigames and hilarious side quests spread across one of the greatest living cities that video games ever produced— Kamurocho. A seedy red light district modeled after Tokyo’s own Kabukicho, Kiryu becomes mired in its web of Yakuza nefariousness that culminates in several epic boss battles. But one stands out above the rest because it has what few boss battles do: literal tigers.
This is a late-game boss fight that takes place in Osaka Castle, a massive ninja fortress that houses plenty of lethal challenges aside from a pair of feral tigers. But the set up for this battle is so exquisitely dramatic, with the treacherous Herada luring Kiryu by using his kidnapped daughter as bait. One of the defining charms of the Yakuza series is that nothing is ever over-the-top so if you’re new to the franchise and this sounds absurd, rest assured that it isn’t.
What unfolds is a challenging, but not impossible, boss fight that has captivated fans for more than a decade. They’ve even gone so far as to do the math on how hard Kiryu can punch those tigers. If a boss fight inspires people to bust out physics formulae then you know it’s one of the greats. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is available now on Xbox Game Pass, and will provide you with dozens of hours of high octane gaming bliss beyond the spectacle of watching a man go hand-t0-claw against two tigers.