River City Girls 2
Before I begin this review, I wanted to thank the fine people at WayForward for allowing me a chance to review River City Girls 2! As someone who always wanted to give the series a try, it was a great month to become acquainted with Misako and Kyoko. You can check out my first impressions of River City Girls here.
Just as importantly, I wanted to give a special shout-out to a dear friend of mine, Aria Mikado. She is one of, if not the biggest fan, of RCG and she has hours of content on both games. Be sure to check her out as I'm sure she's going to unravel River City Girls 2 wide open with content!
Now comes the elephant in the room that I must address — there's a reason why I didn't go into too much with River City Girls in my first impression. Many of the introductory things I could say about River City Girls 2 I mentioned already in the RCG post. That's because the gameplay is similar, the map is similar, the characters and their moves are similar, and even the sprites and art styles are reused. Do you remember when I covered Ridge Racer 2 and mentioned that it was the same as the original Ridge Racer on the PSP but with added courses? In the first hour or so, River City Girls 2 feels more like an update to the original River City Girls than a "true" sequel.
It's not as farfetched as one would imagine seeing everything being similar to the original RCG as the sequel takes place immediately following the aftermath of River City Girls. The big bad from the previous game is knocked off the building, the boyfriends are "saved" (Turns out it was all an exaggerated misunderstanding), and the four are seen leaving the premises. The brother of the final boss, Ken, appears to gloat over her with their father, a yakuza boss, scolding them both. Swearing to "take matters into his own hands," the boss breaks out of prison with her brother swearing to do what his sister couldn't.
Before Misako and Kyoko can even enter class late, due to the latter wanting to stop for sweets, Ken introduces himself to the girls by promptly evicting them from school. Once again, it's up to the duo to stop the yakuza from taking over River City, making the plot of River City Girls 2 a familiar "stop the evil organization from ruining our town" plot. There's even a tongue-in-cheek reference to the previous game from Misako, exclaiming how "quick" the "school section" was this time around. While the locations are more or less the same as the previous game, there are key differences that make River City Girls 2 far better than just an idea of an updated River City Girls.
One of the major additions are the hideouts, located in each major section of town. Beginning with Kyoko's house, whose mother is pretty chill with having her daughter and best friend play video games for two months straight, the player can swap characters at any point without going back to the main menu. This simple fix makes playing as all four starting characters a breeze without breaking the flow of the game. Kunio and Riki are playable characters from the start as opposed to the previous game where they had to be unlocked first. This also extends to the "partner voice," making for interesting pairings in cutscenes. You could have the girls and the boys together, or the girls paired with their significant other. There's even an achievement/trophy for this. It's pretty cute.
To explain how Misako and Kyoko forget how to fight so quickly after the events of the first game, for plot reasons, it's blamed on spending the past two months doing nothing but playing video games. As it turns out, playing video games after getting expelled by some yakuza jerks will quickly hinder your ability to fight. Who knew? Another benefit to the safehouse is that it's also a central hub to swap partners (which was previously done on the phone) and manage inventory. The phone menu had received a complete overhaul, showing the players active quests and gallery images in the form of common apps.
If you get a Game Over, you're now given the option to respawn at the nearest safe house, which will set the player back a few screens at the offset of not losing money when they die. While losing your hard-earned money still sucks, at least there's now an option to keep it in exchange for having to travel further. This is an example of the maps working toward the player in terms of familiarity as shops and facilities including the dojo are in the same locations as they were in the previous games. Most areas have received a makeover, including the gentrification of Downtown, while others feature venues for boss fights.
Occasionally, there are quests that feature mini-games involving the girls doing tasks that break the monotony. One side-quest will ask you to participate in a Dodgeball match, throwing a ball while trying to avoid getting hit up to three times. At one point, you're asked to "prove your dance skills" by playing this Dance Dance Revolution-style mini-game. The variety of switching things up for the player ensures that there's always something in River City Girls 2 to keep things fresh.
The two new characters in River City Girls 2 are Provie, a breakdancer with a cool personality, and Marian, the original girlfriend of Billy from the Double Dragon series. In the original River City Girls, Marian, Jimmy, and Billy are all NPCs originally from Double Dragon who had cameos as shopkeeps and dojo owners respectively. The sequel places Marian in the heat of battle, joining the roster and rounding out to five playable characters. While Kyoko and Misako play largely the same, having the chance to play as the boyfriends by default as well as two new characters within the first few hours of River City Girls 2 offers a unique dynamic.
As with the previous game, levels aren't shared, so players who have a favorite will need to grind a bit to bring them up to the same level as your highest character. This wasn't a huge issue as I began the game with Kyoko and I knew I wanted to main Provie, so taking a half hour to get her up to the same level as Kyoko wasn't a big deal. I found that playing as Provie, her attacks were more evasive, forcing the opponents to come to her only to suck them up like a vacuum with her Flare kicks.
Perhaps the largest improvement compared to River City Girls is the fighting gameplay, specifically, limiting the field of vision. In the previous game, the FOV was wide, which gave players a lot of room to see everything. The issue with this was that it made focusing on the action difficult to pinpoint. The FOV this time around is centered, focusing on the characters on screen rather than the environment. This gives players the opportunity to see what's important and only important. While I'm sure some prefer the camera from the original RCG, this made tracking my character and performing combos far easier. Plus, the added particle effects make the game aesthetically pleasing.
This leads to assists and how they work in this game, as the recruitment mechanic is carried over from River City Girls. Because of this close-centered camera present in RCG 2, this makes assist characters important as a defensive option, giving players a "combo breaker"-esque move should they be overwhelmed by enemies. Players can also purchase unique assists whose abilities trump generic enemies, ensuring that they always have access to help should they need it. WayForward and Arc System Works have added a ton of secrets and cameos in River City Girls 2, none of which I will spoil but it does pertain to a certain popular fighting game.
This begs the question, is River City Girls 2 worth it for those coming from the first game? Absolutely yes. If you were a fan of the first game, the sequel is "more of the same," with added quality-of-life improvements and the continuation of RCG's antics. Players who look at River City Girls 2 as less of a "true sequel" and more of a "Part 2 to River City Girls" can appreciate what WayForward was going for. With that said, it's also entirely valid to skip the first game altogether as gameplay-wise, everything that was a nuisance in the first game is fixed and addressed here.
There are many things I intentionally left out of this review because as mentioned earlier, there are tons of easter eggs, references, and cameos that fans of fighting games and brawlers will enjoy. If the story is your thing, there are always "Let's Plays" you can follow (like the ones done by Aria cough) that will catch you up to speed.
If you're looking for one more awesome beat-em-up for the road before the year ends, River City Girls 2 is the one to check out. Whether it's a "sequel" or a "follow-up," the core gameplay is improved upon and it's a fun experience no matter how you slice it. If it's not broken, don't fix it, but build upon it to make it a more enjoyable experience. River City Girls 2 definitely fits that adage.
River City Girls 2 arrives on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on December 15th, 2023. We were given a review code courtesy of WayForward games, so be sure to wishlist on Steam!