Mirroring the type of sophisticated business strategy ordered by a shrewd syndicate boss, SEGA’s Yakuza franchise is moving in several simultaneous directions. Four months ago, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life crooned a swan song for longstanding protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, establishing an indistinct future for the series. Conversely, 2017’s Yakuza 0 shifted the storyline all the way back to 1988, offering a prequel that revealed salient events that would shape Kiryu, as well as his Tojo Clan nii-san, Goro Majima. The title was followed up by Yakuza Kiwami, which picked up after the prologue, reenacting the events of the very first Yakuza game.
Unlike most straightforward remasters, Kiwami provided a comprehensive overhaul. A new engine exhibited higher resolutions, more detailed texturing, and an improved framerate, permitting Kamurocho to better resemble its real-life counterpart, Kabukichō. The game’s fighting system incorporated some of the improvements of Yakuza 6, while plot was both polished and expanded. With the release of Yakuza Kiwami 2, SEGA’s development team extends another impressive revision, this time thoroughly modernizing 2008’s Yakuza 2. Although a few notable elements were left on the cutting room floor, largely the remake is an indispensable experience for franchise fans.
Like many classic tragedies, Kiwami 2 opens amidst a chaotic and pessimistic context. One year after the events of Kiwami, the Tojo Clan is collapsing, drawing the attention of the Omi Family, a rival Osaka-based syndicate. When the Tojo chairman, a former head of the Omi clan, is assassinated, tensions are escalated ever higher, promoting Kiryu to head to the Kansai region in hopes of reaching a peaceful solution before a devastating gang war erupts.
The original Yakuza 2 was notable for truly refining the incorporation of secondary characters, an attribute inherited by Kiwami 2. While antagonist Ryuji Goda intermittently recedes from the game’s narrative, he’s an undeniably powerful rival. While the standpoints are essentially oppositional, there’s mutual respect between the two adversaries, which makes their interactions deliciously pulpy. Similarly, Osaka Police Department Detective Kaoru Sayama showcases a remarkable female lead, who is unflinchingly tough but gradually reveals a caring side to her personality. Considering the ubiquity of one-dimensional depiction of media, Kaoru truly contributes to Kiwami 2’s success. Her Kansai dialect is an absolute delight, capturing the melody and directness often associated with the region.
Marketing has highlighted the inclusion of Majima’s playable side story in Kiwami 2. These bits are outwardly satisfying, with The Mad Dog of Shimano’s style exemplifying the speed and unpredictability of the raucous character. Since Yakuza 2 was released stateside in 2008, Majima’s presence has proliferated through memes and animated gifs, so it’s satisfying to see the trio of chapters divulge his behind-the-scenes actions and how they foreshadowed latter events. But the side story also feels restrained, since Majima doesn’t level up, gain new skills, or even equip any items.
The elimination of the Shinseicho area, as well a few mini-games like pool and bowling might initially seem upsetting. But in their place, the team has doubled-down on key inclusions. The Cabaret Club management from Yakuza 0 has been expanded here, which will be comforting to fans who remember the removal of similar content when the third game of the series was localized. Essentially, this is a full-fledged hostess bar sim, you’ll assign girls to specific tables, assist with problems, and generally cultivate your staff as you complete against other clubs. It’s surprisingly involved and is distracting enough to make your temporality halt the progress on story missions.
Similarly, the Clan Creator component from The Song of Life has you stepping into the foreman role again, as you assist Majima with his Kamurocho Hill’s construction efforts. This time out it’s a bit more focused, moving closer to tower defense convention as you place nine valiant employees to protect the site from throngs of invaders and even some famous New Japan Pro Wrestling personalities. Both the Cabaret Club and Clan Creator have been streamlined, bringing them more in line with the excitement of the Yakuza series famous mini-games.
Of course, Kiwami 2 is chockfull of the playful adaptations drawn from everyday life. The showstoppers this time are recreations of Cyber Troopers Virtual-On and Virtua Fighter 2, bringing two of SEGA’s mid-nineties favorites for you to enjoy. While fans of athletic-tests will appreciate the battling cages and indoor golf, those who’s rather leisurely pad their wallets can opt for blackjack, poker, mahjong, shogi, koi-koi, or oicho-kabu, the latter being the pastime where the word “Yakuza” comes from. Much like real-life Japan, entertainment choices abound, creating an irresistible temptation that’s all too easy to get sucked into.
Although these recreations prove persuasive, Kiwami 2 is truly about Kiryu pummeling jerks. Here, the game opts for the pared down pugilism of Yakuza 6, rather than the multiple stances offered in Yakuza 0 and the first Kiwami. And again, while that might seem like a shortcoming, the decision proved prudent, as Kiwami 2’s focus is using a myriad of different weapons. From everyday objects like bikes, wire cutters, and irons to dedicated arms like shotguns and tazers, Kiryu is adept at delivering the hurt in a multitude of different ways. Pleasingly, he can ever stockpile any tools encounters during a fight. But you’ll be puzzled why the arms instantly vanish when the brawl concludes.
Undoubtedly, the most satisfaction steams after steadily building your meter and triggering a Heat move. Often resourcefully using environmental objects, these slow-motion exhibitions of punishment are rather rousing the first few times they are shown. Fortunately, Kiwami 2 adds variety through the incorporation of Ally Heat Actions. Assist the local ramen chef in his endeavors and the next time you get into a dust-up outside his noodle stand he might offer to fling a vessel of simmering ramen skyward, extending the possibility for shio-based alley-oop. Fortunately, that’s one example and you’ll still be discovering new ones when you pas the twenty-hour mark. Largely, nuances like this help to keep frequent combat fresh.
Expectedly, they are boss battles, which require a much more meticulousness than fighting subordinate street trash. It’s here that difficulty spike can impede Kiwami 2’s flow, occasionally forcing a few retries. Equipping the right weapons and defenses can assist here as can a bit of goon-grinding to boost your health and power levels. But the side-quests to earn these kinds of supplements are typically so amusing and quirky, that beefing up Kiryu rarely feel tedious.
Much like Kiryu facing a group of low-level hoodlums, Yakuza Kiwami 2 shows no sign of a slowing momentum. Both the Dragon of Dojima and the latest entry flaunt a few new tricks, offering a rock-solid remake of the 2008 game. While this isn’t the best entry point for the franchise (Yakuza 0 and the original Kiwami are requisite free), it’s one that is destined to please Western fans who have recently discovered this celebrated series.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 was played on PS4 with review code provided by the publisher.