Loading up Yakuza Kiwami 2 for the first time I am met with a familiarity that the series has afforded. During this journey with everyone’s favourite serious, yet gold-hearted Kazuma Kiryu, I have fought off hordes of hooligans using a bicycle, played darts in a bar during a story mission where another character was bleeding out in a car and fought an entire room of fully grown men in nappies. Kiwami 2 has all the hallmarks that would be expected from a Yakuza game, which is great considering this is a remake of Yakuza 2 that originally came out on the PS2.
Sega created a new benchmark for the Yakuza series in Yakuza 0 and followed this up with the excellent Yakuza 6. Kiwami 2 sees Sega taking the Dragon engine from Yakuza 6 and lovingly applying it to Yakuza 2 to improve one the best instalments in the series. Although it isn’t just the graphical fidelity that has changed here. The combat style and levelling system is taken straight from Yakuza 6 which is a slightly more simplistic approach than you would get in Yakuza 0. I found that I missed the ability to change between different fighting styles but after a while with the system and learning new skills I started to have a lot of fun beating the hell out of bad guys.
Kiwami 2 has more of an emphasis on weapons, and there is quite a variety to what is available. I have taken delinquents down with a stun gun, a bicycle, a katana, a wok full of ramen, traffic cones and even guns and switchblades. You can pick any of these up and keep them for later, but only if you’re in a fight. If an enemy drops a weapon and a fight ends you will not be able to pick it up anymore which just seems a little inconvenient. Heat moves make a return in this series and every weapon gives you the ability to execute a heat move if the heat bar is full. Sticking a knife into an enemy and then kicking it further into his stomach may sound brutal but I found it pretty damn cool.
Substories in Kiwami 2 are pretty varied but there isn’t as much as in Yakuza 0. What I found interesting was the involvement of NPCs in your fights if you fought a group of enemies near them after helping them. While taking on a group of delinquents next to a chef’s restaurant, one I had helped previously, I was shocked that mid fight he threw me a wok full of ramen to beat the hell out of an enemy with. There are many situational moments like this throughout and this adds a layer to the combat and of course increases the craziness of the multi thug brawls.
The Yakuza series is known for its juxtaposition of sombre story beats and over the top goofy side quests and activities. On the surface Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a gritty Japanese crime drama and the cutscenes really hit this home. Delve a little deeper and you will find a lot of crazy characters asking you to do some pretty goofy things. A personal favourite moment is when Kiryu finds himself becoming the manager of a cabaret club purely on mistaken identity. I mean any normal person would tell them that they had the wrong guy but not Kiryu who just rolls with it as he gets himself into another strange situation.
Speaking of story, Kiwami 2 plays host to one of the best stories in the Yakuza series. A story of betrayal, deceit and love. Kiryu has retired from the Yakuza life and from the Tojo Clan but after an altercation with a rival clan which sees an old friend dead at the hands of the Omi clan he is thrust into the middle of an all-out clan war. What follows is a sequence of intense moments as Kiryu attempts to implement peace between the clans. The story’s main antagonist, Ryuji Goda is a daunting figure and one of the best bad guys in the Yakuza series. Facing down with Goda is a hell of a task and it heightens his ferocity, making him a force to be reckoned with. Sure, I can take down 10 guys with a mah-jong table but taking on Goda feels like taking on 100 Yakuza. Kiryu will work with Osaka detective Kaoru Sayama who has her own motives for working with an ex-Yakuza. The layers to the story are one of the reasons that the Yakuza series is so compelling and without spoiling too much, Kiwami 2 is a perfect mix of action, drama and pure damn silliness.
It’s an all familiar feeling walking the streets of Kamurocho. It may not feel like there’s as much in it compared to Yakuza 0 however it still has the atmosphere of the previous titles. Walking through the neon-lit streets at night just feels lovely and I really got that familiar feeling of the previous Yakuza titles. Catch a taxi or a train out of Kamurocho and you will reach Satonbori which has a different style yet still retains that atmosphere and familiarity you feel back home. These areas aren’t exactly huge, but they are densely populated with citizens, restaurants, bars, arcades and a whole load of things to do. Seamless transitions between the streets and buildings is a welcome addition and keeps the action going without having to endure loading screens in between. One minute you’ll be eating some sushi in a restaurant and then you’ll be walking out to a group of hooligans walking out a neighbouring bar and deciding that they don’t like the way you looked at them.
There is just a lot going on in Kiwami 2 and this kept me hooked. Occasionally I would take a breather and just go and play some golf or some Virtua Fighter in the Sega arcade. Kiwami 2 also has the Cabaret Club Grand Prix which was featured in Yakuza 0 which sees you managing a cabaret club and running a shift, recruiting hostesses and matching them up with the correct customers to milk out as much money from them as possible. Get tired of that and there’s the clan builder where you recruit clan members and work your way through the mission in a strategy-based game.
Fan favourite Goro Majima makes a return in a series of sub-stories that sees you take control of Majima and delve a little deeper into his story. What I found is that this is pretty short-lived and after a short time of enjoying Majima’s acrobatic fighting style it was all over. It was a crying shame that Majima didn’t feature more in Kiwami 2 as he is one of the most interesting characters of the series.
Sega created the benchmark for the Yakuza series with Yakuza 0. Kiwami 2 is Yakuza 2 with the benchmark treatment. It has all the hallmarks that makes it one of the strongest games in the series but just falls short behind Yakuza 0 in terms of scale and quality and quantity of side stories or mini-games. With that being said, it doesn’t fall too far behind in terms of having a quality story and the atmosphere screams Yakuza to me. A strong game in an already strong series, it ticks all the boxes that make this a great Yakuza game.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*