Yakuza 2‘s locations look gorgeous running on the Dragon Engine.
It’s only been a few months since we witnessed the apparent end of Kazuma Kiryu‘s journey in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, but SEGA is already returning to Kamurocho. This time it’s rolling the clock back a decade for Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of 2008’s Yakuza 2 that runs on 6‘s Dragon Engine while adding some of the series’ newer amenities alongside the original’s plot.
Combat in Kiwami 2 is nearly identical to Song of Life, including the ability to transition seamlessly into fights and have brawls spill into local businesses. You’ll do all the usual things, mixing light and heavy attacks, throwing enemies around and bashing them about with all manner of weapons found on the streets.
There is one wrinkle brought back from the original release as Kiryu can pocket certain weapons during combat and then use them at will in future encounters — as a one off of that, citizens will even toss you weapons to help overcome the odds. It’s a cool inclusion, though the inability to collect them after the fighting stops seems silly. Weapons, which can also be purchased at shops, degrade with use and eventually need to be repaired.
While these small changes do refresh combat a little, it’s still not nearly as compelling as what we were treated to in Yakuza 0, though in fairness this is a remake of a game that originally launched on the PS2, so its absence feels more understandable than in Yakuza 6.
To be clear, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a remake, not a remaster, so what you’re getting is a completely overhauled visual presentation with cut scenes recreated in the new graphics engine shot by shot. All of which is a long way of saying there’s no graphical evidence this was ever a PS2 game — it looks just as clean and sharp as Yakuza 6, presenting vibrant and colourful versions of Kamarucho and Sotonbori to explore.
It’s impressive how much emotion and intensity is portrayed throughout the series considering very few words of English are spoken. The delivery transcends the language barrier, which is doubly important considering how critical the plot is. Obviously you need to be on board with reading subtitles (or understanding Japanese), but it’s well worth the effort.
Set roughly a year after the 10 billion yen storyline of the original, Yakuza 2 finds Kiryu having left his old life behind and raising Haruka as his own. His peace is short lived, however, as the rival Omi family assassinate the Tojo chairman, Terada, putting the Clan in a perilous situation. It is Terada’s last wish that Kiryu deliver peace terms to the Omi, but to do that he’ll need to deal with Ryuji Goda, Omi’s second in command.
This is arguably the best story in the series with Goda serving as a compelling boss and physical rival for Kiryu. It also feels a little darker than some of the later entries, leaving the goofier stuff that started to bleed into Yakuza 6‘s main quest to the series’ perpetually zany side stories. That quirky mix of Kiryu operating as a complete bad ass and yet still helping people on the street with odd jobs has long been one of Yakuza‘s more endearing qualities.
In addition to the original campaign, Kiwami 2 adds an entirely new, three-chapter story that has you control Goro Majima, providing a little more back story for the “Mad Dog.” It’s separate from the main game, streamlining the gameplay by omitting substories and leveling, though any money earned transfers to Kiryu. It’s a short bit of business (plan for around two hours to see it through), but it’s a nice bonus of new content for returning players.
While the Majima Saga is the biggest addition, it’s by no means the only one. The Clan Creator mode introduced in Yakuza 6 is back, and — in an endearing nod that may only be appreciated by old-school wrestling fans — the contemporary New Japan talent that previously played the villains has been replaced by NJPW legends like Masa Chono and Keiji Mutoh. Its real-time strategy element proves to be a nice complement to the game’s core fighting.
Kiwami 2 is also teeming with mini games. All the series’ standards are here as you can play karaoke, visit the batting centre and take part in an improved version of golf. You can also take on a role as a bouncer, manage a cabaret club and much more. The series has always delivered an embarrassment of riches on the content front, and that seems especially true here with the game cherry picking the best versions.
It’s part of a really smart approach by SEGA/Atlus, one that started with Yakuza 0 serving as a point of entry for newcomers, and one that was continued with Kiwami, Yakuza 6 and now Kiwami 2. With four games in two years this has become a golden era for a series that once seemed destined to occupy a relatively small niche.
Despite the age of its source material, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the best Yakuza game released this year, taking a strong story and implementing all the technical progress that has been made over the last decade to form a delightful combination.