With Yakuza Kiwami 2, Sega returns to the second PS2 game to give it a visual overhaul and a feature set to match modern titles. With the refreshingly rapid pace of localizations for the series and a renewed interest in the franchise in general, a lot of people have been playing a lot of Yakuza lately. So what’s going on with this one? Well… quite a bit, actually.
The story of Yakuza 2 is a notable one, with elements that are certainly dated at this point rescued by characters and a narrative simplicity that holds it all together. There are times when everything goes totally off the rails (Ninjas? Tigers?), and that’s disappointing, because the franchise thrives upon its strict dichotomy: the side stories are delightfully whimsical, but the main story is (at least usually) respectful and relatively grounded.
In the game, Kiryu has to fend off myriad factions that all seem to be, at least somewhat, working together: the Korean Jingweon Mafia, the east-Japan Omi Alliance and Omi splinter faction Go-Ryu Clan. Led by Ryuji Goda, a man with a dragon tattoo to match Kiryu’s and a desire to be the last one standing, the Go-Ryu are the unpredictable element between the loyalty-and-revenge-at-all-costs mafia and the tradition-loving Omi. Narratively, there’s a bit more to it, but in gameplay terms, the factions offer different sorts of attire for the random dudes you punch a lot.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is built on the Dragon Engine, which debuted in Yakuza 6, and all of that game’s systems are essentially preserved here.
At its core, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a game about parental bonds. Sure, so many of the games in the series build around the relationship between Kiryu and Haruka, but this game is so full of fathers, mothers, mentors and guardians that there’s not room for much else. We won’t get into too many specifics here, because these relationships are key plot points. Still, know that the traditional spirit of “we’re all brothers who get up to some stuff” that makes Yakuza feel a lot like the Fast & Furious franchise gives way to something a bit more about responsibility and legacy.
This even makes its way into the side stories. Grizzled detective Date tries to be a good dad. The enigmatic Florist of Sai makes efforts to reconnect. The orphanage’s caretaker works to make the children feel more comfortable and loved. Still, the most resonant moments are reserved for the game’s most intense story sequences.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is built on the Dragon Engine, which debuted in Yakuza 6, and all of that game’s systems are essentially preserved here. We still miss the different fighting styles of the previous games, but the one that’s here is decently robust. It’s augmented by various ally assists, depending on who you’re near on the streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, and those are at least a bit amusing if not really fundamentally game-changing. Helping a street musician in a side quest lets you use his guitar to bash a foe, for example. If you’re being followed by a story companion, they can also assist in heat actions! Whether you want them or not, actually, as some of these moves aren’t nearly as damaging as the normal ones you may be attempting. It’s good to keep that in mind.
We also see the return of some anachronistic features, like the modern phone interface when taking photos and the current Japanese wrestlers once again making their cameos in minigames. Thankfully, the social-media-like Troublr is gone, with only occasional phone notifications when the game wants to update you on side quests or send you a quick tutorial for the feature you just unlocked. Suspending disbelief is probably worth it for the return of the silly selfie function, but we do wish they’d gone just a bit further in making it look like an older phone.
You don’t need to play Yakuza 6 before Kiwami 2, but 0 and the first Kiwami both enhance this one.
Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s side content is definitely worth checking out. The team took this opportunity to integrate plot points from Yakuza 0 and the first Kiwami, even more than in just the whimsical ways we saw in those games (and even occasionally in 6). This narrative revision allows everything to feel tied together while also building out an even more cohesive world.
Sotenbori joins Kamurocho in this game, and since it’s the first time it’s been revisited since 0, expect those storylines to pop up most frequently. In fact, we’re unsure whether the game would be nearly as fun without that context, so it’s worth mentioning that this shouldn’t be your first Yakuza. You don’t need to play Yakuza 6 before Kiwami 2, but 0 and the first Kiwami both enhance this one. That should be obvious in a series with this much narrative, but with the release cycle it’s had (especially in the West), that’s made things a bit confusing.
The localization work once again makes the offbeat side stories shine, with memorable lines and just the right level of character occupying the words of those whose original context is often tough to understand outside of Japan. The little asides help you connect to the people on the city streets and behind the counters, making the world feel like a home to the player in a way it likely feels to those crafting the words themselves.
A Certain Magical Virtual-On
The two main side challenges in Kiwami 2 are modified returning favorites: the cabaret club from 0 and the clan creator from 6. The cabaret is definitely the highlight here, refining the actual play and building it around genuine characters and an amusing story of taking down the no-fun-allowed man running all the other popular clubs. This allows for some exploration of what happened to that world after Majima left it decades earlier.
Speaking of Majima! He’s running things in the new clan creator mode, which has streamlined a lot of the management and added more tactical positioning to what’s now a wave-based defense game. It works a lot like the cabaret now on the management side, with picking a lineup and sending them out, but instead of sending out waves, you place units in specific spots to protect Majima’s construction equipment from vandals. There’s even some online functionality here, though we’d love to have seen that sort of effort put toward the cabaret stuff too. (Or instead, frankly.)
The cabaret is definitely the highlight here, refining the actual play and building it around genuine characters and an amusing story of taking down the no-fun-allowed man running all the other popular clubs.
There are, as usual, a whole host of challenges around the city. Darts and baseball are joined by a golf challenge, and Virtual-On and Virtua Fighter 2 line the arcades. There’s nothing quite as whimsical as Taiko no Tatsujin or Puyo Puyo this time around; both of the featured games are skill-heavy versus titles that take a lot of work to master. Thankfully, the ports are great and there’s two-player local functionality available outside of the campaign, so you can enjoy it there. The karaoke rhythm minigame is enhanced by some side-story interaction to make it a bit more interesting, but it’s basically what we’ve seen before. Also, because it’s Yakuza, there’s a gravure photography studio in which you piece together coherent sentences while women pose for you and “Toylets” challenges that have you emptying your bladder to have a minor effect on an on-screen “game.” Japan is weird sometimes! Yakuza never wants you to forget that.
Also included in the package is the “Majima Saga,” a side story accessible through the main menu that explores what our eyepatch-sporting friend was up to between the events of the first two games. It reuses assets from the main game but isn’t nearly as fleshed-out, serving merely as a way to fight a bit as Majima while also checking out a few cinematic sequences. You can donate money at ATMs to send gifts to Kiryu in the main game, but other than that, there’s no real connection, and the fights themselves are a bit monotonous with limited Heat Actions and a capable but one-note base fighting style with the knife-toting flip-man.
With Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s release, it’s now a lot more reasonable to play through the whole Kiryu story today, as Yakuza 3 isn’t nearly as dated as its PS2 predecessors and holds up fairly well as a result. Even if you stick to the modern titles, it’s a game worth playing, a concentrated dose of classic Kiryu before the franchise introduces a new protagonist in the next mainline installment.