Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review
This reimagining of the decade-old Yakuza 2 looks as good as Yakuza 6, and plays even better.
By the time the credits had rolled on Yakuza Kiwami 2 I’d uncovered a plot to detonate a series of explosives around Tokyo, climbed my way through the ranks of an underground fight club buried in the bowels of a construction site, and partnered with a number of businesses in Osaka in an effort to boost my burgeoning cabaret club management career. I’d also beaten up a baby nursery full of full grown men clad in diapers, struck flirtatious poses for a snap-happy photographer who was wearing nothing but a Speedo and a smile, and drank can after can of vending machine coffee in order to make my bladder full enough to beat the high score in the interactive urinal-based minigame.
Yes, Yakuza Kiwami 2 adheres to the established series recipe that takes a meaty slab of brutality and bastes it with silly sauce, and with an enhanced version of the Dragon Engine from Yakuza 6 under the hood, it delivers an experience overall that’s second only to Yakuza 0, at least since the series hit the PlayStation 4.
As far as remakes go, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a more significant step up up from Yakuza 2 than 2017’s Yakuza Kiwami was from the original. Not only does the Dragon Engine allow for Kamarucho and Sotonbori locales that more closely match to their real-life Tokyo and Osaka inspirations, but it enables Yakuza Kiwami 2 to incorporate other valuable quality-of-life enhancements introduced in Yakuza 6 such as seamless transitions between interiors and exteriors, and in and out of combat encounters, which keeps the action enjoyably free-flowing.
This does mean that Yakuza Kiwami 2 also inherits the comparatively limited fighting system of Yakuza 6, but there are a few notable upgrades from that starting point that bring some much-needed spice to the action. While you still don’t have the switchable fighting stances of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, you do at least have the option of equipping weapons such as swords, tasers, and flamethrowers, all of which you can either buy from arms dealers or pick up and stash when enemies drop them during a scrap.
Combined with a greater selection of violent Heat meter-fuelled special moves, the inclusion of weapons makes for far more dynamic brawling, whether you’re cutting a bloody swathe through a crowd with a butcher’s knife or using a bowling ball to knock enemies asunder like fleshy 10 pins. I did find it somewhat odd that you can only pick up and stash weapons during a fight, though. Unlike dropped cash and consumables that persist on the street after a group of enemies have been dispatched, any weapons you don’t pick up in the middle of an encounter just evaporate the moment the last goon hits the pavement, which seems unnecessarily inconvenient.
Speaking of hitting the pavement, seeking out side stories in the back streets of Yakuza games is always worthwhile because at best you’re rewarded with unique items, and at worst you walk away laughing at the unexpected left turns they invariably take. But in Yakuza Kiwami 2 I found extra incentive to track down each and every quest giver on the map because a number of them unlocked region-specific Heat moves that further freshened up the fighting. For example, if you become a regular at the ramen restaurant in Kamarucho then eventually you befriend the chef; subsequently, when you get into a dust up in the neighbourhood he’ll be standing by to hand you a bowl of scaldingly hot broth to shove into a street punk’s face. Elsewhere, helping a janitor trapped in a public bathroom grants you access to a filthy toilet plunger to choke out your combatants in the nastiest way possible, while a busker in Sotonbori can lob you an acoustic guitar to bludgeon bad guys with. Yakuza Kiwami 2’s brawling feels much less rote than the one-note procession of beatdowns found in Yakuza 6 as a result.
There’s also noticeably more to do in Yakuza Kiwami 2 than there is in
There’s also noticeably more to do in Yakuza Kiwami 2 than there is in Yakuza 6. While there have been some concessions made in order to rebuild Yakuza 2 with the Dragon Engine, like the absence of bowling and pool mini-games and the complete removal of the Shinseicho area from the original game, in their place are more fleshed-out versions of the cabaret club management from Yakuza 0 and the clan creator mode from Yakuza 6, and the latter of which has morphed from a fairly uninspired RTS into a more strategically deep tower defense game. As a westerner who’s largely ignorant to the rules of mahjong and shoji, I also very much appreciated the inclusion of poker and blackjack as alternative ways to earn cash (or indeed, lose it) in the casino areas.
There are also regular Yakuza staples such as arcade games (in this case, Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtual-On), batting cages, karaoke, indoor golf, and more. A game of darts not novel enough for you? Perhaps you’d like to try your luck at the ‘Toylets’, the aforementioned urinal-based mini-games that were installed by Sega in real public bathrooms in Japan a number of years back. These gross-out games are reminiscent of the pooping in Ubisoft’s South Park series, and are humourous time-wasters even if they’re mechanically shallower than the troughs they take place in.
Of course, the quality and diversity of these side activities would be diminished if the main story wasn’t compelling enough to keep you on the hook, and the plot of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a tautly paced thriller up there with the very best the series has to offer. I did find it a tad anachronistic that the Kiryu character model in Yakuza Kiwami 2 has apparently been copied and pasted directly from Yakuza 6 – this, despite the fact that the latter is set 10 years after the former. Similarly, the in-game phone (which is a flip phone appropriate to the technology of the mid naughties) features the modern smartphone-style camera interface from Yakuza 6, which seems a little inattentive to detail.
But minor presentational shortcuts aside, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an engrossing underworld adventure that sees main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu reluctantly dragged back into the midst of a mob war in order to face off against charismatic villain, Ryuji Goda. It manages to mostly avoid the melodrama evident elsewhere in the series and is instead enthralling hard boiled detective fiction with an abundance of backstabbing, both metaphorical and literal.
My only real complaint regarding the story is that while the three new chapters that feature regular series anti-hero Goro Majima do bring additional context and reveal interesting story links to both Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 0, they offer little in the way of gameplay and can be completed in around an hour’s playtime. Majima’s breakdance-derived knife-fighting style does provide a nice change-up from Kiryu’s more brute-force fisticuffs, it just feels like a tease to be allowed such a short-lived opportunity to enjoy it.