Starting in 2015 with Yakuza 5, we have gotten five full-length Yakuza games in the past three years. Five. Full. Length. Yakuza. Games. That’s a lot of time spent singing our hearts out in karaoke, throwing darts in bars, playing classic Sega arcade games like Virtua Fighter 2, and following the decades-spanning saga of on-again, off-again yakuza Kazuma Kiryu.
Earlier this year, we saw the finale of Kiryu’s story with Yakuza 6, the last game to feature the familiar hero. The series’ latest installment is a remake of Yakuza 2, called Yakuza Kiwami 2. Developed with the Dragon Engine used for Yakuza 6, there's evidence of the same extra technical umph that was missing in the stunning prequel Yakuza 0 and the first game’s remake Yakuza Kiwami, both released last year in the west.
For instance, in Yakuza Kiwami 2, you can run away from battles, or you can bring them into storefronts, ruining some poor cashier’s day. In prior games, battles would be blocked off by invisible walls, with no ability to run away once an enemy spotted you—like a rival Pokemon trainer spotting you through some tall grass. Cutscenes and real-time footage still look remarkably good too, as they did in Yakuza 6, cementing the Yakuza team at Sega as one of the best in the biz in that particular department.
Kiwami 2, much like the first Kiwami, is a refined remake of the opening entries in the series in the stylings of modern Yakuza games. (The original released for PlayStation 2 in 2006.) In Yakuza Kiwami 2, you follow Kiryu one year after the events of the first game as he's pulled back into a criminal life; his doting surrogate daughter Haruka has returned to the orphanage while "Uncle Kaz" settles some business. He's on the hunt to help the Tojo Clan back on its feet after its chairman was murdered, so he sets out to find potential heir Daigo Dojima, and bring peace between Tojo and the Omi Alliance, whom allegedly murdered the chairman.
Of course, nothing goes according to plan.
Along the early goings, Kiryu meets familiar characters and new ones, like detective Kaoru Sayama, who finds herself having more in common with Kiryu than she'd care to admit. Sayama's a nice presence with an at-first antagonistic relationship with Kiryu. Given how largely starved the series is for women in general, it's nice to see a woman who can handle her own have a major role.
Like all Yakuza games, even if you haven't played any others in the series, it does a solid job of setting everything up for newcomers. Characters are introduced with dramatic title cards in big red letters, dialogue never shies away from exposition (though that's sometimes to a detriment for veteran players). Onboarding is a hard job for well-established series sequels, but Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues the trend of making any entry in the series an accessible jumping on point even if you're new to the yakuza lifestyle.
In terms of things new to Yakuza Kiwami 2, it's largely a cluster of fan-favorite minigames from the newer games of the series. There's activities like the batting cage, darts, arcade games, mahjong, and more, but that's not all. The hostess club managing game returns, as does clan building (which made its debut in Yakuza 6). Both are micro-management sims tucked away inside the world; completing side missions ("substories") typically recruits new acquaintances to join either business endeavor. Oh, and there's now a pissing game. A literal game you play where you control the stream of Kiryu's piss. It's based on a concept Sega announced in 2011 called Sega Toylets.
In my time so far with Yakuza Kiwami 2 though, it feels too familiar. Maybe that's the fatigue of having played five Yakuza games in three years, even if I only finished the campaign in a small number of them. Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place dominantly across the familiar landscapes of Kamurocho in Tokyo and Sotenbori in Osaka, the same locales of Yakuza 0 (the former locale a particular mainstay for the series). Revisiting both cities in the in-game year of 2006 is still something of a marvel, showing how much has changed since Yakuza 0's 1980s setting. But I've still run across them many times before. I know generally where those pesky Don Quijote storefronts lie, even if, as my coworker Hirun Cryer noted in a preview, their precise locations are a little jumbled up now.
The side missions have been an unfortunate disappointment too. In the past, the series' ludicrous side quests always made me laugh. I remember the antics fondly, such as that time a sentient app was installed on Kiryu's phone, or when Majima had to distract a crowd of onlookers because a human statue needed to shit really bad but didn't want to blow his cover, or when I helped a college student study for a test back in Fukuoka. In Kiwami 2, I haven't really experienced as much of that personality so far, aside from a quest where Kiryu had to pose shirtless for a photographer wearing a speedo. While I am still in the early chapters of Kiwami 2, I'm hoping that once things open up that the side missions will get a little more silly too.
Yet Yakuza Kiwami 2 feels at least more fully-featured than its direct predecessor, Yakuza Kiwami. It has a lot more in common with Yakuza 6 or even Yakuza 0, and even contains a scenario starring a playable Majima. (As of the time of this writing, I have not encountered that yet.) I'm still trucking through it—and getting distracted by substories on every street—so stay tuned for a full, scored review next week.
Seeing The End, Updated: 8/27/2018
When I was a little under halfway through with Yakuza Kiwami 2, I remarked above that its substories were leaving me underwhelmed. They felt half-baked in the grand scheme of what I've come to expect from the Yakuza series. And then, things changed for the better, and the wackiness came through. From being dragged into voice acting for an erotic, gay visual novel to getting in fights alongside the most kick-ass grandma the world has ever seen, Yakuza Kiwami 2 enlivens the side quests from Yakuza 2 in refreshing ways.
Among fans, Yakuza 2 has always been seen as sort of the true start of the series; Yakuza, seemingly, didn't really become Yakuza until Kiryu confronted a man with a pretending-to-be-a-baby fetish. It didn't stop there either.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 though, unfortunately, falls into a slump in the middle portion of the main storyline. While its final act is arguably among the best in the series (if not the best and most outrageous), it's the admittedly dull and dragged out drama between the Tojo Clan, the Omi Alliance, the Jingweon Mafia, and more that slowly—too slowly—build up to its explosive finale. It's just the amount of exciting events that get to that conclusion are relatively few and far in-between, even with stellar "new" characters like Ryuji Goda (the charismatic villain) and Kaoru Sayama (the confidant) to guide it.
Kiwami 2 also features a new addition to Yakuza 2: a new campaign starring Goro Majima, a fan favorite character of the series. The downside is that it's about 90 percent cutscenes and 10 percent gameplay. There's no experience to be earned either, so getting in fights often feels more like a road block on your way to the next objective marker (read: cutscene). Eating food, as well, loses its significance without the experience earning to encourage it, only netting Majima health. Otherwise, you can pretty much prowl around Kamurocho and Sotenbori just as you would as Kiryu, with all the same minigames and fights on the street there are to offer. Majima even gets his own street bosses, ultra tough foes that linger in parking lots and the like, and gets rewarded for his efforts. With no tangible progression though, there's not much of a point to it. Majima's short three-chapter storyline only took me about an hour or so, setting up the events that get rolling by the start of Kiwami 2 and wrapping up a particular loose thread from Yakuza 0.
Still, I largely had a good time with Yakuza Kiwami 2, in spite of its faults narratively and the been there, done that feeling of its minigames. Its substories, while many feel a bit undercooked and are over with one encounter, are some of the most ridiculous of the entire series—it's apparent why so many consider Yakuza 2 as one of the series' many peaks. While Kiwami 2 is in no way a one-to-one remake (eagle eyed fans will be quick to notice a few things are missing, including the Osaka locale of Shinsekai), it's a fair reimagining of the PS2 game in the series' modern dressing. With its many ties to the rest of the series (including the prequel Yakuza 0), Kiwami 2 fittingly ushers Yakuza 2 back into a more consistent lineage.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 won't make those who haven't clicked with the series yet a believer, but for fans, it's well worth the journey if you don't mind retreading some familiar ground. While the slow middle and Majima side campaign are disappointing, Kiwami 2 is still another solid entry in the Yakuza canon.