Another year, another sublime Yakuza game brought to current generation consoles. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a remake of the second game in the series, originally released on PlayStation 2 back in 2006. Rebuilt from the ground up in Yakuza 6’s Dragon Engine and sporting a fresh localisation and re-recorded voice acting, Kiwami 2 is an unmissable entry for new and old fans alike.
Kiryu, having relinquished his position as chairman of the Tojo Clan at the end of Kiwami, is living a peaceful life with Haruka, the daughter of the woman he once loved. The Tojo Clan has since fallen into disarray and is on the verge of a devastating war with the Omi Alliance, a clan based in Osaka. Despite Kiryu’s desire to leave the life of a Yakuza behind him for good, the assassination of the new Tojo Clan chairman drags him back into the extremely dangerous world of the Japanese criminal underworld.
Right at the start Kiwami 2 offers an extensive recap of the previous game. This recap is broken up into separate cutscenes and allows the player to decide how many of these, if any, to watch. A lot happens over the course of any one Yakuza game, so these refreshers do a great job of bringing you up to speed on what led Kiryu to his current situation, and the option to skip through all of them is great.
The most obvious improvement returning fans will notice is the fidelity of the new Dragon Engine. Last year’s Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were based on the engine used for the PlayStation 3-era Yakuza games, whereas Kiwami 2 is clearly built for the current generation. The visuals are simply gorgeous, walking through the now familiar districts of Kamurocho and Sotenbori in the new engine is a delight. Flashing neon signs reflect off of the wet pavement, the occasional car will inch its way down the crowded streets which bustle with more people than ever, voluminous steam pours out of air vents as bass pulsates out of dark alleyways. Yakuza games have always nailed their specific sense of immersion, but this fresh coat of paint takes that feeling to the next level.
In addition being able to go into first-person mode really lets the level of detail shine. Every shop, restaurant, and nightclub has fully rendered items on shelves, delicious-looking food on display or bottles of real-world brands of alcohol behind bars. There are far more accessible interiors this time around too, and even those that you can’t enter still have people in them and other totally unnecessary, but appreciated, details. Interactivity has improved significantly too, throwing thugs through storefront windows is now possible, and other objects like signs, bicycles, and furniture will move and even break apart entirely when Kiryu or one of his combatants collides with it.
The Dragon Engine is not without its pitfalls, however. Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, while featuring some stiff animations at times, never felt janky. With the more modern interactivity with objects and ragdoll physics in Kiwami 2 comes some rather weird moments, mostly in combat. Defeated enemies’ bodies will sort of tangle up or slide along the ground floor, and Kiryu will sometimes stumble through tables and chairs like he’s having a heart attack. There is some similar awkwardness that crops up in cutscenes, where some of the animations look a little dated and awkward, especially when combined with the quite realistically-rendered faces. These issues are infrequent, however, and were never so severe that they had any significant impact on my enjoyment of the cutscenes or combat.
Speaking of combat, while the different fighting styles of Yakuza 0 are gone, there are a few new elements to explore. With the new ragdoll physics, grabbing and throwing enemies has never been more satisfying. If a thug drops an iron pipe or katana you can pick it up during the fight and even store it for use later. Heat actions return, allowing Kiryu to perform flashy, often context-sensitive moves that are as fun to pull off as they are hilariously over-the-top. The challenge on normal difficulty was fairly consistent, and thankfully I didn’t encounter anywhere near as many issues with gun-toting, stun-locking bosses as I did in Kiwami.
Perhaps my favourite gameplay tweak is to the way character progression works. In Kiwami 2, Kiryu can earn five separate ‘types’ of XP which are gained by doing everything this game has to offer from winning fights, completing sub-stories, eating food, reading books and enjoying the many mini-games. There are also tracked objectives like talk to a certain amount of people, eat a certain amount of things, travel by taxi a certain amount of times etc that all come with their own XP. This XP can then be used to raise your stats, unlock new combat techniques, heat actions as well as other bonuses like being able to sprint for longer, sober up quicker and the like.
Having everything you do in the game grant you experience is fantastic, as it provides an incentive to dive deep into everything Kiwami 2 has to offer whenever the opportunity arises, as opposed to being something you might dip a toe into when the mood takes you. Instead of bee-lining straight for the next story mission, in Kiwami 2 I was far more willing to take my time, enjoy the sights, maybe grab a bite to eat or play some Virtua Fighter because I knew that no matter what I did it would be worthwhile.
More than ever, the many varied substories respect your time and feel worthwhile. There’s less “go here talk to a dude for five seconds then run to the other end of town”, this time around. The Yakuza wackiness is still there in full force: the very first substory I encountered involved Kiryu being photographed by a ridiculously buff, bald man in super tight underwear. Another involved beating up a bunch of Yakuza whose boss made them wearing nothing but nappies and act like babies, and who wanted Kiryu to do the same. Others may tell more standard or familiar stories, but thanks to the way XP works, I felt like each one was worth investing the time it took to do them.
Another pillar of what makes Yakuza games so enjoyable and unique is their story. Now, Kiwami 2’s story is good, don’t get me wrong, but it still didn’t reach the highs of Yakuza 0 for me personally. In a lot of ways Yakuza 0 is the best point of entry in the series for newcomers, but it does spoil people from a narrative standpoint because by going from 0 to Kiwami and now Kiwami 2, you’re essentially going from a script written by a developer with a decade of experience to a developer who has just started telling stories through video games.
With that said, Yakuza Kiwami 2’s story is entertaining from beginning to end and features a healthy amount of twists and turns, as well as some truly insane moments that I, of course, won’t spoil. It’s unfortunate that a number of plot reveals lost their impact as it would often turn out that Kiryu himself already knew about them and just hadn’t mentioned it to anyone when it had come up previously. When Kiryu is the player’s only link to this world and characters, it came off a little contrived for him to be like “actually I knew this all along, probably should have said something, hey?”
There’s so much more going on with this game that I could spend another thousand words detailing it, but to avoid waffling here are some rapid-fire highlights: Kiryu’s stomach and bladder can fill up, with the latter being relieved via an interactive minigame called “TOYLETS”, the utterly addictive Cabaret mini-game from Yakuza 0 makes a return and while it functions essentially identically, it features an all-new story, Majima is back too, and not only stars in an RTS-like minigame where you control hero units to defend against waves of enemies from a top-down perspective, but is also a playable character in his own short story campaign.
Whether you’re new to the series or have been a fan from the start, Yakuza Kiwami 2 offers more than enough reasons to jump right in. The new engine and added mini-games will keep old fans coming back, and for those who’ve just started with 0 or Kiwami, it’s the next step in Kiryu’s story with the same level of quality you’ve come to expect. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is relentlessly cheesy and self-aware while also managing to tell a compelling crime story about familial loyalty, honour-bound revenge and, naturally, beating up Yakuza who are trying to make you wear a nappy.