What is it? A remake of Yakuza 2, a game about punching a lot of people.
Reviewed on: GeForce GTX 1070, 16GB RAM, i5-6600k
Release date: May 9
Multiplayer: Two players, local, in Virtua Fighter 2.
Link: Official site
Welcome back to Kamurocho. Things are different here now. The Tojo Clan is in disarray after the events of Yakuza Kiwami, Virtua Fighter 2 has been installed in the Sega Arcade, and Majima has started a construction company—tearing down the homeless camp of West Park in preparation for the Kamurocho Hills office complex. But more dramatic than any of these small developments is Yakuza Kiwami 2's big change: the series' new Dragon engine, and the many improvements and changes it brings.
Yakuza is an economical series that rarely reinvents the wheel. It often reuses assets and animations, because the focus is always on the same handful of districts, and the small ways they change over the course of decades. Kiwami 2 is still a Yakuza game, which means it's a crime drama interspersed by fights, exploration, minigames and substories full of ridiculous slice-of-life character moments that help humanise protagonist Kiryu—making him more than the hardboiled stereotype he could so easily have been. It's also a remake of 2006's Yakuza 2, which, despite looking significantly better, features mostly shot-for-shot recreations of its cutscenes.
Still, the changes Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio bring to the Dragon engine offer a significant shift in style and systems. You can now seamlessly enter buildings, for instance, and brawls that start on the street can even spill into shops. It makes the city feel more cohesive and connected, and the game as a whole feels more modern—up to a point. I slightly prefer Yakuza 0's combat, which felt crisper and more arcadey in a way that made fights more enjoyable. But overall, the enhancements are a success.
It looks nicer, too. Kiwami 2 takes place in both Kamurocho and Sotenbori, the two locations from Yakuza 0, and in both the streets feel wider and more detailed. Just standing in them, Kiryu feels smaller, which helps better convey the scale of the city. Once again, Sotenbori—based on Osaka's Dotonbori—is the standout. Its main street is a beautiful explosion of billboards, flags, lanterns and mechanised signs. Kiwami 2 does a particularly good job of highlighting the differences between its two locations. Everything about them has a different flavour, from the type of substories that Kiryu encounters to the music that plays during a fight.
East vs West
Those differences help contextualise the story. When hitmen from Osaka's Omi Alliance assassinate the Tojo Clan's fifth chairman, Kiryu is dragged back into Japan's underworld on a mission to stop the two cities' main gangs from descending into open war. In his way is Ryuji Goda, the Dragon of Kansai. In Ryuji's mind the world isn't wide enough for both Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, and him. From their first meeting, it's clear the two are on a collision course, and that inevitability adds great tension to the events as they unfold.
Kiwami 2 is also about the relationship between Kiryu and detective Kaoru Sayama, who places Kiryu under protective custody in an effort to prevent his showdown with Ryuji. Despite the differences between them—and Sayama's hatred of yakuza generally and the Tojo Clan specifically—the two grow closer over the course of the game. Outside of the main story, Kiryu has an almost childlike naivety about sex and romance. But his growing relationship with Sayama adds depth to the character, and is heartwarming to see.
While the story isn't quite as tight as Yakuza 0—suffering from the occasional tangent, lull and contrived twist —it's still one of the strongest of the series. And elsewhere, Kiwami 2 is packed full of interesting diversions. There's a return of Yakuza 0's cabaret club storyline, which picks up some of the same story threads. There's a strange RTS minigame featuring Majima's construction company that is admittedly more functional than enjoyable, but offers lots of fun character moments. There's bouncer missions, gambling, the colosseum, street bosses, golf, men in diapers, and loads more. There's even a couple of minigames about pissing.
Where Yakuza Kiwami felt like an expansion to Yakuza 0, Kiwami 2 is larger, fuller and more varied than Yakuza 6, its Dragon engine predecessor (which isn't available on PC—the series seemingly being ported in order of storyline). While I still slightly prefer Yakuza 0, this is well worth your time.