Once upon a time, SEGA released a game titled Yakuza 2. After the first Yakuza put the series on the radar of many gamers who loved Japanese games, its sequel sealed the deal, turning a great franchise into a veritable legend.
Yakuza 2 has always been arguably the best Yakuza game. It marked the moment in which the series spread its wings, adding the second location for the first time, and introducing a worthy counterpart for stoic protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. While many believe that Yakuza 0 stole the throne nine years later, the second game has held a special spot in the hearts of many fans until now.
Considering how great Yakuza 2 was, it’s unsurprising that some are approaching this remake with a bit of trepidation. Remasters are safer, but SEGA is going all out with this, even beyond what was done with Kiwami. Gone is the old Yakuza 0 cross-generation engine, and in its place, we have the new and shiny Dragon Engine, on top of a ton of additions and tweaks to offer even more on top of an already massive game.
So I’m not going to keep you on your toes this time around (in any case I’m sure you’ve read the score and headline already). Yakuza Kiwami 2 doesn’t just match the already high remake quality of Yakuza Kiwami, but sets a new and very high bar of how a remake should be done. Dear Resident Evil 2, you have your work cut for you to beat this one.
Despite important additions (which I won’t spoil), the basic story follows rather faithfully the plot of Yakuza 2. The Tojo Clan’s structure is in shambles following the events of the first game, and the Omi Clan from Kansai appears to be ready to pounce.
Kazuma Kiryu is forced to go back on his decision to retire and pulls young heir Daigo Dojima kicking and screaming (literally) out of his slump. Daigo is quick to recover with the help of Kazuma’s truck-punches and decides to follow the old friend to Osaka in order to settle matters with Kansai’s Dragon, Ryuji Goda.
Goda himself seems to be ready to start an all-out-war between west and east, and is very eager to put down Kazuma to be the only “Dragon” in Japan.
One of the strongest points of Yakuza Kiwami 2‘s story is its characters. Not only Ryuji Goda is the best villain of the series hands-down, but the young and hot-blooded Osaka Police Department Detective Kaoru Sayama isn’t just the best heroine of the series as well, but she’s one of the best female characters in gaming, period.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that Kaoru is most probably my first video game love. She is badass, but she isn’t afraid to show her cute side and her vulnerability when you dig deep enough. Her Kansai accent is also absolutely adorable.
Add to that more Goro Majima, which is as masterful, funny, and awesome as ever, and you got the perfect recipe for a game that will keep you glued to the seat from start to finish.
The visuals of Yakuza Kiwami 2 are fantastic. SEGA has finally managed to reduce the gap between the Japanese and Western releases to about eight months, and the Dragon Engine is perfectly able to stand on par with many Western counterparts.
Character models are more detailed than ever, and especially the spectacular cinematics that have always been the trademark of the series shine.
The game’s cityscapes are incredibly detailed, and even more than in previous games of the series they succeed spotlessly in conveying the exotic beauty of Tokyo and Osaka.
Kamurocho, Soutenbori, and Shinseicho are “fictional” districts only in name, as they’re surprisingly faithful reproductions of the real Kabukicho in Tokyo and Doutonbori and Shinsekai in Osaka.
As a matter of fact, they’re a window on the past, because they faithfully reproduce those districts as they were eleven years ago.
While I can’t speak with authority about Osaka, I’ve been to Kabukicho eight years ago, which is very close to the period portrayed by the game. It’s so recognizable and familiar that it honestly made me tear up. The district has undergone substantial redevelopment in the past few years, and it has lost some of its charm. This game naturally reopened for me a window on some very fond memories.
If you want to see the difference, all you have to do is to also play Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, which reproduces Kabukicho as it was in 2016. Unfortunately, it already changed considerably since then, but hey, now it has Godzilla and the VR Zone.
The one weak point is some animations. I suspect that the development team may have reused original rigs from Yakuza 2, and this seems to have caused occasional discrepancies with the new models.
Audio is also top-notch, and especially the Japanese voice acting includes some of the best work by many of the top-tier actors involved in the cast.
As usual, SEGA made the right choice in doing away with the English voice acting. Not only this is likely to have sped-up the localization process, but there is no way that English voices would have achieved the same atmosphere and flavor. The delightful contrast between Kansai and Osaka accents would have also been lost, and they’re absolutely instrumental in differentiating the locations.
While I don’t always agree with their localization choices, I have to say once more that SEGA’s Yakuza localization team is probably the best in the industry. It shows that they care about preserving the original intentions on top of writing an enjoyable script, and I can relate to that.
Graphics aren’t the only thing that got extensively remade from Yakuza 2, as gameplay received a deep facelift with new progression, new heat actions, and battle features.
The physical interactions brought forth by the Dragon Engine create brawls that feel incredibly satisfying. Of course, the brutal heat actions make a comeback, with the addition of some funny and goofy ones that will require finding allies around Tokyo and Osaka.
The ability to store the weapons you find instead of using them immediately and then discarding them is very welcome, even if ultimately Kiryu’s punches are weapons of mass destruction on their own.
The progression menu could have use a bit of further quality-of-life tweaking. While you can press square to highlight purchasable perks, it’ still a bit labor-intensive to unlock new abilities, especially since you’ll have to do it many, many times and very, very often.
Another small flaw is the discrepancy in challenge between rank-and-file street trash and bosses at standard difficulty level. While the boss fights feel just right, your average group of goons is good only to give you a power trip. Japan’s bicycles are as deadly as ever, and there are a ton of them to break in your enemies’ faces.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about gameplay in a Yakuza title without going into the many, many minigames available to enjoy the cities beyond the main storyline and the numerous subquests.
As usual, there is a metric ton of them, from small diversions to enjoy your time for a few minutes (often tied to quests of their own), to more involved managerial activities that will keep you busy for hours upon hours.
Speaking of hours, set aside quite a lot of them because the Yakuza series pairs quality with quantity and Kiwami 2 is no exception. Kiwami was a bit lean due to being the remake of the first game, which had only one city, but Kiwami 2 is massive.
Subquests are another returning staple, and most of them form a goofy and fun counterpart to the darker main storyline. They provide a lovely window on Japanese everyday stories, even if they’re often exaggerated with wisely-applied hyperbole for comedic effect.
Ultimately, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a fantastic game. It’s the culmination of a formula that the development team has been perfecting game after game. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they skillfully planed it to make it roll smoothly and blissfully. The only large bumps in this ride are going to be Ryuji Goda’s punches to your face.
While Yakuza Kiwami 2 isn’t the best point of entry in the Yakuza series compared to Zero or Kiwami due to being a sequel (even if it comes with an extensive recap to catch you up on the story so far), it’s a masterpiece that no fan of Japanese games should miss. Even those who typically tend to prefer Western titles might very well discover in the remake of Yakuza 2 a great way to broaden their gaming horizon.