If being a member of the yakuza means that, at one point in my life I'll find myself squaring off against a room of diaper-clad adult men, I could toatlly rock the job, because that seems like cake. Or maybe it's all about sitting back and accepting that it's super fun to play games at urinals that force me to be mindful of the strength of my pee stream.
In all honesty, it's probably more about honor and integrity, acceptance, and stopping to lend a fellow hand to those in need. Wait, that sounds off, too. What's being a yakuza all about, anyway? If I had to go by what powerhouse Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, does in Yakuza Kiwami 2, I might have a pretty skewed image of what being a part of the Japanese criminal gangs might be like.
But you know what? That's perfectly fine, because every time I have a rendezvous with this massively enjoyable series, I always enjoy myself immensely. In the case of the latest remake, the now-definitive way to enjoy Yakuza 2 on PlayStation 4, I'm both thoroughly impressed and ready to dive back in at any time. While Yakuza 6 acted as the perfect swan song for Kiryu's tale, it's just getting started in Kiwami 2, and it's a tale you've got to experience at least once.
The Dragon Returns
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is, for lack of a better description, more of the same delicious meal we've been chowing down on since Sega decided to start hand-feeding us regular remakes and Yakuza sequels. It's the continuation of Kiryu's story from the first game, of course, with plenty to sink your teeth into.
Technically, Kiryu is now an ex-yakuza, having left the Tojo Clan in the previous game Yakuza Kiwami. He's pulled right back into the streets again when the clan's Fifth Chairman is murdered. The lowlifes behind this heinous crime, the Omi Alliance, are looking for blood, and if it were up to the rest of the Tojo Clan, they'd get it. Kiryu is called upon to find a new chairman for the clan, while working against the "Dragon of Kansai," Ryuji Goda, part of the Omi Alliance. Oh, and there's a whole side story about a potential love interest for Kiryu, but I'll let you unravel and unpack that all on your own as you make your way through the game.
Of course, Kiryu isn't the only star of Kiwami 2. Fan-favorite loose cannon Goro Majima is back for another intriguing tale, with his own scenario "The Truth of Goro Majima," the "Majima Saga." This vignette explores the Mad Dog of Shimano's back story, and how he ended up leaving the Tojo Clan himself. For fans of the relatively unhinged Majima, the particular chapter of the story is a welcome addition to the rest of the game, and a shining example of how even supposed "minor" characters can make or break the narrative.
Hostesses, Clans, and Arcades, Oh My!
Unraveling the threads of this gripping story is your main goal, of course, as you complete various chapters of the narrative. But there's so much more than that going on as you hit the town in the fictional Japanese districts of Kamurocho and Sotenbori.
But Yakuza is and has always been all about spectacle, and Kiwami 2 delivers it in droves. Whether you're singing your heart out to some of the cheesiest Japanese tunes in a seedy karaoke joint or whiling hours away in a small arcade with a UFO catcher, it's feeding you flashy distractions one after another. There's always something more to do, like hitting the batting cages or even taking part in a separate hostess club simulation that really ought to have its own spinoff series by now.
This isn't the first game to feature the hostess club mechanic, but it's back with a whole new set of girls, clothing, accessories, and a purpose. Managing the cabaret club is one of the most rewarding parts of the entire game, and one element that I spent far more time on than I really should have, despite the sense of urgency attached to the main campaign. Who has time to faff about with yakuza politics when there are girls to hire and patrons to serve? It quickly, as expected, turned into one of my favorite parts of the game, so much that I wanted to go back and explore its other iterations even further than I had previously. The clan creator seen in Yakuza 6 makes its triumphant return as well, which is another entire subset of content you could spend hours with, if you're not careful.
Riff Raff, Street Rat
Combat is just as tight as ever, both mechanically and figuratively. Kiryu makes you feel like the badass you are, and while he's got a sweet selection of melee attacks that feel vastly smoother and improved on Yakuza Kiwami's, you're going to want to incorporate weapons into the mix. Trust me on this.
One of the coolest upgrades for Kiwami 2 is its reliance on the "Heat Actions" Kiryu can pull off in the heat of battle. When you're armed with some sort of weapon, be it a bicycle you picked up off the street or something more traditional, like a baseball bat, you can let loose with some particularly brutal attacks on the poor saps who dare get in your way. With your stamina meter sufficiently filled, you can hit a button and follow through with a prompt, which lets Kiryu totally screw up some unlucky sod's day. Yeah, if you're holding a street sign, then your enemies are just gonna have to deal with being clobbered with a street sign. That's their life now.
Some of the most fun you'll have with the game, in fact, is recruiting allies who will toss you helpful items in the middle of a street brawl. After you complete a corresponding sub-story, you'll gain access to particular individuals who can offer their assistance in the middle of a fight. For instance, you can find a helpful character who ends up tossing a slimy plunger your way which you can "plunge" a punk's face with. Or you might befriend a musician, who throws you a guitar that you can start wailing away at someone with. It's hilarious, violent, and over the top, and an absolute blast to trigger. It sure looks like there's some poop slime on that plunger, and I hope that thug got a nice taste when he ate it after I threw him to the ground last time I played.
Rock the Dragon
This remake of the original PlayStation 2 iteration of Yakuza 2 is done entirely in the Dragon Engine, the very same one that made Yakuza 6: The Song of Life absolutely sing. It's gorgeous, from Kiryu's expressions to the anguish on the faces of street thugs you've just thrown the boiling contents of a hot pot at. Its abilities are also apparent when you discover you can just walk in and out of the various shops, arcades, restaurants, and other locales dotting the cities without having to sit and patiently wait through extensive loading times. It's a vast improvement on the original game, by far, and even tops Yakuza Kiwami in terms of what the system is capable of. Performance issues certainly weren't on the menu here, which I was grateful for every single moment.
Once again, excellent localization is the star of the show here alongside a fantastic Japanese voice acting cast. I never miss English voices, and never once stop to wonder what these characters may sound like in my native tongue (though the original Yakuza wasn't totally awful). I understand it can be a bit of a frustration for players who want to hear spoken English dialogue, however, and could end up taking folks out of the experience. If you're not sure, though, give it a chance, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Kiryu's iconic murmurings ("Nani?") are endearing no matter what language you hear them in.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is such a fun, wild, and weird creature that it feels almost like fanservice. Kiryu continues to be the kindest yakuza you'll ever meet, the least judgmental person on the face of the earth, and yet somehow remains tangled up in affairs that keep him on the wrong side of the law. I vastly enjoyed every second of my time exploring the world through his eyes, whether I was helping a dominatrix stop dealing with pushy clients or handing a guy some new underwear from a convenience store over the top of a bathroom stall. This is the definitive way to experience Yakuza 2, and an excellent showcase for what the series is capable of. Seriously, you've just got to get into it now. I'm tired of repeating myself.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
- Engaging story that furthers the tale of Kazuma Kiryu.
- Gripping combat with hilariously brutal Heat Actions.
- Even more distractions than the previous Kiwami remake, with lots more to do.
- Excellent improvements made via the Dragon Engine.
- Still no English audio option, which will undoubtedly turn many off despite the game's excellent Japanese voiceovers.