The Yakuza series stands as a unique marriage of brutal, gritty realism and off-the-wall, insane absurdity. Packed between the opening title and end credits of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an absolute smorgasbord of experiences that, from the outside, shouldn’t work together as well as they do. The game defies expectations and somehow makes the eclectic range of themes in Yakuza Kiwami 2 work together beautifully.
I loved almost every moment of my time with Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of the 2006 PS2 title Yakuza 2. As a recent dabbler in the series with the release of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, I somewhat knew what I was getting into, but that didn’t stop the game from taking me on one of the wildest rides I’ve experienced this year. From beating up random thugs, sampling the enormous variety of meals, and engaging in the plethora of mini-games, to helping the needy, building a personal army of construction workers, and completing the actual campaign I was nary left with a dull moment in my 25+ hours with the game.
The story of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a dense, complex tangle of family, loyalty, revenge, betrayal, and grief. Having never played the original, I was completely engrossed in the narrative from start to finish. I won’t spoil anything if you, like me, are coming in fresh, however there were moments where I thought I knew what was coming and then out of nowhere a massive left turn is taken and the rollercoaster gets even crazier!
“…this is one of the most expertly acted and voiced games I’ve played… and I don’t even speak the language…”
At the heart of Yakuza Kiwami 2’s story are it’s characters. Returning favourites Kazuma Kiryu (our protagonist), Goro Majima, the little angle Haruka, the surly Date-san, and Kage the Florist are joined by newcomers Daigo Dojima, Kaoru Sayama, and the villainous Ryuji Goda to flesh out a sprawling array of rich and wonderful individuals.
While at first it was difficult to remember who was who, as is the case in large ensemble casts, after settling in with the key players I quickly felt an attachment to them. The performances are convincing, emotional, hilarious, and poignant; I’d say this is one of the most expertly acted and voiced games I’ve played… and I don’t even speak the language.
Of particular note is Goro Majima, who I fell in love with in Yakuza 0. He is back with a big role to play in Yakuza Kiwami 2, and even has his own playable campaign. Despite being much shorter than the main story that follows Kiryu’s journey, “The Truth of Goro Majima” takes a sidestep and fleshes out the events that took place after Yakuza Kiwami and details his rise to riches and power in Kamurocho .
While not essential to the main plot, the extra campaign is a delightful treat for those who can’t get enough of the zany secondary character. Alongside this is the Clan Builder mini-game, which stars Majima and his crew of construction thugs fighting against rival contractors.
Yakuza is known for its abundance of side content, and Kiwami 2 is no different. Whether it be darts, golf, karaoke, mahjong, poker, or soft-core porn, there is something in this game that will distract you for hours on end. Some of the more eye-catching of these distractions are the karaoke bars (a series staple), Club Sega (full playable versions of Virtua Fighter and Virtual-On), and the Gravure Photo Studio. In the Gravure Photo Studio, you play a text-selection mini-game that has a real-world actress pose for you in varying degrees of undress. Very distracting.
I almost forgot about the absurd “Toylets’ game, which has Kiryu emptying his bladder on a target, blasting the on-screen opponent with milk. Like role-playing as a certified badass? Then check out the bouncer missions where you play bodyguard and all-around tough guy in the theater district.
I also spent a crazy amount of time in the golf center. I am a real sucker for good golf games (check out my review of Everybody’s Golf here), and Yakuza Kiwami 2 has a real doozy. Fore!
One of the greatest strengths in Yakuza Kiwami 2 is just how damn good it feels to play. I found the camera much more forgiving and manageable than in previous titles, due to the sublime Dragon Engine, and movement around Kamurocho and Sotenbori is slick and simple. Combat has weight to it; delivering heavy blows to the face and legs feel like they are shattering the bones beneath, and the sound design behind it takes it to another level.
As a badass Yakuza you know Kiryu has got some good moves, but fully exploring the breadth of techniques available makes combat dynamic and creative every time. One encounter can see you wrapping a steel pipe around a thugs head, driving your knee into his face, and finishing with a traffic cone slap around the ears. Occasionally, combat encounters feel like they are coming at you a little too frequently, however I found that experimenting with combos and new strategies made this much more enjoyable than in other action RPG/brawler titles.
Not only is there great variety in the moves that Kiryu (and Majima) can pull off, there is also great variety in the enemies you’ll be facing. From seasoned yakuza thugs to common street rats, and from Korean mafia goons to diaper-clad old men (legit), there is a colourful collection of enemies for your fist to meet.
Some rivals from previous games pop up as side story characters, both friend and foe, and work well to tie the title to the rest of the franchise. Veteran fans will love these little touches, while new fans won’t get too lost thanks to some clever catch-up dialogue and flashback scenes.
I have 2 minor gripes with the game, however. The first, and most forgivable, is the inconsistency with the visuals across the game. Caught somewhere between a remaster and a remake, Yakuza Kiwami 2 has some truly stunning character models, and some truly terrible ones. The main cast all look made-for-modern-consoles, while secondary characters and the locals look ported straight from the PS2 original. Perhaps finding a comfortable middle ground between the 2 extremes would have been better visually, however it can also be forgiven due to the “remaster” class the game exists in.
My second qualm with the game is the illogical sense of pace and urgency the game suffers from. Bombs about to detonate in Kamurocho? Let me just stop and help this cougar find a young boyfriend. Orphaned girl kidnapped? Ah yes, the perfect time to get roped into a Mahjong tournament.
“…in Yakuza Kiwami 2, you don’t seek the side story, the side story seeks you…”
Normally, I would look the other way, as side content is optional most of the time. But in Yakuza Kiwami 2, you don’t seek the side story, the side story seeks you. Often I would be running to my very important main mission, when suddenly some bozo on the street will hold me up and I’m forced to help them there and then. Interruptions like this break the pace in a very jarring way, resulting in me wishing the forced encounters were left optional as they should be.
ボトムライン (The Bottom Line)
With finishing up Yakuza Kiwami 2, I can’t wait to go back and clean up the rest of the side content and max out my stats to become the ultimate Japanese gangster. With countless hours of side stories, mini-games, naughty treats, and combat challenges on top of the 20 hour main game, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a time-sink you won’t want to leave.
Now I have to play every other Yakuza game ever. GREAT.