It took a long time, but Sega is now very aware of the fact that the West loves the Yakuza games and, my word, is it doing its best to make amends. The past couple of years have seen the release of a prequel, Zero, the remake of the first game in Kiwami, and the present day sequel Yakuza 6 all get Western releases. And now, unbelievably, we’re just weeks away from getting another Yakuza game, Kiwami 2. In other words, there’s no longer a reason to worry that whatever is coming next won’t grace these shores. In fact, Series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi recently stated that the forthcoming reissues (not even remasters) of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 are actually ‘intended for overseas fans’. It took a while then, but there’s never been a better time to be into Yakuza. It’s coming home.
For newcomers though, keeping track of the series Chronology is almost Kingdom Hearts levels of confusing, so let’s break it down. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the remake of the second Yakuza game, released back in 2006 for the PS2. With Zero and Yakuza one remake Kiwami now both on PS4, this is effectively the third entry in the series. Cool? Cool.
This isn’t just a quick and dirty upres though, for Kiwami 2, the ageing Yakuza 2 has been lovingly remade using the impressive looking DRAGON engine that powers Yakuza 6. The district of Kamurocho has never looked so good, with an astonishing level of detail going into the shops and bars, but most notably into the faces of the main characters Kazuma Kiryu encounters throughout the story. Background characters and the random NPCs that walk the streets aren’t quite as up to this high standard, but regardless – It’s a really good looking video game.
It also benefits from having the Yakuza 6 combat system – a much more versatile, slicker means of kicking several shades out of street thugs and other foolish types that step to Kazuma. He can now pick up and keep certain weapons to bring into scraps this time, like a pocket knife, for instance, and these can be equipped with a push of a D-Pad direction at any point during a fight. Heat moves are, of course, still at their most hilarious, over-the-top best. Honestly, beating someone over the head with a push bike will never, ever get dull.
RE-ENTER THE DRAGON
One thing that the Yakuza series really nails is its sense of place and Kiwami 2 is no exception. Kamurocho feels like a real, bustling district that has been magically stored on a disc. Returning there, game after game, gives you a real sense of familiarity, with seasoned veterans knowing their way around the streets the same way they know their way around the area they live, practically navigating it on autopilot with any radical changes standing out a mile. It’s now also been a place that fans have seen evolve throughout the years, too. Seeing places get built and established, wandering through areas where dramatic moments in the past took place and even hiding cultural items and knowing nods to series past.
Whether its the district’s ever-changing fashion or, brilliantly, the choice of arcade games available at Club Sega – this time around there are full versions of Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtual-On on offer — there are a wealth of options for players looking for an excellent distraction, including the usual outlets of Karaoke, golf and casino minigames.
It’s not just Kamurocho you’ll be patrolling this time around. The story takes Kazuma to Sotenbori in Osaka. Last seen in Yakuza Zero, it’s another stunning bit of urban Japan nightlife, a river that runs through it reflecting the neon city lights. It’s not as radical a change of scenery as say, Hiroshima is in Yakuza 6, or the wider choice of locales in Yakuza 5, but anyone who has played Zero will get a real kick out of seeing it years later in the timeline, with a few major differences subtly showing off the passage of time and highlighting the gradual growth of the city.
A new side scenario – The Truth Behind Goro Majima – fills in the storyline behind the fan favourite character of the same name, revealing how the ‘Mad Dog of Shimano’ came to work in real estate. Sadly, this means an end to the ‘Majima Everywhere’ system from Kiwami, so no Goro popping out of bins or drains this time around. There’s also a few tweaks to the original story, so it fits in much better with the now established Yakuza canon.
The clan creator from Yakuza 6 also makes a return, as do a bunch of Japanese pro wrestlers that can be recruited. In a lovely touch, they’re all older Japanese wrestlers, who would’ve been in their pomp when this game is set, so instead of Okada and Naito, you’ve got legends like Chono, Tenryu and Mutoh. Like a lot of Yakuza’s coolest features, they’re definitely niche, but if you’re into this, then this is a Pro Wrestling cherry on an already tasty Yakuza cake.
How’s Yakuza Kiwami 2 Shaping Up?
If you’re sat there thinking “Well, this seems like more of the same”, it’s hard to say otherwise, but given how unique the franchise is — that’s not a bad thing. The Yakuza games have been delivering consistently for a long, long time now and with the West finally cracked, getting the second title into people’s hands so they can play through and experience Kazuma Kiryu’s entire story is a good thing — for both longtime fans and those who have only just gotten into the series. Sure, Kiwami 2 feels very similar to the first Kiwami game, but that was damn good in its own right and this looks like it is going to continue that run of quality.