The Yakuza series from SEGA are some of the most outrageous and stylish games around despite their dramatic tone and series subject matter. The games have changed their presentation over the years, but have managed to maintain a fun factor that balances out their stories on the Japanese criminal underworld. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a reimagining of the second game from the PlayStation that keeps most of the original intact but presents it with a new engine and flair borrowed from later entries of the series. Those that have played any of the Yakuza games know what to expect here, which may feel a bit repetitive at this point, but that doesn’t mean what you do in Yakuza Kiwami 2 is any less fun because of that.
If you never played through the second Yakuza game, the story follows many beats and tropes that would follow the series over the years. Kiryu Kazama is a strong-willed yakuza of the Kazama family that gets caught up in the craziness of the criminal underworld, uncovering many conspiracies while trying to stop a major gang war between rival yakuza factions. It’s a follow-up to the events from the previous game, the original Yakuza Kiwami, which takes Kiryu further into the power struggle and hierarchy of the crime lord families.
Things get very complicated with a lot of characters coming in and out of the plot, which might be hard to follow at times. A lot of this is due to many nods and seeds for stories that occur in sequels littered throughout, which might feel like an over-reach of fan service in some cases. Much of the story also requires a hard suspension of belief, but the over-the-top moments are what make these games so much fun to play through.
Can a man really beat down two fully grown tigers with his bare hands? No, absolutely not in any realistic sense. Is it cool to see that happen during the climax of a crazy sequence of events? YES, a thousand times over. It’s ridiculous, makes no sense most of the time, can be super outlandish in every way, but its incredibly fun when these kinds of moments happen on screen.
The visual and audio upgrade for the game is the real star here. Yakuza 2 on PlayStation 2 did have a sense of style for its time, but Yakuza Kiwami 2 further enhances this with the use of the Dragon Engine, which was used to make Yakuza 6. Kiryu and the rest of the cast look fantastic with highly detailed models that are given a fun presentation on screen with lots of wild cinematic camera angles, making any moment they have feel dramatic.
The city of Kamurocho once again looks great, with many lights, street corners, and tons of random citizens walking around to make the city feel alive around you. Unfortunately, there are some invisible walls that block off some sections you can pass through, all of which could’ve been better masked to maintain the immersion. Despite this, Kamurocho is still a pretty city to walk around and take in the nightlife.
The gameplay of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is nearly identical to most of the series. You can explore the streets of Kamurocho at your pace in-between story objectives, which is great for seeing many of the mini-games or getting into fights in the streets. The combat for Yakuza Kiwami 2 is heavily influenced by Yakuza 6, with SEGA’s Dragon Engine being the basis of the remake and borrowing elements from later games that worked out well. You can run into thugs and baddies while roaming around and immediately start fighting without any loading or pause to load beforehand, which is great when going between exploration and combat. Defeating enemies and completing objectives gives you experience that can be spent on new moves, stat boosts, and other bonuses for Kiryu to further boost his strength.
There are a few points where gaining experience can be a little difficult, but picking the right options and frequently eating at many of the game’s food spots can give the extra burst of EXP when you need it. During some story battles, it can feel like the difficulty spikes up when confronting a boss or large group of enemies fighting together. This can be somewhat remedied if you pick up a nearby weapon or equip one from the game’s inventory, but you can get stuck in a very difficult situation if you’re not able to. A few enemies can also have an overbearing about of armor from your attacks, as well as heavily damage you without warning, which makes some fights a little frustrating.
Keeping in par with the rest of the series, there’s a lot of side stories and mini-games to interact with in Yakuza Kiwami 2. Many of the side stories you can complete are silly tales about the residents of Kamurocho, some of which can be fun nods to other SEGA games and goofy scenarios. A lot of them end up feeling repetitive and dragged out, but completing them does yield a lot of rewards such as unlocking new moves and new items. The SEGA mini-games include classics like Virtua Fighter 2, Virtual-On, and other games at the arcades you find in the city. They make for a fun distraction, but the mini-games that will eat up the most of your time will be the Cabaret and the Clan Creator.
The side-games focus on side-stories which involve building up a host club, as well as Kiryu’s rival Goro Majima running a construction business. They’re more complex and have their frustrating moments more so than other mini-games. They can take a while to complete, but they also allow you to more rewards to take back with you into story missions. To add onto this, an entire prequel story is unlocked as you complete the main story, which follows Goro Majima and draws connections between events of this game and its predecessor. There’s simply no shortage of things to do within Yakuza Kiwami 2.
If you can’t get enough of the style and flair of the Yakuza series, or if you never played the second game back in the day, then you can’t go wrong picking up Yakuza Kiwami 2. Though a few problems that have lingered throughout the entire series are still here, they don’t overshadow all of the great parts Kiwami 2 has to offer. The visuals and soundtrack are great, the amount of things to do is plentiful, and the goofy sense of humor helps balance out an otherwise dramatic story. The plot might go off the rails with its j-drama kid of storytelling, but you can’t help but have fun getting caught up in criminal underworld with a yakuza that also happens to love playing Golf Bingo. That might be random to most people, but somehow it all works out well.
This review is based on a digital review code for Yakuza Kiwami 2 for the PlayStation 4, provided by SEGA.