Back in 2006, Yakuza 2 was the ideal video game sequel. Like Assassin’s Creed 2 or Uncharted 2, it amplified the best parts of the first game while fixing and improving all the worst parts to boot. The first game had amazing ideas and a unique cinematic charm, but was held back by sloppy combat and somewhat predictable writing. Yakuza 2 took those issues on board and provided greatly improved combat and a jaw-dropping tale of gangster tragedy that helped Sega finally deliver on the lofty promise of the Yakuza franchise.
12 years later and it’s hard to see Yakuza 2 as the groundbreaking, cinematic wonderchild it may have been when it first released. It’s especially hard to return to it after witnessing the graphical detail and technical polish of the newer Yakuza games that have come out since Yakuza 2 first dropped. As much of a storytelling masterpiece as the game is, it might be hard to embrace the dated PS2 visuals and somewhat clunky combat balance of Yakuza 2 today. Thankfully, Sega has put together a package that rectifies those roadblocks and makes Yakuza 2 the more accessible crime-drama masterpiece it deserves to be, in the form of Yakuza Kiwami 2.
After Yakuza Zero came out for the PS4, Sega used the engine and gameplay mechanics from that game to recreate the very first Yakuza game in the form of Yakuza Kiwami, releasing it just a year later. Yakuza Kiwami 2 follows a pretty similar pattern, but with Yakuza 6’s new Dragon Engine, massively revamped combat system and gameplay providing the foundations. Sega took those tools and used them to faithfully recreate the story and settings of Yakuza 2 in another Kiwami release.
However, while the first Kiwami simply slapped the story and locations into the same old engine from Zero, Kiwami 2 has done an incredible amount of work to go above and beyond what Yakuza 6 was capable of when it comes to the Dragon Engine and the new free-flowing combat system. A lot of people, myself included, felt that the changes to the way combat works in Yakuza 6 weren’t entirely successful. The new freeform style of fighting allowed for bigger crowds and dynamic physics action, but felt like it sacrificed a lot of the precision and flashiness that originally made the Yakuza games so fun and satisfying to play.
While Yakuza Kiwami 2 doesn’t completely return to the silky kinetic action combat of previous games, it certainly makes some big steps in getting there. Right from the first battle, punching and kicking feels noticeably faster and snappier than it did in Yakuza 6. The addition of new chargeable punch and kick moves (complete with some oh-so-wonderful slow-motion effects) also add a new layer to the combos that is a breath of fresh air from the usual grab-and-swing technique I abused in Yakuza 6.
Kiwami 2 also sees the return of buying and equipping weapons, which was originally introduced in Yakuza 2. Being able to save weapons for later and bust them out in a pinch adds a lot of variety to combat. Even more spice is tossed into the mix thanks to the healthy amount of new heat moves available in the game. While there aren’t as many as there were in most other games, it’s still a big step up from the slim pickings in Yakuza 6. These combat alterations help give Kiwami 2 a better sense of speed than Yakuza 6 had, but at times combat can still feel a bit too floaty and unpredictable.
The most exciting gameplay change for me, though, is an admittedly minor one. Instead of bosses having a single, slowly depleting health bar, they now have multiple multicoloured health bars. This was introduced in Yakuza 5 but taken away in Yakuza 6, and I’m so glad it makes a return. The feeling of seeing all those health bars fill up at the beginning of a fight is so daunting, yet the thrill of tearing through them at a breakneck pace makes boss fights oh so satisfying.
The additions and improvements don’t end with the combat, however. There are a number of new activities and side stories available in this game that can easily turn your 15 hour adventure into a 50 hour one. The two notably massive activities are Create A Clan and the Cabaret Club Management. Much like in Yakuza 6, Create A Clan sees you customising and training a clan that you then take into RTS-style battles in a story involving famous real life Japanese pro-wrestlers. The missions can be fun at first, but sometimes end up being a bit too difficult for their own good. I also admittely wasn’t as charmed by the story of this Clan mode as I was by the Yakuza 6 one, but that’s partly due to my unfamiliarity with the old-school wrestlers it was centered around.
Cabaret Club, meanwhile, sees Kiryu recruited by a club in order to help them turn a profit and compete in the Cabaret Club Grand Prix. You’ll be customizing hostess outfits, aiding them in conversations with clients, and even engaging in a bunch of brand new hostess side stories. It’s a bizarre premise for a mode, but it’s honestly surprisingly addictive. Plus, if you’re someone who adores character customization in video games, you’ll end up having at least a little fun picking dresses and accessories for your cabaret girls.
There’s also a brand new side story that sees you playing as the Mad Dog himself, Goro Majima. While this mode doesn’t ruin the pacing of the story the way Majima Everywhere did in Kiwami 1, it also isn’t that substantial of an offering. You’re looking at three story chapters featuring an hour of cutscenes and maybe a half hour of gameplay. It feels a bit too brief and watered down, but for hardcore fans and Yakuza Zero enthusiasts, it’s still a pretty charming piece of story that gives you a new look into the life of Majima.
The main story is the one part of the game that remains largely unchanged, and is also still my favorite part of the entire package. Yakuza 2 is the quintesential Yakuza tale, and easily the best written chapter of Kiryu Kazuma’s saga. A few Yakuza games get too caught up in wild twists and gangster treachery, but Yakuza 2 has a strong core theme of relationships and family bonds that naturally flows through a classic story of power and money.
This game also sheds so much new light on Kiryu, giving him moments of romance, weakness and vulnerability that make him such a human and flawed character. In many Yakuza games, Kiryu is simply a walking force of stoic destruction. In Yakuza 2, we see him defeated and at his weakest for the first time; it’s those moments that helps make him the iconic protagonist he is today.
The villain of Yakuza 2, Ryuji Goda, is also easily the best villain of the series. His swagger and aura are unmatchable, but much like Kiryu, there are revelations and developments with Goda that make him one of the most interesting, sympathetic characters in the series. Many antagonists in the Yakuza series are a reflection of Kiryu in some way, but Ryuji Goda was the first and arguably best-reflected version of the Dragon of Dojima.
Unfortunately, a seemingly minor change in Kiwami 2 significantly detracts from the quality of the experience. There’s a notable scene late into the story that was perfectly directed and timed to the song Kuroi Kizuato no Blues by Crazy Ken Band in the original game. In Kiwami 2, that song is replaced by a very different feeling song that also awkwardly fades in and out of the scene, and is topped off by an incredibly out-of-place sound effect that ruins the subtlety of the scene. As one of the most cinematic moments I’ve experienced in gaming, these seemingly minor changes unfortunately end up cheapening it.
Thankfully, this is one of my biggest complaints with Kiwami 2. Many of the changes or flaws in Kiwami 2 are minor items that, for a brand new player, probably won’t even matter and won’t be noticed. They’re also easily outweighed by the massive amount of things this game does right, such as the drop-dead gorgeous visuals. I say this with every new Yakuza game, but Kiwami 2 is easily one of the prettiest games on the PS4. Characters are rendered in flawless detail, and environments are beautifully detailed and seamlessly connected in a gameplay experience with few loading screens and even fewer hiccups.
Since the release of Yakuza Kiwami, I’ve been dreaming of a remaster of Yakuza 2 to give what is easily my favourite game in the franchise the same level of modern day polish. Sega has delivered on that dream with Yakuza Kiwami 2, creating an incredible package that takes the best game in an incredible series, and makes it even better. You were already doing a disservice to yourself before by not playing Yakuza 2, but now there are no excuses. This is a must play.