With last year’s release of Yakuza 0, Sega managed to breathe new life into the Yakuza franchise in the west. Following the success of Yakuza 0, Sega released Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza game for the PlayStation 2. This year, Sega’s decided to once again double down on the Yakuza series.
Nearly half a year after the launch of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life comes Yakuza Kiwami 2, a remake of the second Yakuza game with some new content and additional features. While Yakuza Kiwami 2 gets so many things right, it also suffers from a few nagging issues that manage to set it just below the high bar that Yakuza 0 has recently set for the series.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a direct sequel to Yakuza Kiwami. The major difference between Kiwami 1 and 2 however, is that while Yakuza Kiwami mostly borrowed its mechanics from Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is built on the Dragon Engine which was created for Yakuza 6. This equates to Yakuza Kiwami 2 having enhanced visuals and gameplay mechanics closely matching the one’s found in Yakuza 6.
The plot of Yakuza Kiwami 2 is set one year after the events of Kiwami. Kazuma Kiryu is brought back to Kamurocho to once again help the Tojo Clan after a war is sparked between a rival yakuza clan, the Omi Alliance. In comparison to the first game’s story, Kiwami 2’s plot is far more complex and features more interesting twists along with better-developed characters. Yakuza Kiwami 2 also adds in new storylines not found in the original to tie in with some of the new gameplay modes. These new story elements blend in so well that it’s almost hard to tell that they weren’t included in the original. A surprisingly underwhelming side of the story is the newly created Goro Majima story mode. This story takes place in between Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2, also serving as a bit of an epilogue to Yakuza 0. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really add anything that players didn’t already know, instead showing them characters whose stories have already ended. Each chapter is less than an hour long and is very straightforward, mostly just retreading story beats told in Yakuza 0.
Thanks to Yakuza 6’s Dragon Engine, Yakuza Kiwami 2 manages to have some of the best visuals in the series, primarily for its cinematic cutscenes. Unfortunately, this can occasionally lead to some awkward cuts when the game decides to switch to using in-game graphics. These transitions can either come after a few seconds of stuttering or an immediate, sometimes jarring cut. Certain areas that are only visited for a short time can also appear to be less detailed than others. While Yakuza Kiwami 2 runs at a solid 30 fps most of the time, the game occasionally faces some slight slowdown if there are too many characters on screen at once. In more cases than not though, Yakuza Kiwami 2 looks more like an entirely new entry in the franchise rather than a remake of a ten-year-old game.
Continuing the formula of the games before it, Yakuza Kiwami 2 offers players a hub world full of minigames and short side quest storylines to experience. In the case of Kiwami 2, players can travel between two different locations, Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Each place offers a distinct vibe, despite both areas being labeled as entertainment districts. Following suit with the previous entries, Yakuza Kiwami 2 uses real brands and even some real-world chains such as the Don Quitoe Japan discount stores and Club Sega arcades. The arcades in Yakuza Kiwami 2 even feature full arcade versions of Virtual-On and Virtua Fighter 2 along with multiplayer features enabled. Just as previous games in series have, Yakuza Kiwami 2 does a masterful job of creating a realistic atmosphere with its virtual versions of Japan.
The combat in Yakuza Kiwami 2 is nearly identical to what we’ve seen in Yakuza 6. This means that unlike in Yakuza 0 and the first Kiwami, there’s only one fighting style to use this time around. Thankfully, Kazuma’s single style is just as fun and satisfying to use, becoming more and more complex as new moves are unlocked. Side quests also play a much bigger role in learning new techniques, either ending with Kazuma learning a new move directly or the quest giver helping out whenever a fight happens nearby. Unlike in Yakuza 0, Majima’s combat is far shallower now that he’s unable to change styles or even gain levels. This makes playing as Majima both repetitive and much easier than it should be.
Aside from brawling and the plethora of activities found in Yakuza Kiwami 2, the game borrows two game modes from both Yakuza 6 and Yakuza 0. From Yakuza 0, there’s the hostess club management game. Players take on the role of a club manager, training their hired girls to work in a social club, all while helping them to best serve customers. This game functions almost exactly the way it does in Yakuza 0 and turned out to be way more fun than I’d expected. The second game mode is the clan creator, a real-time strategy game where players recruit fighters to take on waves of oncoming enemies. This version of the game is slightly different from the original now that there’s a slight tower defence element, requiring more strategy than before. Both modes offer a nice distraction, offering their own plotlines that can actually manage to steal focus away from the main game.
For all its strengths, Yakuza Kiwami 2 may manage to disappoint fans of the original due to the amount of cut content. Several activities found in the original have been either been replaced by something new or cut entirely. An even larger amount of side quests have been cut as well, sometimes replaced by having one side quest being split up among several smaller ones. Certain songs from the game’s original soundtrack have also been removed, replaced with newer songs, unrelated to the original artist. Perhaps the greatest change is a third, smaller city being completely removed from the game. The story scenes related to this area have been altered to take place within the remake’s existing environments. As big as these changes might seem though, players new to the Yakuza series won’t feel as though they’re missing anything.
With Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise in development along with a supposed seventh Yakuza title, it’s not hard to imagine that Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a bit of an afterthought, resulting in a lot of content getting left behind. Despite this, the game still manages to feel complete and offer an experience that can really only be rivaled by Yakuza 0 in terms of story and game mechanics. Even knowing most of what’s been removed, I can’t say I miss it all with all of the new content around to take is place. If you’ve never played Yakuza 2 before, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is with little doubt, the definitive way to experience this entry in the series.
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