For me, few games have the sense of wholeness that the Yakuza series provides. Not only do you get a fantastic main story, but you also get a ton of side content that supplements the narrative perfectly. Yakuza Kiwami 2, the remake of the 2006 PlayStation 2 title, continues this tradition and is a wonderfully crafted modernization of the original game.
For most franchises, the word “formulaic” would be an insult, but when it comes to the Yakuza series, it’s anything but. Sega has created something that is wholly theirs, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues to use that winning format to incredible effect. While some fans thought that Yakuza‘s first foray using the Dragon Engine, Yakuza 6 wasn’t quite up to par (I vehemently disagree), Yakuza Kiwami 2 addresses issues that were raised with that game and is an entry I believe new and old Yakuza fans alike will love.
Since Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a sequel to both Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, there will inevitably be some spoilers in this review. I’ll try to keep them vague and brief, but if you haven’t played those two games just go do that instead of reading this.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: The Fourth Chairman of the Tojo Clan
Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place a year after the events of Yakuza Kiwami. Kiryu decided that the life of a Yakuza wasn’t for him, and after being named the fourth chairman of the Tojo Clan, he stepped down the same day. Instead, he chooses to spend his days taking care of Haruka in peace.
Unfortunately, Kiryu’s reputation and abilities thrust him back into Japan’s underworld. The fifth chairman of the Tojo Clan, Yukio Terada is assassinated in front of Kiryu’s eyes and with him goes the hope of the clan’s survival. The Tojo Clan, shattered after the events of Yakuza Kiwami, is incredibly vulnerable and Kiryu is the only person left that has the ability and reputation to ensure the clan’s survival.
It’s hoped that Kiryu can travel to Sotenbori, Osaka and meet with the head of the Omi Alliance Yakuza, Jin Goda, and forge an alliance that will ensure the Tojo Clan will get a chance to rebuild. Unfortunately for Kiryu, a civil war is brewing in the ranks of the Omi, and in the background foreign interests are making the beginning moves in a war that might consume the Tojo Clan and Kamurocho.
Fortunately, if you haven’t played Kiwami or Yakuza 0 (or you just need a refresher), you get the choice to view a detailed recap of the pertinent events from those games. Similarly to Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2 does an excellent job of catching you up, giving you context for situations, and reminding you who essential characters are. However, it’s not quite a substitute for actually playing Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, and I highly recommend you do so before playing this game.
It’s entirely possible to play Kiwami 2 blind and still have a fantastic time. However, a lot of the little in-jokes and side events tie back to the preceding two games in some way, and having played them will enhance your enjoyment of Kiwami 2, even if it’s not a requirement.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: So Much to Do, So Much to See
Kamurocho makes its return in Kiwami 2, and it’s the bright neon hot spot you remember from every other game in the series. Even though this makes the eighth main series title to include Kamurocho, I don’t get tired of visiting it. Instead, I love seeing what subtle changes have occurred between series entries, and what the denizens of Tokyo’s red-light district are up to this time around.
Those who have played the original Yakuza 2, Yakuza 5, or Yakuza 0 will recognize the second location featured in Kiwami 2. Sotenbori, home of the Omi Alliance, makes its return as well. Like Kamurocho, not a ton has changed here, but, especially if you’re hot off the heels of Yakuza 0, you’ll enjoy seeing the little differences here and there.
One of the big complaints I saw in regards to Yakuza 6 was that many of the staple mini-games didn’t make it into the game. That’s been largely addressed in Kiwami 2, though a few of them like bowling and pool are missing. The UFO Catcher is back, though, and that’s the one I really missed. You’ll also get to once again visit the casinos that were gone in Yakuza 6, and Kamurocho, in particular, feels more filled out than it did previously.
Kiwami 2 being a remake, there are a few things that didn’t make the cut. In particular, the minigame where Kiryu can be a male host is no longer included, and the ability to date hostesses isn’t here either. However, there are some big additions that more than offset some of the cut content in my eyes.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: Cabaret Your Cares Away
Fairly early in the game, Kiryu is conscripted to be the floor manager at a failing hostess club called the Four Shine in a mini-game reminiscent of the one found in Yakuza 0. He’s tasked with pushing the club to prominence and winning the four cups of the Cabaret Club Grand Prix.
This segment could almost be a game in itself, and I had a blast with the sheer goofiness in its self-contained story that concerns Four Shine’s owner Yuki’s rivalry with the owner of the current top hostess club in Japan.
While Kiryu is managing the club, you have to match girls to customers. Each girl has a grade in one of four categories: sexy, elegant, cute, and funny. Matching a customer with the right girl will ensure they throw down major cash, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The more cash you earn, the higher your standing will be in the Grand Prix, but you can’t just keep throwing the same girls to the dogs every night. You have to make sure they have fair working conditions and that they get time off to relax. Each of your hostesses can gain experience and level up, and each has inherent traits which can boost or lower their stats. You can also dress them up in outfits and accessories which affect their stats and allows you to customize which of the four
The whole thing is incredibly complex for an activity which is entirely skippable, and it added a feminine side to the game. Kiryu actually takes a back seat during a lot of the cabaret club story, and the spotlight is on the women and their narrative. It’s a sharp contrast to the main narrative and contains the levity that balances the heavy nature of the Omi Alliance and Tojo Clan’s dealings.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: The Mad Dog Returns
The second significant addition that comes with Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a separate scenario entitled “The Truth of Majima Goro.” Majima is a fan favorite character and since his popularity increased exponentially since the original release of Yakuza 2, it’s was a great move to spotlight him in Kiwami 2.
The Truth of Majima Goro is unlocked after you proceed about a third or so through the main game and takes place two months after the events of Yakuza Kiwami. It shows Majima’s ascent through the Yakuza ranks and how he came to butt heads with the Uematsu family for the position of Tojo Clan Captain. It also features Makoto Makimura and details what happened to her after Yakuza 0.
Unfortunately, Majima’s scenario is pretty short compared to the main game. You can get through all of the story pretty quickly, but there’s replay value to be had with the included clan creator.
The clan creator is a sort of abridged RTS where you can send soldiers out to battle rival yakuza. It plays out much the same as Yakuza 6‘s version (see my Yakuza 6 review for more details on that), and if you loved that one you’ll love this one. All-in-all Majima’s scenario is a welcome addition, but if you were hoping for a whole game’s worth of content here, you’ll be disappointed.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: Sub Rosa
One of Yakuza‘s signatures is the substories. These are little adventures that have you dealing with all sorts of topics. Some of them can be poignant, dealing with family or lack of self-esteem. Others feature some of the most hilarious situations I’ve seen in a game.
I have to give a ton of credit to the localization team because the humor comes through 100% here. In one substory you find a man locked in a park bathroom in distress. Kiryu attempts to call an ambulance for him before the man admits the issue is that he’s crapped his pants. In his words, he booked it to the stall, but running made it worse, and he ended up playing the “dark price.”
Another substory has Kiryu dealing with a Yakuza boss that invites him to a hostess club. When Kiryu enters, he finds that it’s a place for men who enjoy age play. When he tries to leave a whole squad of Yakuza dressed in diapers and tries to take him on.
The great thing about all this though is even though Kiryu is put in these kinds of absurd situations, he’s never cruel to these characters. He never makes fun of them and goes out of his way to be understanding and helpful. The main story shows us what happens to Kiryu, but it’s the substories that explain who he is and his nature.
Even when confronted by a large bald Yakuza dressed like a baby with a pacifier around his neck, Kiryu’s only reaction is, “Sorry, but this really isn’t my scene. I should probably be going.” He never shames anyone unless they’re hurtful to others, and he never fights without major provocation
There are 76 substories (75 + 1 for completing them), and I had fun with each and every one of them. Some are your basic fetch quests or going somewhere to fight someone, but the dialog and characters you get to meet make them so much more than that. Kiwami 2 has some of my favorite substories thus far, and I think 76 is just around the right amount to give you a ton of side content without being overwhelming.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: The Heat is On
The combat and experience system from Yakuza 6 returns in Yakuza Kiwami 2, but it’s received some needed polish and improvement in the transition. You still level up using five kinds of experience points (muscle, agility, technique, charm, and spirit), which you receive for completing substories, eating, fighting, and pretty much anything you do in the game. This system worked great in Yakuza 6, and I was glad to see its return.
The combat in Yakuza 6, though, while fluid, left a bit to be desired compared to Yakuza Kiwami. However, a few of my chief complaints have been addressed in Kiwami 2. For one, this game has a ton more heat actions to unlock. I love the over-the-top violence in Yakuza, and one of the big things 6 was missing was variety in combat.
Another thing that’s back with Kiwami 2 is weapons. You can once again equip weapons in the inventory and pull them out using the d-pad during combat. They have limited uses but can be incredibly powerful. I really missed getting to taze someone in the chest or knocking a bat out of an enemy’s hands and pummeling them with it, and it looks incredible in the Dragon Engine.
Unfortunately, the multiple fighting styles of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami haven’t made their return, but Kiryu does have the ability to charge his light and heavy attacks, and parrying is a lot more useful this time around. It’s obvious Sega was more comfortable with the engine in its second outing, and the improved combat shows it. I’m hoping for Yakuza 7 (or whatever the next console entry might be) we’ll get a chance to see fighting on par with Kiwami again.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: Dueling Dragons
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is one of the best games ever made. I have a real hard time quantifying my favorite games, so I don’t want to assign it a number, but it’s close to the top. I absolutely love Yakuza 6, but getting to see a full-throttle Yakuza game in the Dragon Engine is impressive. Kiwami 2 is another stellar entry in a series that’s full of absolute barn burners.
I say something like this at the end of every Yakuza review I write, but I want to reiterate it. If you’re tired of the same experience with grimdark AAA series year after year, then it’s time to look to games like Yakuza Kiwami 2. Instead of playing as “rebellious girl with a dirty face whose dad died” or “beefy moody soldier who has become the enemy he hates,” you can go hit the batting cages with Kiryu and hang out in an accessible and enthralling slice of 2006 Japan.
If you haven’t played Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, you can definitely still enjoy Kiwami 2, but instead of worrying about that, just go get those games too, and get ready to have your mind blown by how consistently good a video game series can be.