My first encounter with the Yakuza series was the wonderful Yakuza 3, and that entry has been my favorite in the series ever since, effectively putting these games into my top ten franchises due to the high production values, wonderful combat, and interesting characters. It’s been a long time coming for me to finally be able to play the remake of last year’s Kiwami, and this year’s Kiwami 2. There has never been a better time to get into these games, but more so, be a Yakuza fan than there is today.
I’ve heard wonderful things about the second entry in the long-running series. The way Sega has been working on remaking their games over the past few years is head and shoulders above many remakes, in my opinion, offering enough new content built around an entirely new engine to showcase their past. Sure, they likely could have gone the easy route and touched up the resolution and sold it as is, but there is an art to what Sega has done with the first two games in the series and it shows that these developers truly care about their product.
One year after the conclusion of Yakuza Kiwami, the game picks up as Kiryu is looking to start a new life with Haruka and seeing as these games are built on violence and tension, things don’t go as imagined and soon Kiryu is left to rebuild the Tojo Clan. Yakuza 2’s plot is what I remember from various articles and reviews as being at its best and the plot twists and flow of how things played out could never be surpassed. I can agree with these claims as I quickly became heavily invested in the situation (although some things could be seen coming from a mile away) and feel like this is easily my favorite game in the series easily leaving the third entry in second place in terms of storytelling.
Going further into the story, much of it features tons of dramatic flair and emotional beats you have come to expect from the series, often full of over the top performances. This is further brought to attention when Kiryu faces against Ryuji, the “Dragon of Kansai” who fills the role of antagonist superbly. Other interactions propel the story forward including Detective Sayama, and of course, Majima and Kiryu.
With the new Dragon Engine being used in this year’s Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, which at the time felt like test pilot for the new engine, its exciting to see that the developers greatly improved upon the various things like adding more heat actions, reworking how EXP is handled, and how the physics are handled. Unfortunately, after being spoiled by being able to switch fighting styles in Yakuza 0, things feel like a step backward as Kiryu has only one style to utilize in combat instead of four.
Don’t let this deter you though, fights are still engaging and brutal affairs that you won’t find in any other series. Seeing a smart-mouthed thug on the street get hit with a bike, a sign or just about any of the items available for Kiryu to beat down an enemy is exhilarating. By building up the Heat gauge Kiryu can employ a series of actions that have a wide range of actions. Moves can are unlocked by purchasing them and this is done by using the same level system found in the same level system found in Yakuza 6.
The new engine might have some kinks in its combat but the character models and district of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, Osaka look and feel alive. Exploring is a huge part of the gameplay and diving into every nook and cranny often yields exciting results, and the amount of detail put into these versions of the cities should be experienced by all. Game after game, it’s tough to not fall in love with Kamurocho for how beautiful it is.
Leading back to exploration, often you’ll come across arcades and sidequests that are hilarious and engaging. The arcades and allow you to play games, like Virtua-On and Virtual Fighter 2, it’s pretty exciting to have these games fully playable when at the arcade, and the same goes for the batting cages, minigolf, and Mahjong and Shogi, too.
Goro Majima gets his own story scenario called the “Truth of Goro Majima,” which explores why he left the Tojo Clan and serves to expand upon his decisions leading to his new venture, Majima Construction. To access the three-chapters featuring Majima, you need to finish chapters as Kiryu, and cash can be earned and passed on to the main story mode.
Yakuza Kiwami 2i is yet another example of a remake done right. With style, action and tons of heart, this isn’t something to be missed but the best way to experience this game is by starting with Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami and catching up on the lore and main characters. With a highly entertaining story to be told that is elevated by the upgraded Dragon Engine, this is arguably the best Yakuza title to ever come out.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]