SEGA released Yakuza Kiwami 2 just as Gamescom opened its doors. Awkward timing for those who had to “work” in Germany, but great news for Yakuza fans like me with plenty of free hours to spend. It’s exclusive to the PS4 as the moment, which is how we tested it.
I’ll be the first to admit that the numbering system in the Yakuza series has the ability to drive me crazy. I started on the PS3, which got disc-based versions of Yakuza 3 and 4 and then a digital-only version of Yakuza 5. Sounds reasonable enough since the first two games weren’t localized for PS3, but it’s the PS4 where things got confusing. Over the course of the last year, we’ve gotten Yakuza 6 (so far, so good), Yakuza 0 (a prequel to the first game, which I never played) and Yakuza Kiwami (a remake of the first game). So here I am, thinking I should play the entire series all over again – but starting at 0 this time. The only problem… Yakuza 2 would be missing. That’s where Kiwami 2 steps in, a remake of the second game in the series. Phew…..
As with all Yakuza titles, there’s a tale of gangster rivalry at the heart of Yakuza Kiwami 2. Once again assuming the role of Kazuma Kiryu, your plans to retire after the events of Yakuza Kiwami quickly come to a grinding halt when the headquarters of the Tojo Clan gets destroyed and you find out that you were actually the intended target of the attack.
What follows is a tale full of violence and drama, with a ton of stuff going on even if you ignore most of the side-quests (which you shouldn’t). In the narrative sense, it helps if you played Yakuza Kiwami before starting this one, but the game also offers an excellent “the story so far” option to help newcomers get their bearings. You’ll still need to pay attention though, as the Yakuza series has always had a tendency to introduce tons and tons of major and trivial characters over the course of an individual game.
But story-driven as the game may be, the bulk of the gameplay is all about melee combat on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka. And although I never played the original on a Playstation 2, I’m glad that SEGA has chosen to create Yakuza Kiwami 2 using the game engine that also powers Yakuza 6. Looking at a few gameplay videos of the original game, the combat in Kiwami 2 is far more smooth, dynamic and visceral this time around. Thugs can be picked up and thrown though parts of the environment for extra mayhem and destruction, and interiors of buildings can be seriously trashed when you venture in there during a bout.
Experience is gained during combat and can be used to upgrade your character, but if you just stick to fighting there’s a good chance things will eventually get a little repetitive. Luckily, that is where Yakuza’s knack for side quests and “random things to do” comes in. Many of the side quests have their own little narrative and form their own little (and well-written) micro-campaign, but you’ll also find plenty of fun ways to spend your time in-game, which includes the ability to visit a virtual recreation of a classic videogame arcade. There, you’ll find actual working versions of games like Cyber Troopers and Virtua Fighter 2 that you can spend hours playing if you want. It’s not as good a selection as they had for Yakuza 0 (which has Out Run, Hang-On and Space Harrier), but it’s still a fun trip down memory lane.
Playing Yakuza Kiwami 2 and seeing how much content is crammed into the game makes the original even more impressive – considering it was developed for PS2. Sure, the fighting isn’t “best of class” even with the updated game engine, but it’s the wealth of things to do and the richness of the narrative and game world that more than make up for it. I could imagine that even those who own the original game will get a kick out of this remake, as it introduces plenty of new content including cutscenes that were made especially for this new version. So yeah…. now I can finally play the entire saga from 0 to 6 on my PS3 and PS4…. but where will I find the time to do so, with so much to do inside each and every one of them?