I wasn't opposed to paying! But there's a limit.
The first Kiwami Yakuza remake was a bit of a bummer. Sure, you have to take into account that it’s a remake of the original PS2 entry, and that following up the bonafide classic Yakuza 0 was a feat, but it still felt a bit shallow. Kiwami 2, on the other hand, feels like a truly valid and necessary remake, one that livens up an already excellent game and presents it in a modern way. This release seeks to present the gripping story of Yakuza 2 in a more presentable, non-2006 manner, and does so with aplomb.
Kiwami 2 takes place a year after the events of the original Yakuza (and its remake, by extension). Kiryu, our protagonist, has given up his spot as fourth chairman of the Tojo clan. His successor and former Omi alliance member Terada is gunned down, leading to murmurs of a war between the Omi and the Tojo clans. The leaders of the Tojo and Omi both want peace, but various men wish to undermine their talks, especially Ryuji Goda, leader of the rising Go-Ryu clan and son of the Omi’s chairman. Goda is the brash, loud foil to Kiryu, so much so that he is known as the “Dragon of Kansai” to mirror Kiryu’s “Dragon of Dojima” moniker. Goda’s actions drive Kiryu back into the yakuza lifestyle, and our hero is forced to travel between Kamurocho and Sotenbori to quell the conflict and figure out who exactly killed Chairman Terada.
Kiwami 2 doesn’t exactly tread new ground, but it does patch up plenty of previous complaints. Many issues I had with the Dragon Engine’s performance in Yakuza 6 have been ironed out, leaving the sloppy movement and sometimes frustrating combat behind. Fighting is simpler, now focusing on a single combat style with combos that easily flow into one another, that vastly improves upon the previous game. There’s more of a focus on weapons in this game, with more of them scattered about in fights and items that would usually be discarded, like knives and bats, can be added to your inventory at the press of a button. You can charge a more powerful version of your light and heavy attacks by pressing and holding the attributed buttons. Overall, combat and traversal feel similar, but tightened, and I have a much better opinion of the Dragon Engine after playing Kiwami 2, and there’s less fear in my heart about the series’ (and engine’s) future.
Before this release, the general consensus was that Yakuza 2’s story was one of the best in the franchise, and after playing Kiwami 2, I’m inclined to agree. The Terada murder plot is consistently riveting, and characters both new and old have fantastic arcs. Perhaps the best newcoming character is Kaoru Sayama, a police detective assigned to keep tabs on Kiryu during the bubbling Omi/Tojo conflict. She starts off understandably untrustworthy of Kiryu, but as time goes on, her relationship with him grows deeper and more cooperative. It was legitimately refreshing to have a character that felt on the same level as Kiryu in both talent and personality, especially after more recent games made him more and more of a legendary figure. I went into the game feeling a bit off about Kiryu having a potential love interest, but the game proved me wrong, and I ended up rooting for them to end up together, or at the very least stay allies.
The substories in Kiwami 2 are a refreshing step up from both Kiwami 1 and 6’s let downs. Compared to how disappointing the previous titles’ substories are, there are some absolute classics in Kiwami 2 that I’ll remember for a long time. There’s nothing quite like stumbling into an adult baby group full of yakuza and having to beat the tar out of them, or meeting a slightly pushy man, swapping email addresses with him, then receiving a slew of kitty cat emoticons from him.. Otherwise, the standard games: darts, golf, karaoke, mahjong, Sega arcade titles (Virtua Fighter 2.1 and and Virtual On, specifically) await you, with no real changes to how any of them work. One major highlight is the return of the cabaret club minigame from Yakuza 0, which is also mostly the same as before, but it’s still maybe the best minigame in the entire series, so I’m not complaining.
Something the Yakuza dev team was very excited to talk about was the new Majima Story mode included in this release. As you progress through Kiryu’s story, more chapters in Majima’s spin-off are added. In it, you follow Majima from around when Terada is brought on as chairman to when he appears in the main Yakuza 2 story, filling in the gaps from him leading a pretty inconsequential Tojo subgroup to being in charge of the seedy underbelly of Kamurocho, Purgatory. It’s a completely separate menu option with its own save files and everything, so you’re free to play through a chapter of Majima’s route and switch back to Kiryu or vice versa at any time. This sounds exciting at first, as Majima was a highlight of Yakuza 0, but it very quickly becomes rote and bland. While the writing is, of course, just as good as the rest of the game, actually getting to it is a slog. Instead of giving you the full open world and various options to enjoy, Majima just goes from one location to another, fighting thugs in specified areas. Boss characters spawn at certain times as well, but there are no substories or humorous antics for the Mad Dog of Shimano to get up to. I wasn’t expecting a full Majima campaign, but what is here is quite dull and lifeless, seemingly done as a quick afterthought once the team caught wind of how much people love Majima now.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 feels more substantial and worthy of attention compared to the other Yakuza remake because Yakuza 2 is a generally better game. Kiwami 1 was a necessary undertaking, bringing the foundation of the franchise into the current market and sprucing it up just enough to be presentable. Kiwami 2 on the other hand has a stronger backbone, and stands up better to modern scrutiny. This release is a new coat of paint and a few tightened screws, which is all Yakuza 2 needed to shine as a fantastic entry in the series.