What’s with all the Yakuza games? I’ve been playing Sega’s much loved Yakuza series since the first game was released (rather belatedly in the West) on PS2 back in 2006. Since then, it’s been a long and often uncertain wait between sequels – how long after the Japan release would we see them in Europe? Would they make it here at all? For the longest time, I was convinced that Sega would simply stop releasing the Yakuza games in the West and, well, due to my somewhat limited grasp of the Japanese language, that would be that.
For some reason or another, after numerous releases across the PS2 and PS3, the Yakuza series appeared to finally catch on over here on PS4. Perhaps it was the relative lack of console exclusives at the time. Perhaps it was the simple fact that Yakuza 0 was both a great entry point and a fantastic game in its own right. Whatever the case, the Yakuza series appeared to have finally gained a bit of traction in the West, and by God, did Sega ever notice. All of a sudden, there were Yakuza games coming out of the woodwork – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Yakuza Kiwami (an exceptional remake of the first game), and now, hot on their heels comes, Yakuza Kiwami 2, an even better remaster of what many consider to be the best game in the series to date (or at least the game with the best story).
Whatever the case, this really is an exceptional remaster and another great reason to get into one of Japan’s most popular video game series. The GTA of Japan label has never been all that accurate with much of the experience feeling more like a cross between Sega’s own Shenmue and Street of Rage series, but while it remains difficult to pigeonhole what has always been a somewhat unique gaming experience, it is without question, one of the finest and most accurate portrayals of Japanese culture you are likely to find in any form of entertainment.
From its detailed recreations of Japan’s most famous destinations and districts (ok, so Yakuza 5’s Fukuoka probably isn’t at the top of too many ‘must see’ lists), to its quirky mini-games and well-stocked Poppo Mart stores, walking the streets of the fictionally named Kamurocho (an almost-perfect recreation of Tokyo’s famous entertainment and red-light district, Kabukichō) is about as close as you’ll get to Japan short of jumping on a plane and going there yourself. Sure, when I go to visit Kabukichō myself, I didn’t see a single street fight (genuinely disappointing), but other than the games’ over-egging of Tokyo’s supposed street crime, the Yakuza games have always done an exceptional job of recreating both the aesthetic and vibe of real world locations. That was true upon Yakuza 2’s original release on the comparatively underpowered PS2, but on PS4 and using the new Yakuza 6 engine, Tokyo and Kamurocho have never looked better.
Using the new Yakuza 6 engine and battle system, Yakuza Kiwami 2 can occasionally prove an odd mix of old and new as cutting edge graphics rub up against PS2 era transitions and the occasionally dodgy bit of animation, but despite these issues, Yakuza Kiwami 2 looks genuinely fantastic with the series’ famous attention to detail and exceptional facial animations proving especially impressive. Whether it be your umpteenth visit to Kamurocho or your first to Sotenbori (Yakuza’s take on the famous and utterly ridiculous Dotonbori district of Osaka), simply walking the streets of Yakuza Kiwami 2’s sumptuously detailed locations is a joy unto itself, and with a host of brilliant and often ludicrous side stories along with its array of mini-games (ones that range from a spot of Virtua Fighter 2 at the arcade to competing in one of the local cabaret clubs), Yakuza Kiwami 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to keeping you busy.
Like all games in the series, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a huge game that, even if you were to stick exclusively to the core narrative, is likely to take you dozens of hours to finish, but with those maddeningly addictive mini-games and often excellent side missions likely to steal your attention away for hours on end, you’re looking at a game that can eat up weeks of your time with ease.
That’s not to mention all of those outstanding Goro Majima stories – by most reasonable standards, the Goro Majima portion of the story is like a game unto itself with a mountain of content, unique missions and a whole new move set to learn. Those who played through Yakuza 0 will already be familiar with The Mad Dog of Shimano, but whether it be your first time experiencing his unique charms or not, a chance to approach the narrative from Goro’s somewhat unique perspective proves a welcome change of pace from Kazama Kiryu’s more stoic and compassionate nature – well, as compassionate as one can be considering he spends much of his time punching people in the face.
And oh, the joy of punching people in the face. Some will tell you that the new, Yakuza 6-inspired fight engine is too simplistic, but by keeping the emphasis on one fight style and allowing you to upgrade it as you see fit, Yakuza Kiwami 2 delivers robust and consistently addictive battle mechanics. Whether it be upgrading your abilities one fight at a time or taking simple pleasure from beating a team of goons to a pulp, I for one found Yakuza Kiwami 2’s battles an absolute joy.
Sure, it’s all stuff we have seen before with the new ability to have onlookers throw you items during combat adding little in the way of additional tactical nous, but as ever, Yakuza’s combat proves hugely effective, and when combined with the brilliantly dramatic core narrative and the games’ array of uniquely Japanese distractions, combines to create what remains one of the more distinctive gaming experiences on the market and a throwback to the kind of video games that Sega used to deliver on a semi-regular basis back in the Dreamcast era.
With its exceptional narrative, brilliant cast of characters, plethora of suitably insane side quests and compelling mini-games all combining successfully with its all new cutting edge visuals and addictive Yakuza 6-inspired battle system, Yakuza Kiwami 2 arguably rivals Yakuza 0 as the best game in the series while delivering a fantastic opportunity to play a game that was originally all but overlooked at the tail end of the PS2 era. The commitment to recreating the original experience occasionally clashes with the more contemporary visuals, but for the most part, Yakuza Kiwami 2 stands up fantastically well, providing yet another great reason to get lost on the seedy streets of Tokyo and Osaka.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Yakuza Kiwami 2 arguably rivals Yakuza 0 as the best game in the series while delivering a fantastic opportunity to play a game that was originally all but overlooked at the tail end of the PS2 era.