As SEGA finally celebrate the legendary Shenmue with a remastered collection, this week we also get to see what that franchise evolved into with Yakuza Kiwami 2.
Even though the characters of Kiryu and Hazuki could not be more different, both men know how to fight, they like to unwind with a good game, and both have to explore massive, sprawling cities to uncover hidden truths.
Now remodeled using the brand new Dragon Engine, Kiryu and Kiwami 2 have evolved from the 2006 PS2 Classic Yakuza 2 to deliver one of the best entries in the series.
One year after the events of the first game, Kiryu has left his life with the Tojo Clan behind, but is abruptly called back into action with the murder of its chairman at the hands of a rival gang.
Yakuza games tend to follow a similar pattern, Kiryu tries to escape his past life but it always seems to catch up with him. This leads to him having long chats with some of the hardest people you’ll ever meet. Sometimes he punches them in the face, sometimes he gives them a pat on the back. Then he might go spend half hour singing Karaoke or playing Virtua Fighter.
Just watch the trailer, it’ll give you an idea of how outlandish this really gets!
And with the regular pattern of games releasing over the past few years, one might be forgiven for thinking Yakuza Kiwami 2 is just more of the same. But the evolutions introduced with Yakuza 6 suit Kiwami 2 like none of the other games before it. Being able to pick up and swing your enemies around and marvel at the quality of the visuals close up means this is more a reimagining than a traditional remaster.
For instance, the combat found in Yakuza 6 with the various fighting styles and moves can now be used in Kiwami 2, which opens up a wealth of customisation options that were never available in the original Yakuza 2.
As such, the combat has never been better. It feels more modern and hard-hitting now, with the brutal one-button Heat Moves and technical tweaks that can be made in the interface. But don’t worry, you can still beat someone half to death with a bike or traffic cone if that’s what gets you through the day.
The Clan Creator from Yakuza 6 is also back for Kiwami 2, along with the option to manage a business. Although some things have been cut to improve the flow of the game, such as bowling and pool, as well as some music tracks and side-stories. The original main story, however, is like-for-like with the original.
Kiwami 2 also offers so much content, with players obviously returning to Kamurocho, but also visiting Sotenbori which originally first appeared in Yakuza 2 – though we got to check out more recently in Yakuza 0. These wide, expansive spaces are chock-full of encounters, mini-games, side quests, and daily hustle and bustle. Kiwami 2 is as massive as it is stunning.
Everything about Yakuza Kiwami 2 just feels inviting, accessible and engaging. There’s even a ‘previously on’ recap opportunity right at the beginning to get you up to speed if it’s been a while since you checked in on Kiryu. Narratively, these are games that have aged tremendously, though some technical imperfections do rear their head just slightly.
There’s a slight delay when entering combat and sometimes characters have to move to a certain position to move the game forward. Sometimes the narrative takes a little too long to get to the point and some lines will fall a bit flat. But there is more charm in Kiryu’s left pinky finger than most games have over their entire duration.
Yakuza games are always a joy for me to review. They iterate just enough each time to differentiate themselves but they always stay true to a core focus and never try to break apart an already winning formula. As it turns out, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the best of the bunch.
And even though it’s been a bit buried between some of the biggest releases of the year, Yakuza Kiwami 2 shows every other studio out there, not only how to do a remake of an already great game, but how to continue raising the bar of quality each and every time one goes to market.
+ Dragon Engine looks amazing
+ Combat is a vast evolution from the original and fits like a glove
+ Oozing with content
+ This is how you do a remake
+ One of the most charming, endearing games on the market right now
– Dated mechanics and scene transitions
– Some lines and scenes fall a little flat being overly long winded
Yakuza Kiwami 2
9 out of 10
Tested on PS4
Code provided by the publisher