Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PC) – the Dragon of Dojima is back, againThe latest remake in Sega’s epic saga of the Japanese mafia has the best graphics the franchise has ever seen, thanks to the new PC version.
Game review: VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action comes to Nintendo SwitchWhen Sega first announced it was remaking Yakuza for the PlayStation 4 and PC it was hard to get all that excited. The first game has had numerous remasters before, and it seemed inevitable that it would be another one-off that was ultimately fairly pointless if you had to keep jumping formats to continue the story. But after prequel Yakuza 0 the series has seen an unexpected surge in popularity in the West and now it’s looking like we might actually see remakes of all the games.
We should make it clear that that’s a hope rather than a promise, as Sega hasn’t announced anymore remakes at the moment, as they’ve currently got spin-off Judgment coming out in the West later this year and a brand-new Yakuza entry with a new protagonist sometime after that. But we hope they’ll find some time for more remakes afterwards because this one is a lot of fun – even though paradoxically the original is one of the worst in the franchise.
Yakuza 2 was first released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, just a year after the original. It had obviously been rushed into production after the unexpected success of the first game and takes place in largely the same locations but with a plot stuffed full of villains and convoluted plots that seem to be there only to hide the fact that nothing much else has changed. Except it has… for the remake at least.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (kiwami means ‘extreme’) has you once again playing as legendary yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, who starts off the story in retirement, acting as a father figure for Haruka from the first game. You don’t necessarily need to have played the first game to understand what’s going on, as the basics are all well-known tropes and before you know it there’s an all-out gang war going on and Kiryu has been dragged back in to sort everything out.
Although the game’s portrayal of the yakuza seems very authentic, Kazuma still appears far too nice a guy to be mixed up in such unpleasantness. But then Sega has always taken a very different approach to its crime dramas and, unlike in Grand Theft Auto, clearly feels a likeable lead is important.
Where Yakuza also differs from Grand Theft Auto is that the action focus is on fisticuffs, not carjacking or gunplay. The heart of the series has always been what is essentially the modern(-ish) day equivalent of a beat ‘em-up, with simple moves and combos augmented by the ability to pick up anything that isn’t tied down to pummel your opponents with.
A simplistic role-playing system is used to reward successful fights, unlocking new moves and increasing health and special attack bars, but this can’t negate the fact that you can get through almost the entire game with just the same two or three combos. The sequel attempts to involve more opponents than before, and there’s more room to manoeuvre when a brawl breaks out, but the overall experience has changed little. The remake even seems to acknowledge this by importing the clan creator from Yakuza 6 into the game, along with all its (Japanese) wrestling star cameos.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PC) – Sotenbori has never looked betterWhat has changed though is the graphics. Kiwami 1 was based on the same engine used for Yakuza 5 on the PlayStation 3, while Kiwami 2 is based on the tech used for PlayStation 4 game Yakuza 6 – the most recent mainline entry. The difference this makes on the PC is immediately obvious with much more flamboyantly realistic visuals, as the neon-hued streets of Kabukicho light up like never before. There are more pedestrians around too, creating a much more convincing sense that you’re exploring the nightlife of a major city.
There are lots of other small improvements too, including much faster load times – which helps both when exploring and in faster transitions into fights. There’s also a much-improved map that makes tracking down side quests a lot easier. The only noticeable technical flaw is the simplistic ragdoll physics during combat, but we’re not sure whether that’s just an oversight or an attempt to maintain the feel of the original game.
Kiwami 2 also adds a new prequel scenario featuring fan favourite character Goro Majima and Makoto Makimura from Yakuza 0. It’s split up and peppered in and around the main story but the fact that there’s any new content at all is very welcome. (We assume all this is in the PlayStation 4 version as well, but we never had time to play that as it released right at the same time as Gamescom last year.)
Although the more humorous side quests are just as entertaining as usual, Yakuza 2 is definitely one of the weaker entries in the franchise. The original was obviously rushed and while the story is desperate to appear epic and important it really just feels shallow and overblown. Which only makes this remake seem even more impressive, by turning such a flawed framework into a game that’s almost as entertaining as the series’ best.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
In Short: An excellent remake that manages to overcome the flaws of the original and offer a glimpse at what a next gen Yakuza game might look like.
Pros: Kamurocho and Sotenbori have never looked better, with great visuals and a real sense of vibrant realism. Interesting characters and fun, and often very funny, side quests.
Cons: The plot is all over the place and overstuffed with shallow villains and nonsensical plot twists. Repetitive combat in terms of both scenarios and the lack of moves.
Formats: PC (reviewed) and PlayStation 4Price: £24.99Publisher: SegaDeveloper: Ryu Ga Gotoku StudioRelease Date: 9th May 2019Age Rating: 18
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