- Developer: Sega
- Release Date: August 28, 2018
- Platform: PS4
Coming exclusively to PS4 on August 28
I’m supposed to be investigating an attack on my yakuza clan’s base of operations. Instead, I’m belting out cheesy ’80s numbers in a karaoke bar. Musical interlude over, I’m back to investigating the murder of a high ranking officer within the organisation – until I’m distracted again, drawn into one of dozens of arcades dotting the streets, where I can spend hours playing the likes of Virtua Fighter and other classics.
Such distractions have always been a hallmark of the Yakuza series, Sega’s brilliantly detailed recreation of Japanese nightlife and the criminal underworld. While each entry packs in a deep and usually emotionally charged story in the life of Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza with a heart of gold, chances are you’ll spend more time exploring the delights of Kamurocho (a fictionalised take on Kabukichō), otherwise known as Tokyo’s Red Light District.
In Yakuza Kiwami 2, Sega’s upcoming remake of the PS2’s Yakuza 2, those delights are even more distracting. Arcades feature more detailed games, like the original Cyber Troopers Virtual-On, playable in full, while karaoke songs have more options for videos and performance mods than ever. The series’ infamous hostess clubs make a return too – albeit with some changes to hostess likenesses, brands, and even signature cocktails due to licensing agreements – and the streets are filled with people offering side quests to Kiryu. There’s plenty to do, even without touching the main story.
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Best of all, all those shops and bars can now be entered seamlessly, without loading or transition animation, making the world feel more realistic and immersive. With both Kamurocho in Tokyo, and Sōtenbori and Shinseicho in Osaka to explore (the latter based on the real-world districts of Dōtonbori and Shinsekai), this upgraded Yakuza 2 delivers a far more engaging vision of Japanese street life.
Kiwami 2 is built on Yakuza 6’s ‘Dragon’ engine, meaning it both looks fantastic and benefits from more up to date physics, collision detection, and audio directionality. In particular, this benefits the melee combat system, which is far smoother than the original. Kiryu is a blur of fists and kicks, his fluid fighting style almost dancing across the screen as he bounces between attackers. For regular grunts, your fists will probably do, but a tap of up, left, or right on the D-pad lets you switch between destructible weapons such as tonfa, boken, or – in a gloriously over the top addition – an electrified sword.
Depending on which weapon you have attached, Kiryu’s super-charged ‘Heat Actions’ will change, unleashing brutal attacks once you’ve charged up enough stamina. These are activated with a tap of Triangle, but in the build of the game on show at E3, the prompts to trigger a Heat move tended to appear mid-combo and vanish in a blink, before the button press even registered. When I managed to use one, it felt more like luck than intent, so hopefully, the timing for prompts can be tweaked before release.
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You’ll also find certain key enemies lurking the streets, challenging you to dust-ups to protect their territory or build their reputation – it’s all terribly macho. These longer fights give a better demonstration of the versatility of Kiwami 2’s combat, as enemies will have several health bars to pummel down, allowing you to experiment with environmental attacks, such as grabbing nearby objects to bludgeon your opponent with.
The one major change in content for Kiwami 2 over the original is the addition of Majima Saga, a side story focused on the dandy, snakeskin suit wearing anti-hero of the series, Goro Majima. The chapter will explore how Majima left his own yakuza tribe, the Tojo Clan, and see the return of love interest Makoto Makimura from Yakuza 0. Although played separately to Kiryu’s story, it does intersect, allowing money and gifts to be transferred. Majima Saga isn’t for the faint-hearted though – as a more violent figure than Kiryu, Goro’s fighting style is much more brutal, favouring a small knife over fists and with Heat Actions that make savage use of the blade.
Localisation issues have always been a concern for fans of the Yakuza series, with players largely rejecting efforts to dub the games into English after the first game. Still, some translation choices have become iconic – or at least memes – and have been retained in Kiwami 2. Long-time fans of the series may be especially pleased to know the “peacocking” line remains.
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Sega also promises Kiwami 2 will feature new plot points to expand on the PS2 version, and address some of the more confusing elements that didn’t quite gel with the rest of the series – some of which were down to past localisation choices. Such nuance wasn’t discernible during my E3 hands-on, but creating a more cohesive and coherent Yakuza-verse can only be a good thing.
While other Yakuza 6 elements, such as the Clan Builder, will also be reverse-imported to Yakuza Kiwami 2, although the E3 demo session didn’t provide an opportunity to test it out. However, it’s already clear that the game is a massive upgrade over the PS2 original. It irons out the creases of the 2008 version, and adds tonnes of fresh content and gameplay possibilities. Yakuza Kiwami 2 now stands shoulder to shoulder with contemporary RPGs – and if you didn’t know it was a remake, you’d be hard-pressed to tell.