The hardcore gaming set tends to get upset about annual releases in certain series. Call of Duty tends to get plenty of poop flung its way, for instance, and it’s not cool in certain crowds to like Ubisoft games at all because they drop on a regular basis each year. Other franchises tend to get a pass, though; case in point, the Yakuza series shows up like clockwork and is generally pretty well-received. That might be because it’s a consistently solid set of games that, at the very least, are all competent each and every time.
Sega’s beloved gangster saga has been undergoing a remake revival as of late, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 certainly manages “competent,” and I think around the time I was into an hour or so of Virtual On I started to think it actually managed “good.” But then, I’m a sucker for classic Sega arcade games.
As tensions grow between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance, both groups teeter on the edge of total war. Who better to solve this problem than Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima? He’ll do what he does best – namely, beat up punks, play minigames, buy loads of food and complete sidequests – and everything will work out in the end. The tale opens with Kiryu teaming up with Daigo Dojima, heir to the Dojima clan, and progresses in the usual action-packed way we’ve come to expect from the series. Expect betrayals, twists and plenty of yakuza poliics.
“What we’ve come to expect from the series” sums up Kiwami 2 pretty effectively, actually. There’s not a lot here that the series hasn’t done before. You’re still controlling Kiryu – and, at times, fan favorite Majima – as he stoically endures everything the Japanese criminal underworld can throw at him. Meanwhile, you can engage in all manner of hilarious and bizarre side activities, such as the usual arcade games (including Virtual On and Virtua Fighter 2 in this case), karaoke, hostess management and a peeing minigame that seems to have captivated the game’s fanbase and reviewers alike.
On the core gameplay side of things, combat is the usual modern take on classic brawlers, encouraging you to grab items and smack your foes upside the head with them using particularly brutal Heat Action attacks. You can upgrade our hero with experience points, as usual, which you can earn by both beating up baddies and completing a nice, long list of optional objectives. There are plenty of sidequests to check out, many of which border on the comically bizarre, and there’s a new (and short) campaign starring Majima.
This is running on the same engine as Yakuza 6, so it looks and sounds better than ever. I did find that the combat feels a little lighter on impact than usual – maybe Kiryu’s losing his edge a bit? It’s still great fun, though, and from a presentation standpoint there’s very little to complain about here.
It’s interesting that the first two Shenmue games saw an HD re-release right around the time Yakuza Kiwami 2 was coming out. Yakuza as a series is essentially a modern, more complete take on what Shenmue was trying to accomplish. It’s a chance to step into Kiryu’s impeccable shoes and apply those shoes to the faces of disrespectful nogoodniks. Kiwami 2 doesn’t innovate all that much, but it does continue that time-honored tradition of Sega’s unique blend of gangster goodness. What more could you want, really?