Yakuza Kiwami 2: A New Dragon Tattoo Story
A review by Max Keller

The Yakuza series, debuting in 2005, has been around for a while now. Kiwami 2 marks the second game for the franchise this year to be localized, and the fourth since Yakuza 0 from January of last year. The series hadn’t left Japan in years and now it’s coming back with a vengeance.

This serves as a total remake of Yakuza 2 (PS2, 2006) featuring the new Dragon Engine which eliminates many of the original’s loading screens and well as introducing a more elaborate physics system. This latest entry contains all the same great components of the series while adding plenty of new stuff to keep you busy. It is important to note for newcomers though that some of the series’ quirks can include cutscenes that can drag on to incredible lengths (We’re talking Metal Gear) and a complete lack of English voice acting. All dialogue in the game contains the original Japanese audio with subtitles to clue in those who don’t speak the native tongue.

Kamurocho nightlife is as vibrant as ever in Kiwami 2

Kiwami 2’s story takes place soon after the events of the original and right away throws the protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma, into yet another tale of intricately woven subplots and mystery. The Tojo Clan’s patriarch is assassinated and it’s up to Kiryu to broker a truce with the rival Omi Alliance. How the story plays out is the typical Yakuza affair, with countless partnerships, betrayals, and ripped shirtless men beating the tar out of each other. Yakuza 2’s story has been largely considered to be one of the better entries in the series, and it holds up today largely unchanged.

An infamous scene that kicks off the game’s third act has been noticeably altered for the worse and, while it won’t make or break the game for you, it is regrettable. The cutscenes are as long and gripping as ever and, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be pleasantly glued to your seat the whole time. The game consists of arguably the best antagonist in the series to date and one of the few well written female characters in a series that hasn’t always handled them the best.

The gameplay follows in the footsteps of Yakuza 6, the first game on the new tech. The open world is dripping with the same atmosphere and style that the series has been known for, and looking better than ever. Kiwami 2 is a lot sharper around the edges than Yakuza 6 was, but unfortunately, it’s not without its faults. While most open-world crime games offer gunplay to get through hordes of enemies, Yakuza instead offers a robust melee combat system where a flurry of kicks, punches, and grabs are used to bring your opponents to their knees.

Definitely a look into the stats menu and not a trophy humble brag.

The new physics system in the game also offers endless entertainment in watching the gangs of Kamurocho wrap their limbs around light poles and crumple to the ground. The seamless transitions into combat that Yakuza 6 introduced feels a little sluggish with the obvious couple second delay where everyone stands around ready for a fight. It’s just long enough to be noticeable, but luckily doesn’t impede the flow too much. Once engaged in a fight though, the familiar combat begins to shine with plenty of brutal new Heat Actions just as horrifying as ever. Break limbs, throw bicycles, and maybe even salt an eye or two. The results of your victories will earn you plenty of fun items and some experience for your effort. The experience and skill systems are another thing pulled from Yakuza 6, with both extra stats and moves available for purchase to assist you in pummeling your foes.

I can ride a bike with no handlebars

As always, the draw remains the writing, with the well-done juxtaposition between the serious story beats and the much more lighthearted substories. When not on his criminal adventures to save the Tojo Clan, Kiryu will once again find himself in increasingly bizarre and hilarious situations. A routine brawl on the street could land our man at a club for adult men in diapers being waited on by women pretending to be their mothers.  These moments are a great showcase for Yakuza’s unique brand of humor and are just as silly as ever. It’s no surprise that Kiryu often ponders the question “What have I got myself into now?”

When you need some downtime on the quests themselves there’s always some of the dozens of minigames that the series is known for. Casinos, bar games, and the occasional bit of perviness are all there to enjoy while you explore the familiar streets of Kamurocho. The addicting Cabaret Club game from Yakuza 0 returns, this time with Kiryu running the club himself, and a variation of Yakuza 6’s Clan Creator also makes an appearance. In a way, Kiwami 2 feels often like a greatest hits collection for the series, bringing in plenty of familiar material that has brought the series its fans.

If you’re new to Yakuza this probably isn’t the place to start though. The complex map of yakuza families and alliances could seem daunting to the uninitiated, but if you’re a fan you’ll feel right at home. Filled with a gripping plot and all the distractions of Kamurocho, the game remains one of the strongest entries in the series if not for a few technical hiccups.  Yakuza Kiwami 2 sure is the second of a lot of things. It’s both the second remake of the series to date, the second game on their new Dragon Engine. Most importantly though it just might be the second best game of the series.

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