Republished on Wednesday, 10th August, 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of August's PS Plus Extra, Premium lineup. The original text follows.
Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is a full remake of Yakuza 2, which launched all the way back in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, and much like last year's Yakuza: Kiwami, Kiwami 2 sticks rather rigidly to the blueprint laid out by the original game. It's got the same story, the same scenes, the same missions, and the same dialogue as Yakuza 2. The key difference, of course, is that it's been remade from the ground up using the often gorgeous Dragon Engine, which was showcased for the first time with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life earlier this year.
Alongside the visuals, which at times can appear photorealistic, Kiwami 2 also takes the updated combat system found in Yakuza 6, building upon it with a handful of new moves and techniques. Needless to say, if you're attempting to play through the series in chronological order, and you've just finished Yakuza: Kiwami, then you're going to be blown away by how big an improvement this engine is.
Admittedly, SEGA has presented us with a bit of an awkward release schedule. Jumping from Kiwami to Yakuza 6 — the final chapter of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu's story — and then back to Kiwami 2 is undeniably difficult, and the process is made harder still since Kiwami 2 suffers from some blatant PS2-era game design.
Just like Kiwami, Kiwami 2 has moments where you can tell it's based on a game that released over a decade ago. There are several severely disjointed missions throughout the campaign, and there's a lot of filler that would simply be left on the cutting room floor in a more modern Yakuza title.
Thankfully, the plot is engaging enough to carry the experience. At the time, Yakuza 2's story felt like a significant upgrade over what had come before it. There were far more twists and turns — the kind that we've now come to expect of the series — and it really brought together the narrative elements that its sequels would find themselves relying upon time and time again.
There's a great cast of secondary characters at the heart of Kiwami 2's story, and as always, Kazuma Kiryu demands respect. But perhaps more so than in other Yakuza games, Kiryu's forced to rely on a number of allies here, most notably a daring and strong willed female police officer named Kaoru Sayama. Kiryu's not really one for romantic entanglement, but the budding relationship between him and Sayama is a narrative highlight.
So it's another Yakuza game, another really engrossing story — who saw that one coming? — but it's one of the antagonists that arguably steals the show. Ryuji Goda, a tough-talking, no-frills clan boss who prefers punching to scheming, still stands as one of the most memorable baddies in the series. The dynamic between him and Kiryu may be teetering on cliched, but it's fantastic fun.
If there's just a single criticism we have of the story, it's that about three quarters of the way in, it goes properly mental. Like, mental even by Yakuza standards. It's so, for lack of a better term, anime, that it almost makes you question if you're watching some kind of dream sequence unfold. It's brilliantly mad, but in the context of the overall story, the whole scenario sticks out like a sore thumb, and again, it's something that probably wouldn't make the cut in a modern Yakuza release.
Moving on, we need to write about the side content in Kiwami 2, because boy is there a lot of it. Yakuza 6 got some stick for being quite light on optional activities, at least relative to other Yakuza games, but Kiwami 2 has several in-depth side excursions for you to explore, each one of them offering something different.
To start with, you've got an improved version of the hostess club campaign from Yakuza 0, complete with its own crazy plot and characters that you can take out on dates. The top-down clan minigame from Yakuza 6 makes a return as well, this time with a stronger strategic edge and more interesting scenarios to play through. Both of these activities can eat up hours of your time, and the aforementioned improvements make them definitive.
But sometimes you just want to see Kiryu beat the snot out of anyone and anything, and fortunately for those of you who crave violence outside of the main story, Kiwami 2 offers the most robust selection of combat-based activities yet. Bouncer missions see Kiryu tackle 'dungeons' and snag powerful equipment as rewards, and the glorious return of the underground arena means that you can test you skills against tough opponents as much as you like. If you enjoy Yakuza's combat system, then you couldn't really ask for more.
And then on top of all that, you've got your near constant stream of side quests, and in typical Yakuza fashion, they range from serious substories that deal with real world issues to downright hilarious escapades. Once again, the way in which Yakuza manages shifts in tone really is masterful. Oh, and Kiwami 2 does indeed feature that side quest from Yakuza 2. You know the one, and it's still mindblowing.
Last but not least, Kiwami 2 features a whole side story, that you select from the main menu, which stars the one and only Goro Majima. This scenario is entirely new, and details what Majima got up to behind the scenes between the events of Yakuza and Yakuza 2. It provides quite an interesting look into the politics of the series' main yakuza clan, but don't go in expecting a second full game. Playing as Majima is great, and his unpredictable fighting style is as fun as it was in Yakuza 0, but unlike with Kiryu, you can't level up and learn new skills, or equip various weapons and armour. It's very much a streamlined Yakuza experience that only lasts a few hours.
Delving quickly into the slightly expanded combat system, Kiwami 2's every bit as face-breakingly satisfying as Yakuza 6, but there's a bigger emphasis on weapons. Armed enemies are a more common occurrence, and Kiryu can pocket dropped knives, bats, swords, and guns for later, as long as they aren't smashed to bits during the fight. In turn, this adds some welcome spice to each fight, with weapons sporting their own cinematic heat moves and combos.
With a mix of story battles, random street brawls, bouncer missions, and the underground arena, it feels like the combat system has a lot more room to breathe, and during our 40 or so hour playthrough, we came to appreciate that. If you're looking to master the rewarding combat of Yakuza, then Kiwami 2 gives you more reasons than ever to get stuck in.
Adding to a growing list of great PS4 remakes, Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is up there with the best games in SEGA's series. While PS2-era design does rear its ugly head now and again, another brilliantly dramatic story steals the spotlight. Throw in some superb optional content, and you've got a prime Yakuza package that's ultimately very difficult to fault.