Yakuza Kiwami 2 Review: Double Dragon. The Yakuza series sits at a unique place in 2018, juggling two different points in the series timeline. The western release of prequel Yakuza 0 in 2017 was a dazzling gateway for a new wave of players and flowed naturally into a remake of the very first game later that year. The next title that followed, however, was Yakuza 6, which bid farewell to mainstay protagonist Kazuma Kiryu while debuting the brand new “Dragon” game engine. Yakuza 6 was a great finale to a saga that began in 2006, but now, the series has taken another 10-year leap backward in terms of narrative chronology but has taken its latest technology with it. And it’s fortunate things worked out this way, because Yakuza Kiwami 2 combines the best parts of both timelines, as we simultaneously revisit the point in time where the series hit its stride, while being able to enjoy the superior benefits of a seamless world and fluid combat system afforded by the latest engine.
The original Yakuza 2 is more than just a personal favorite; it’s where the series became more ambitious in terms of its world and narrative by introducing an additional location for the first time, the iconic Osakan strip of Dotonbori (stylised as “Sotenbori”), in addition to Kabukicho (stylised as “Kamurocho”) in Tokyo. This not only added variety and scope to its geography and narrative, but memorable personalities with its Osakan characters. Their demeanor contrasts greatly to Tokyo natives, and this plays into the tensions between the major crime organizations in the Kansai and Kanto regions, respectively. Kiryu teams up with ace Osakan detective Kaoru Sayama for the majority of the game, who is a strong, likable character–their odd-couple pairing and growing relationship are some of the things that make Yakuza 2 so exceptional. Supporting them are the familiar Makoto Date and his hardened former mentor, Jiro Kawara, who all play interesting roles with great performances. It’s here where you can see the strong foundations for the multi-protagonist approach that the series would later take, and in general, Kiwami 2’s script is tweaked slightly to be a little more self-reflective from the lens of a present-day retrospective.
In typical series fashion, the majority of the story is told through highly charged, emotional cutscenes that lean heavily on the beats of Japanese drama, and they are as slow-paced as they are impressive to look at. However, Yakuza 2’s plot has the benefit of being one of the more exciting and memorable of the series–there’s an unforgettably gruff and showy antagonist in Ryuji Goda, the “Dragon of Kansai” that stands in staunch opposition to Kiryu’s “Dragon of Dojima” moniker, a number of intriguing twists as a multinational blood feud is uncovered, some heavy-set themes about the value of loyalty and being shaped by your past, as well as some of the series’ absurdly excellent moments, like punching a lunging tiger in the face. It’s truly wonderful to see this PlayStation 2-era experience elevated to modern standards; sharp cinematics and high-fidelity models really amplify familiar performances through subtle facial expressions and body language.
But unsurprisingly, character models featured in secondary cutscenes and the game’s numerous substory side quests exhibit a perceptible drop in quality. But to Kiwami 2’s credit, the baseline fidelity of secondary models has notably improved–they aren’t as jarringly awful as they were in Yakuza 6, but Kiwami 2 sadly doesn’t feature full voice acting in all of its scenarios as 6 did. There are a few nice exceptions to these rules, however, as a few of the game’s most infamous substories (series fans will nod knowingly at the mention of “diapers” or “fat Kiryu”) get full cinematic treatment.
Kamurocho remains a fantastically atmospheric environment, full of pedestrians and neon lights, exuding a strong sense of true-to-life identity. The Dragon Engine continues to allow for seamless transitions between the street, stores, and combat encounters–it’s also nice to revisit a more complete, “classic” version of the area after only seeing an abridged version in Yakuza 6. Sotenbori does suffer some minor cuts from the original version of Yakuza 2, and a smaller third area, Shinseicho, is cut altogether. But while these omissions are disappointing from an enthusiast perspective, it doesn’t detract enough from the overall experience to be a significant stain, and certainly not for new players. The five-category experience system for character progression returns, and so does the emphasis on eating and drinking for experience points, which continues to be a positive change for the series that helps encourage a grounded connection and familiarity to the urban environments you roam through.
The Dragon Engine’s version of Yakuza’s crunchy combat also continues to be incredibly satisfying. While relatively straightforward in terms of its move set, especially when compared to the multiple disciplines featured in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, the momentum and fluidity of techniques combined with the emphasis on collateral, physics-based damage makes fights exciting–it’s difficult to return to the characteristically stiff combat of 0 and Kiwami once you’ve spent time with it. Small but noteworthy classic mechanics have been reintroduced, including charge moves (which you can now buffer while continuing to move and perform regular attacks), a returning focus on weapons (which you can now collect, store, buy, repair, and equip via quick-menu), as well as a number of location-based Heat moves, where befriended neighborhood denizens help you humorously and viciously assault bad guys.