Yakuza Kiwami 2 review: Two dragons and a mad dog


The strongest title in the franchise gets a dramatically improved update, as Yakuza Kiwami 2 expands upon what works well and fills in narrative spaces.

Title: Yakuza Kiwami 2
Developer: SEGA CS1
Publisher: SEGA
Platform: PS4
Release Date: August 28, 2018

Remaking classic games in the Yakuza series requires a delicate balance these days. With the franchise cranking out four new titles in the past three years (four released in North America within the past two), each title needs to stand on its own merits without leaning too hard on familiar experiences. Yakuza Kiwami 2 not only doubles down on pushing its great story to the extreme but offers a touching denouement that closes the door on the franchise as we know it.

With the Tojo Clan on shaky ground a year after the events of Yakuza Kiwami, Kazuma Kiryu is enjoying a new life as a civilian and caregiver to young Haruka. However, a solemn vow and an untimely assassination attempt have dragged him back into the criminal life once again, this time taking him across both Kamurocho and Sotenbori to stop an inner-faction war fueled by a decades-old transgression while under the police protection of Kaoru Sayama.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

Though the series presents itself as a criminal drama, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is often like a mystery thriller. The conflict of Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, and Ryuji Goda, the Dragon of Kansai, is layered and complicated, and the developers aren’t afraid to paint a picture by the brush stroke. What may seem like a chaotic, messy power grab has a lot of moving parts, unfurling at a pace that drives the tension.

It’s in no short part thanks to the great ensemble cast of characters, led in no small part with the character of Ryuji Goda. Even when using underhanded means to accomplish his goals, he has his own personal code of honor and doesn’t get caught up in being a chess piece to a larger game. He’s straightforward as can be; a refreshing trait that makes his motivations more agreeable.

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Despite following in Yakuza Kiwami’s footsteps, many of the gameplay systems seen in Yakuza Kiwami 2 take on a “streamlined, but more” approach from Yakuza 6. All of the infamous sidequests are here, with the highlights given improved cutscenes such as how Kiryu deals with a bunch of babies and the Mama from Earth Angel helping to fend off Black Thunder goons.

Most importantly, the Clan Creator and Cabaret Clubs from Yakuza 6 and Yakuza 0, respectively, make a grand return, with both padding the number of minigames and side quests offered up in this lengthy open-world title. The Clan Creator takes a bold new approach by turning the system into a tower defense with MOBA-lite strategies, opening up scenario maps to provide a non-linear, more tactical approach. There are even more hints at previous entries with the Cabaret storyline, as well.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

Kiryu’s combat skills and progression follow an EXP growth based on completing tasks, quests, playing in minigames, eating at restaurants; basically, anything that pushes you to explore every avenue of gameplay. Though you don’t have as many moves as you do in previous games, the heat actions and various ways to take down foes with the help of allies made on Sotenbori and Kamurocho’s streets help liven up a game where you’re mostly punching dudes to solve your problems.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the best example in the series at showing what makes Kiryu tick, what he values most and how he treats others he cares for.

Despite the intense stakes and the possibility of the underworld turning upside down, every serious moment is complemented by an equally silly one with its side quests, finding a balance that serves to embolden the character of Kiryu at heart. His ability to find compassion and reason to those undone by unjust people only strengthens him as a person.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the best example in the series at showing what makes Kiryu tick, what he values most and how he treats others he cares for. For every conflict he solves with his fists, he lands harder with pointed jabs and philosophical thought. No matter how uncomfortable our hero is, he squirms through with no regrets, only to renew his sense of purpose as a member of society.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

While Goro Majima’s very brief campaign offers little in terms of a new or exciting gameplay experience (Majima is on a mission to uncover a mysterious plot undoing his family and the Tojo Clan at large), the player is offered closure with some of the last loose strings tied to his characterization and how he became the Mad Dog of Shimano.

I highly recommend playing through Yakuza 0 before attempting his campaign, as its story works more as heartwarming fan service than anything. A man as crazed and deranged as Majima is brought to balance by walking down a path he knows oh too well two decades prior, tugging at the heartstrings with a somber, yet fitting, parting note for the last piece of new content in the Kiryu-led Yakuza franchise.

…tugging at the heartstrings with a somber, yet fitting, parting note…

The Dragon Engine makes its return after first appearing in Yakuza 6, breathing new life into a world created over a decade ago. Despite repeated instances of the game’s major locations appearing in other games, the depth of the game’s lighting effects, striking visual fidelity and the true-to-life recreation of Dotonbori of its time period show the strength of Sega’s technical efforts.

However, on a base PS4, screen tearing remains a huge problem. The streets are filled with vibrant images and plenty of pedestrians, but because of the immersive worlds with minimal loading screens, the engine is barely holding together. There’s a lot of tearing images or blurriness when moving the camera around, and that tends to happen often when swarmed by thugs on the busy streets.

Yakuza Kiwami 2

With one of the series’ greatest stories, a host of new minigames and time sink distractions, new combat mechanics and an updated localization effort, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is one of the greatest entries in the franchise. Players will find themselves stumbling across new and exciting opportunities to enrich their appreciation for Japanese culture at every turn, nailing the mood of bustling metropolis’ that embody two distinct motifs.

Tragically, this may be the final new look at Kiryu’s adventures, with upcoming titles being straight-up remasters and The Song of Life being the canonical end. If that is the case, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a fitting farewell that captures the heart of the franchise while expanding the available content offered. In the end, only one dragon can prevail, and surely, this game prevailed mightily.

SEGA CS1. . Yakuza Kiwami 2. 9. An emphatically triumphant farewell, Yakuza Kiwami 2 lives up to its “extreme” namesake. Its engrossing, dense, dark story is complemented with an engaging open world filled with wondrous activities littering its narrow streets. Taking the best parts of its franchise and stuffing it all into a rich, rewarding experience, minor game engine flaws cannot overshadow the dragon within.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.