Arguably, the best part of the Yakuza franchise isn’t about being a gangster — it lives in every silly, violent and overindulgent thing you can do as a grown man living in Japan. Want to get wasted on 12-year Yamazaki whiskey and sing karaoke for an hour? Do it.
Yakuza Kiwami 2, the upcoming remake of Yakuza 2, promises more of what makes the series so great: creative, over-the-top violence; delicious food options; bizarre substories; and another Majima-centric campaign. Running on the Dragon Engine used in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Kiwami 2 looks richer, more fluid than any other title in the series so far.
In between fighting off drunkards and thugs on the street, Yakuza’s substories prove to be the real highlights. Whether it’s teaching a dominatrix how to improve her skills or recovering a stolen pair of pants, the stories are refreshingly candid, offering Japanese cultural tidbits you wouldn’t get otherwise.
In Kiwami 2, certain substories can unlock new heat actions and finishing moves if you’re within a certain distance of a nonplayer character. For example, helping a street performer could allow you to smash someone with a guitar if you’re ever in a fight around him. Sega made sure to include far more heat actions in Kiwami 2 than in any other entry in the series so far, and it shows. Hell, I branded a guy’s face with an iron. If I wanted to, I could’ve also used pliers and pulled his teeth out mid-battle. The possibilities are endless.
This time, fighting can be taken off the streets and into convenience stores, even restaurants. Furniture can be tossed, broken or destroyed. In a particularly animated fight, I ran into a restaurant with little hope of getting out alive. But, seemingly out of respect for the patrons in the waiting area for a popular sushi restaurant, my enemies turned their backs and walked disgracefully through the automatic doors. This isn’t going to happen every time, but the small touches and polishes folded into Kiwami 2 feel loving, even attentive.
It’s clear that Sega really had the fans in mind with this remake. Everyone’s favorite slightly unhinged yakuza, Majima Goro, makes his return as a playable character. After the events of prequel Yakuza 0, I’ve always wondered about the sudden jump from the Majima back then to the Mad Dog of Shimano, as he’s now known. He had a soft spot for people in trouble, ran a nightclub, even fell in love. And now, he’s roaming the streets in various costumes, breakdancing and beating people up. If you, like me, have always wanted to know what happened to our sweet boy, Kiwami 2 promises to fill in the gaps.
But all of this fighting, running and general debauchery has its limits. You’ll need to recharge. And that’s where food, glorious food, comes in. Eating something doesn’t just restore HP; each dish consumed has different traits that add points that count toward leveling up a stat, learning a new attack move and other skills. And since you’re probably going to be hungry after smashing three guys with half a bicycle, ordering more than one dish is expected. In fact, ordering certain combinations of dishes can also unlock hidden bonuses. If that doesn’t spell out incentive to try every dish on the menu, I don’t know what does.
Kiwami 2 doesn’t just add a new coat of paint to the game — the Dragon Engine seamlessly weaves the fine touches and flourishes of what makes the Yakuza series so endearingly brutal. It’s apparent in the food you eat, the vending machines you visit, the hot tea you pour all over a guy’s face. There are so many extras and tiny morsels to unpack, it’ll be a long time before I put this game down.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 launches Aug. 28 on PlayStation 4.