Enlarge / That's a bit of that Maji-magic right there.Sega

Yakuza 2 is a slightly strange chapter in Segas charming crime drama series. It doesnt quite capture the accidental magic of the first game or the blend of soap-opera drama and zany side quests that were perfected when Yakuza went HD with its third chapter.

It drags series lead Kazuma Kiryu—the lovable, titular criminal—into a more straightforward action-movie plot. Theres a car chase, ticking time bombs, a lady love interest (the only one in the series), and enough revenge schemes to fuel a whole season of television.

But now Yakuza Kiwami 2s slightly forgettable bombast has been cleaned up for the PlayStation 4. And it cleans up pretty well! Like the previous Kiwami, this is a full-on remake of the PS2 original. This time, its all running in Yakuza 6s Dragon Engine—bringing with it the graphical bells and mechanical whistles of that most recent release. Combat is more physics-driven than most other games in the series, and the progression system forces you to engage with Kiwami 2s fictional cities of Sotenbori and Kamurocho more than usual in order to level up. Oh, and it can get really hard.

Thats a problem that, for me at least, seems unique to the Kiwami remakes. Maybe its because the remakes are translating much older theories of boss design than the more modern Yakuza 6 and Yakuza 0. Maybe its a way to drag out what was otherwise the least-dense entry in the series. Whatever the case, Kiwami 2 sports some sharp difficulty spikes that most of the games combat doesnt prepare you for. My advice is to carry plenty of weapons.

The emotion behind those battles is as strong as ever, though. Yakuza Kiwami 2 keeps up the series tradition of stellar voice acting and whats quite possibly an even better localization. Moments like when fan-favorite character Goro Majima defuses a bomb using “eenie-meenie-miney-mo” do tremendous justice to an already larger-than-life cast.

More Majima

Speaking of Majima, this years game doesnt feature the same “Majima Everywhere” suite of side quests found in the first Kiwami. Instead, theres an entirely separate “Majima Saga” where you play as the Mad Dog of Shimano himself.

Unfortunately, this new offering is a bit of a let down. The side story is short and incredibly stripped down. You cant level up Majima or engage in side quests. Its just an hour or two of cutscenes and straightforward fights. On the other hand, its more Majima, which is always a good thing. The saga also ties together a few loose ends, some of which set up the events of Yakuza 2 itself.

  • Some characters from Yakuza 0 make direct appearances in Kiwami 2.
  • Ah, yes. It's not a Yakuza game without live-action boobs.
  • Kiryu earned the same amount of respect he gives everyone else.
  • Yakuza 2's plot is a lot more "Hollywood" than other entries.
  • A few side quests get more love and attention than others. It shows.
  • Virtua Fighter 2.1 and Cyber Troopers Virtual-On are this year's emulated arcade games.
  • He does. He really, really does.
  • Kazuma Kiryu has canonically never killed anyone.
  • How many pictures of Majima can I sneak into this gallery?
  • Not enough.
  • At least they're polite about it.

Mostly, though, the missions serve as a sweet little coda to Majimas campaign in Yakuza 0. That prequel revealed Majima as someone whose violent, eccentric persona is partly a means of dealing with emotional trauma. Its nice to see that layer of the character hasnt been papered over this deep into the series.

And thats really what you should be here for: the characters. Kiwami 2s explosive action doesnt completely overshadow the delightful heart of the franchise. Kiryu is still perhaps the most likable leading man in video games. He wears his unconditional respect for nearly every kind of person he meets on his sleeve: be they men or women, criminals or bystanders, sex workers or members of the general queer community.

If youre in trouble, hell try to help you (probably with his fists). If you screw up, hell tell you how to fix it (also with his fists, probably). Ive written about the protagonists magnetic, near-perfect expression of healthy masculinity over and over at this point. If you appreciated it in other Yakuza games, you wont be disappointed.

Subpar substories

Kiwami 2 even handles its transgender side characters—typically a weak point in the franchises spectrum of representation—with a lot more respect than previous entries. But the game is not perfect. The biggest subplot involving a transgender woman reveals her deadname to make absolutely sure you know shes trans. But the meat of the story is a huge step up from the purely “comedic” caricatures in past games.

Thats just one of Kiwami 2s bigger “substories.” These usually madcap events offer much-needed breaks between the main storys wrought tale of a yakuza civil war. Sometimes theyre fairly serious (like the previous example), but usually theyre about Kiryu buying someone clean underwear or getting scammed by a fake ISP.

Kiwami 2s substories feel strangely small compared to those of past games. Youll talk to someone, then maybe a fight breaks out, or maybe they need you to buy something instead. Then its over. The few quest lines that are more involved sport full cutscenes and voice acting, but theyre the exception rather than the rule. This revitalized PS2 game just lacks a certain energy compared to the last two main entries—where you chased a sentient Roomba around town and helped a human statue poop in peace.

Majima Everywhere made up for a similar lack of pizzazz in Yakuza Kiwami by causing its title character to ambush Kiryu in increasingly bizarre ways. Kiwami 2s closest thing to an equivalent is its pair of complex mini-games. The first is a real-time strategy game, pulled right out of Yakuza 6, where you defend Majimas construction company from Japanese pro wrestlers like The Great Muta. The second is a cabaret-club management sim, pulled right out of Yakuza 0, which remains one of the most entertaining side activities in any Yakuza game.

Despite being mechanical rehashes, both modes sport entirely new subplots. And while they lack the spontaneity that only a selection of good, meaty side quests could offer, they bundle well with the Majima Saga to flesh out a comparatively slim Yakuza game. Plus there are still plenty of bite-sized distractions in Kamurocho and Sotenbori—like arcades with fully functional Virtual-On cabinets, mahjong parlors, and… live-action gravure photography.

Yakuza 2 may be inessential, but its by no means an unworthy entry in the beloved franchise. The Kiwami treatment has only improved the original with a tremendous graphical overhaul and brand-new content in the margins. Its not a tightly self-contained finale, like Yakuza 6, or a sprawling entry point to the franchise, like Yakuza 0. But it has much of the charm, drama, and heart that makes those high points so endearing. And there has never been a better time to experience this particular middle chapter.

The Good

  • Sharp coat of modern graphical paint.
  • Fun, heartfelt new modes and stories.
  • Still has that Yakuza charm.

The Bad

  • Unexpected difficulty spikes.
  • Probably the weakest main story in the series.
  • Many of the side quests feel small.

The Ugly

  • I demand at least 75 percent more Majima in my remakes.

Verdict: Even a remake of perhaps the weakest Yakuza game in the series is hands-down a fantastic trip worth taking. Only skip it if you havent finished Yakuza 0 and Kiwami yet.

Original Article

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Ars Technica

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