One of the Greats:
Thanks to a recent resurgence of Western support for the Yakuza series, the adventures of Kazuma Kiryu – the most loveable gangster around – has never been better. In just a couple of years he’s been trotted out for no less than four new adventures on the PS4 system – each somehow glossier than the last – and the Yakuza series is flying high. It’s heartening to see one of the best in the genre finally get the appreciation it’s deserved for so long, and “Yakuza Kiwami 2” – a remake of a decade old game – feels like a well-deserved victory lap for the series as a whole.
Following on from last year’s Yakuza Kiwami – and much like the beginning of every Yakuza game – our star Kazuma Kiryu is trying to keep his head down after the events of the preceding game. The antics of yesteryear have a habit of catching up to him, however, and pretty soon Kiryu is thrust back into the cutthroat world of the Yakuza.
Yakuza 2 felt suitably epic when I first played it on PS2 ten years ago: facing off against a true rival in Ryuji – the ‘Dragon of Kansai’ to your own ‘Dragon of Dojima’ – felt like Kiryu finally had someone to call his equal. This rivalry serves as the beating heart of Kiwami 2 as you travel through Kamurocho and Sottenbori untangling yet another complicated narrative about the inner workings of the Yakuza.
For this Kiwami remake the Yakuza team have served up yet another slice of Majma action to appease his diehard fans, and whilst it’s certainly short it’s definitely sweet. The whole sidestory can be polished off woefully quickly but it does serve up some interesting exposition about various subplots long time Yakuza fans will be invested in. And any excuse to dance around as the one-eyed madman slicing people up with a knife is fine by me. Moreso than acting as its own real draw, these Majima missions instead serve as a brilliant respite from Kiryu’s own punchy-antics, and gives the game a welcome change of pace.
If you’ve played one Yakuza game, you haven’t played them all. Despite a strong, shared DNA between all the games (even the ancestral spin-offs set in ancient Japan) there’s always enough in every individual package to set it apart from the family.
That’s not to say you won’t know what to expect: this is still the same game that provides you with a massive, sprawling crime epic but also allows you to wander off and get distracted by the endless amounts of side activities on offer – from golf to arcades to so much more. Besides these wonderfully enjoyable minigames, Kazuma Kiryu settles the various odd jobs, wacky side stories and even the dramatic, weighty main plot in much the same way – by punching stuff as hard as he can. Yakuza is a 3D brawler dressed up like an open world game, and it’s a formula that has served the series very well.
Yakuza 0’s multifaceted combat system has still not made its triumphant return in Kiwami 2, but Kiryu still brawls with the best of them – even with only the one fighting style. Executing flashy combos, grabbing melee weapons and going to town on bunches of bad guys, and delivering painfully imaginative finishing moves charges the game’s combat with a fierce intensity that got me grinning every time, and actively hunting down more scraps. That says a lot, considering just how much fighting the game puts you through anyway, but there’s something immensely satisfying about laying a seriously stylish smackdown on a bunch of unassuming street thugs.
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