'Yakuza Kiwami 2' Serves Up More Muscle and Madness

The long-running Yakuza franchise has enjoyed a vibrant second life in the West over the last few years, with new fans drawn to the series' soapy drama, epic fights and oddball humor. Yakuza Kiwami 2, the latest of five planned remakes of the previous-gen games, seems poised to deliver another tasty helping of that winning recipe.

The pre-release demo I played picked up just after Kiryu's first encounter with Ryuji Goda in the Cabaret Grand in Sotenbori, during Chapter 3 of the main story. Goda sees Kiryu as his chief rival: he aims to be the only Dragon in Japan, not just the "Dragon of Kansai." (Good luck with that, buddy.) In the wake of their meeting, Kiryu and Daigo plan a jaunt to Omi Alliance HQ to learn more about Goda's role in the conflict with the Tojo Clan. With an urgent meeting between dueling factions demanding my immediate attention, I did what any good yakuza would: wandered around in search of amusing substories.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 demo impressions preview Sotenbori
The Sotenbori nightlife district of Osaka in "Yakuza Kiwami 2." SEGA

It didn't take long to find one. An NPC lurking near Daigo just happened to be seeking male models for a photoshoot, and I was more than willing to oblige. Seconds later, Kiryu's topless in an empty office space as a groovy slow jam plays, being photographed by a dude with incredibly jacked thighs in a cheeky red speedo. It's a classic Yakuza side story, with loads of innuendos and dramatic poses, as poor, strangely naive Kiryu once again gets messed around by weirdos until he has to rearrange some teeth to teach Mr. Manties and friends a lesson. Then he encourages them to follow their artistic dreams! What a softie!

I also managed to get in a quick round at the cabaret club, a revamped version of Yakuza 0's beloved minigame. Yuki, Majima's best hostess from his days at Sotenbori's Club Sunshine, returns in another fully-fleshed out side story, though I didn't experience any of the plot this time around. The basic mechanics from Y0 carry over, requiring you to evaluate each customer's preferences to find the best girl while tending to the requests of several tables at once. As before, you'll be able to recruit new hires and style your Platinums to look their flyest. It's just as giddy and frantic as before, and all but guaranteed to wipe out hours of your life in a sitting.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 Cabaret Club GP Minigame (2)
Cabaret Club GP in "Yakuza Kiwami 2." SEGA

Heading over to Omi HQ with Daigo brings you to another classic Yakuza setpiece. Our hero is in hostile territory, surrounded by meticulously assembled columns of scowling goons. There's some tense discussion, an unexpected twist (nani?!) and then a big ol' rumble as Kiryu and Daigo fight their way through waves of henchmen to reach a waiting getaway car.

As enjoyable as these epic throwdowns invariably are, with all the rage-face close-ups and impeccably detailed suits (how do they make the fabric look so great?), Kiryu feels a bit slower and more lumbering in Kiwami 2's combat, at least in the early parts of the game I've experienced. The game runs on a refined version of the Dragon Engine built by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio for Yakuza 6, with more realistic physics, a tweaked leveling system and seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor environments. This also means you'll only have access to one combat style, as opposed to four in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, which run on the older Zero Engine. I've grown used to toggling freely between styles in those games, so switching back to Y6-style fighting was a bit of a shock to the system. I found myself fumbling to pick up weapons and taking more hits, having relied on Rush or Brawler styles to scurry out of the fray when needed. I expect as Kiryu levels up, Kiwami 2's combat will gain more complexity and flair, hopefully diminishing that hemmed-in feeling.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 Kiryu fighting dragon engine
Kiryu puts a goon in a headlock in "Yakuza Kiwami 2." SEGA

Yakuza Kiwami 2 continues to stick to the franchise's strengths, this latest remake making Kiryu's world deeper rather than broader. As in Y6, the Dragon Engine allows greater freedom to explore all the hidden nooks of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, with Kiryu scrambling across rooftops and weaving through narrow alleyways. The game's localization beams with goofball wit, and you'll likely want to spend as much time doing all the new minigames and substories as you will showing Goda who's boss. It's shaping up to be another solid offering from RGG Studio, but will it bring new converts into the fold? That remains to be seen.