Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
No Problem This Dragon Can’t Punch
I consider myself a stupidly fortunate guy. I was born to affectionate, selfless, and well-meaning parents; I’ve been able to retain close relationships with childhood friends throughout an adulthood that can shift between meaningful and inconsequential; and more relevantly, I’ve had the honor of brawling, laughing, and weeping through every installment of the Yakuza series, during each titles’ respective release, from 2006 all the way to just a few moments ago.
I must dare to proclaim to you, current and prospective Yakuza die-hards: brawling, laughing, and weeping through Yakuza Kiwami 2, a brass-balls-to-the-face remake of 2008’s Yakuza 2, may have upgraded my status from “stupidly fortunate” to “spoiled-beyond-belief”; notwithstanding a combat moveset that isn’t as varied or plentiful as previous installments, YK2’s takes what is considered one of the best stories in the series and infuses it with a visual and mechanical overhaul, placing it near the nape of Shadow of the Colossus as one of the most impressive remakes on PS4.
It’s the dirty summer of 2006. Kamurocho is one of the most beautiful districts in Japan. It’s also the most dangerous. To enter its jurisdiction is to invite the fist of every mobster, racketeer, and hostess club personality to a Timeshare seminar on your jaw and ribs. A hailstorm of dishonor and greed brews between two rival crime organizations, The Tojo Clan and The Omi Alliance. Fearing the superior finances and manpower of the latter, the former recruits the unwavering nobility of Kazuma Kiryu, the series’ protagonist, the embodiment of dragon fire in a perpetual state of flex, to negotiate peace. Lucky for us, as virtual brawling enthusiasts, Ryoji Goda, son of the Patriarch of The Omi Alliance, will do anything to guarantee an all-out war.
By “war,” I mean the painful yet hilarious dazzlement of kicks, elbows, and bicycles-to-the-thorax that only characters in the Yakuza universe can suffer without requiring face-replacement surgery. While YK2’s main narrative retains the story, structure, and cinematic choreography of the 2008 original, the visuals and game mechanics have adopted the detail and fluidness of Yakuza 6’s Dragon Engine, meaning you can bear witness to every particle of Kiryu’s blue dragon aura as it swirls from his cannonball shoulders to the high pugilist heavens. (In other words, it’s the best looking game in the series.)
This isn’t merely a copy-paste job of Y6’s Dragon Engine, which often endured plentiful screen tearing and the occasional framerate dip; this is a revision that renders most of those issues nearly insubstantial (on the regular PS4). Rather than occurring during manic, dozen-men fight sequences, as they did in Y6, these problems crept up only a few times, within cramped hallways and alleyways, of all places. Other than that, for the vast majority of the adventure, the game thrives at an unencumbered 30 fists-per-second.
The combat system, too, feels like an revision of the one utilized in Y6, which granted fluidness to stringing combos, unloading heat actions, and bouncing blows between foes. It denoted a sensation of wielding Kiryu in his athletic prime, despite his “old” age, at a stage in his life where he had removed all impurities from his martial arts technique. However, as a consequence of this purification, Kiryu felt robbed at shotgun-point of the various fighting styles that granted him such a surplus of versatility in Yakuza 0. Even though YK2 can’t match that installment in terms of the burliness of its movesets, it definitely succeeds in supplementing the Dragon Engine with variation, while fine-tuning everything that already worked.
On top of Kiryu’s acrobatics, blocks, and swings being more perceptually accurate and responsive, as well as rib-crunching charge moves being added to his light and heavy attacks, weapons make a comeback as a cornerstone of self defense and punishment. Any weapon that you pick up can now be stored in your inventory, and can be brandished with a simple touch of the D-pad. Knives, batons, stun guns, legendary-yet-brittle samurai swords: these and many more tools of righteous carnage can stack the odds even more in your favor, as most weapon types possess their own career-ending Heat Move. It sucks that weapons have the durability of overcooked tofu, causing them to break, forcing you to constantly swap them in and out of your equipment slots. But they’re so damn plentiful and useful in a pinch that the inconvenience of item management is actually easier to deal with than it is to complain about.
As per Yakuza’s tradition of thematic diversity, when you’re not shaming every hitman, underling, or street punk with poetic ferocity, you’ll be engaging with all the fine restaurants and recreation that Kamuracho — arguably one of the best and liveliest locations in the gaming sphere, at the most glamorous it’s ever looked — is proud to offer. The Yakuza series has become renowned for having more quality mini-games and surprisingly deep side quests than most games would ever consider, and YK2 is no exception. You can fearlessly engage in everything from golf to karaoke to managing a struggling Cabaret Club, and be surprised at how each activity is as fully fleshed out as it needs to be. The modes added to this remake, such as the Cabaret Club and Clan Creator, are especially worth experiencing for the artistic ridiculousness of their lengthy and uproarious substories.