Yakuza Kiwami 2’s iconic characters give it purpose

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Best Open-World Game of 2018
Best Yakuza Game of 2018
Best Localization of 2018
Best Encore of 2018

The Yakuza series’ success is largely driven by its characters. Sure, there are big clan conflicts and heart-racing action sequences, but none of it would work if you didn’t care so much about the people involved. It would be too big, too sprawling, too hard to believe. But when you play these games, you just want to spend more time with the cast of sometimes-lovable misfits and learn a bit more about them. They reward that spent time with a surprising amount of camaraderie and heart.

Simply put, Yakuza is the Fast & Furious of video games. And Yakuza Kiwami 2 is its best entry.

This is certainly true about its main characters. Sure, there’s Kiryu and Majima, and not enough can be said about their dynamic and inexplicable friendship. And Kiwami 2 echoes so much of what made Majima a deeper, more relatable character in Yakuza 0 through its added stories. But the main figures in Yakuza 2 were what made that game stand out even at its initial release, and this remake does so much to emphasize their strengths.

We have the Dragon of Kansai, Goda. What could be a paper-thin portrayal of a bad guy is instead perhaps Kiryu’s greatest foe, an impenetrable force with a singular goal. Goda is in some ways misguided, but for the things you see that character do, it’s surprisingly easy to empathize with him by the end. Also he punches really hard. This is, at the end of the day, still a game about punching.

The other main presence in the game also has a singular way of going toe-to-toe with Kiryu: Sayama. The world of Yakuza is largely filled with two types of people: those who look down on Kiryu and want him to learn his place, and those who revere him and generally bow down to his greatness. This is why Sayama works so well as Kiryu’s partner, in more ways than one. There are great sidekicks in the franchise, like Date and Daigo, but they never compete to be the driving force of the narrative or the focus of its events.

But the thing that really makes Yakuza Kiwami 2 special is that the characters don’t end there. Every person in the world of the game is interesting to encounter, from the club and construction employees to the one-off guest stars. While they’re not generally involved with the largest tale in the game, it’s wrong to call these side stories, because there’s nothing about these experiences that are a lesser reason to play. They’re all the big story that keeps you coming back, to this game and to others. And Kiwami 2 does more than any other entry in the franchise to incorporate characters from other releases and let you follow more of their life.

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