Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the only form of product placement I’ll accept

Reader, a confession: I was so excited to hear that Kiryu and Majima sang a karaoke duet in Yakuza Kiwami 2, I imported the game from Japan.

This turned out to be a Mistake, because while I understand a little Japanese, that doesn’t mean I was at all prepared to understand yakuza Japanese, with all its slang and slurring. So I gave up somewhere in the third or fourth chapter. I got what was going on, for the most part, but only insofar as “Kiryu and his angry marshmallow son go to Osaka to pick a fight with that kid we last saw trying to steal Majima’s pants.” I mean, it was still a good time! But it certainly drove home that what I appreciate most about the recent Yakuza games isn’t so much the characters as the amazing job Scott Strichart and his localization team have done in bringing them to life for an English audience.

Obviously, there was no way I was leaving E3 without taking the new English demo for a spin. It offers a tiny cross-section of both the main storyline, in which former yakuza chairman Kazuma Kiryu squares off with Ryuji Goda from a rival syndicate, and Majima’s side-story, which is new to the Kiwami remake. Sega indicates that Majima’s story runs about four hours, and in the full game he’ll be able to do most of the same things that Kiryu can, including karaoke and peeing in urinals. (Look, I don’t think I can explain the appeal of these games very well if you’re new here, you just have to trust me that the bathroom minigame is amazing.)

Built in Yakuza 6’s Dragon Engine, Kiwami 2 is a feast to look at, and I’m not just saying that because you can see every individual pore on Majima’s beautiful, tired face. Strichart once described the Yakuza games as a form of “virtual tourism,” and with Kiwami 2’s stunning and meticulous rendition of Osaka’s famous Dotonbori neighborhood, it’s easy to see why. Wandering the streets of these games is different than Grand Theft Auto’s weird hybridized cities; details down to specific buildings, shops, and even vending machine brands are all on display here, rendered with such loving verisimilitude that you can tell the team studied every inch of these locations. With the addition of the new camera and selfie modes, you basically become a wandering tourist, snapping shots of whatever back alley detritus and interesting storefront that catches your eye. Some pedestrians will hide their faces to avoid getting photographed. Others will pose with you. It’s not exactly the same as visiting Tokyo or Osaka yourself, but for the sticker price, it can’t be beat.

Combat is also much the same as in Yakuza 6, though meters are simplified and equippable weapons are back. Heat Actions return and again veer on the ridiculous side, which is as it should be. I didn’t succeed in pulling off any of the really wild ones before my hands-on time was up, but footage from the Japanese version shows off everything from melting faces with a clothes iron to whipping backsides with a riding crop.

Sadly, Majima can’t partake in any of the fun improvised weaponry — he’s limited to his signature knife this time around, though he seems to have more Heat Action animations with it than the rather limited variety Yakuza 0’s Mad Dog fighting style offered. He also can’t use vending machines, which is a bummer. Apart from conferring temporary bonuses (and being the most overt of Yakuza Kiwami 2’s product placement), drinking beverages is the fastest way to unlock the (I promise I’m not inordinately fixating on this) urinal minigames. That said, considering his character in the previous Kiwami, perhaps it makes sense that Majima is eternally thirsty.

Clan Creator makes its return from Yakuza 6, overhauled to be much tougher. More importantly, however, the Cabaret Czar minigame from Yakuza 0 also returns, although I don’t think it was included in the E3 demo. I ran out of time before then. As with all Yakuza games, there is just so much to do in Yakuza Kiwami 2 that it’s nigh on impossible to be efficient with it. Just when you think you’ve explored every corner and exhausted every secret, it springs something else on you.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 arrives on August 28th as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. If you’re not a console owner, don’t despair — this week, Sega also announced that it would be porting Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami to PC, and although it’s as yet unconfirmed by the publisher, we have remasters of Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4, and Yakuza 5 likely headed our way soon as well. Now if we can just get Yakuza Ishin…

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