Review: Yakuza 2 (PS2)
by Matt Yeager on September 25, 2008

Yakuza 2
Genre: Beat “ËœEm Up/Brawler
Developer: Amusement Vision
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 09/09/09


Every time he tries to get out, they pull him back in….

In case you’ve never heard of the game, the first Yakuza title was, simply put, the best fucking SEGA game that has come out in recent years. Not to belittle Condemned, which is certainly a fun game, but the first Yakuza game was easily among the best PS2 games I’ve ever played, if not THE best PS2 game I’ve ever played. The game had one of the best stories in a video game, ever. The action was intense and brutal. The only part of the game that could be considered a flaw was that towards the end there were some missions which seemed to be there merely to extend the length of the game. But in all other ways, Yakuza was fantastic.

And nobody bought the god damned game. What’s wrong with this world when people will buy the latest crappy 3D Sonic game, but this gem of a game sits there lonely on the shelf, waiting for some appreciative gamer to come along and pick it up and take the game home?

Because SEGA decided to give the series another shot in America, or because the Flying Spaghetti Monster heard my prayers, Yakuza 2 has finally made it’s way to North America. After waiting years for the sequel, and the fact that the game has to live up to the expectations set in the first game, how does Yakuza 2 compare? Read on.

One of the best things about the previous title was the story. The story was complex and interesting and was rarely dull. To do a quick and poor recap of the original game, Yakuza was about Kazuma Kiryu, a Yakuza member who took the fall for a crime he didn’t commit, and then once released from prison dealt with consequences of that crime, political drama, and trying again to find the woman he loved. Yakuza 2 tells the story of the now retired Kazuma who is trying to lead a normal life, and the circumstances that draw him back into a world of gang warfare, false allegiances, and crooked cops.

That’s all I can really reveal about the story because anything else would spoil the revelations within the game. What I can say is that by far Yakuza 2 spins a better story than the original title, and that’s saying something. Kazuma is perhaps the ultimate badass, and while in the first game there were some awkward moments where Kazuma seemed to do things that would normally go against his character, the sequel does the opposite. In the first game Kazuma was a Yakuza that was trying to get out of a world of violence, yet at the same time he was abnormally good at kicking ass, while in Yakuza 2 Kazuma is being drawn deeper into the underground world. Kazuma is probably the best video game character created in the last ten years.

Technically it is not necessary to have played the first game in order to understand the sequel; right at the beginning of the game you will be given an option to view a summary of the first game. Because the story of the first game has so many twists this is actually broken down into different parts that you can choose to either view or skip. If you’ve never played the first game, then viewing all of these is practically a requirement to understand what is going on, and if you’ve played the game before than it’s an interesting recap. However, do not be fooled into thinking that this summary covers all of the content of the original game. In order to understand all of the nuances of Yakuza 2 it’s pretty much a requirement that you play through the first game; otherwise the appearance of such characters such as Kage and Fujima will not have nearly the impact that it would otherwise have.

With all of that said, I LOVE THE STORY. Captial letters are required. Hell, here’s a few exclamation points as well!!!!!!!

Not only does this game have a deep story with well developed characters, but it also has some truly excellent twists in the story as the game goes on. This game avoids some of the problems of stretching out a story by just adding more of everything. Pretty much everything that can go wrong for Kazuma does go wrong, and it becomes a sort of roller coaster of the character overcoming one obstacle only to fall prey to the next one. If you avoid playing the Yakuza titles you are merely denying yourself access to one of the better video game stories that have come along in recent years.

But maybe you don’t want to play Yakuza 2 because the game is only out on the PS2 and that’s so last generation. Even thought the graphics can’t compete with games that have been released on the PS3 and 360, the game is still noteworthy for its presentation. Every scene in the game is filled with a loving attention to detail, whether it’s the smoke from a character’s cigarette or just the pin a rival Yakuza wears on their suit. The backgrounds are full of life, like the different neon advertisements that accurately represent the cities that the game is set in for example. Yakuza 2 clearly demonstrates that it is less of a limitation of the hardware and more of a limitation of the designers of the game that hold the title back from looking its best.

The game is dripping with style, though that doesn’t mean that aren’t a few flaws to be found. Like the first game, there’s still an issue with some weapons clipping through enemies, and while wandering the streets of the two cities represented in the game you will notice a lot of people just sort of popping in and out. This is never really disorienting, however, since most of the people in the background are there just as interesting backdrop to the surroundings.

The style carries over to the sound portion of the game as well. The music tracks are all appropriate for the settings, and the game uses a more uplifting techno beat during fights. The most drastic change between the previous game and Yakuza 2 is the fact that all of the voice work is done in the original language and not English dubbed at all. There’s no option for this either, and while I know many people weren’t fans of the voice acting of the first game, I liked it. But the subtitles and voice acting are well done and convey the story well enough.

There are really two different modes to the game, the exploring mode and the fighting mode. When in the fighting mode the animation between moves is smooth, and one of the best things the game does is make the fighting look extremely painful. This is especially true of the Heat moves, or special moves, within the game. When you build up a combo you gain Heat, and once you’ve filled a bar of Heat you are able to unleash devastating attacks. These attacks are shown in almost mini-cut scenes. The camera zooms in close and goes to a blurry slow-motion view, which adds extra emphasis on these attacks. Because of the added emphasis, this makes the battles much more enjoyable. There’s just nothing as satisfying in many other games as slamming a guy’s face into a wall, then delivering a knee to the back of his head.

Other than the story, it’s the Heat moves that really separate the first game from the sequel.

Before we get to that, let’s delve further into the two different modes in the game. Because of the exploration aspect of the game, many people compare this series to Shenume. This is a mostly inaccurate comparison, mostly because wandering around town in Shenume was just boring. Sorry folks, but it was. Many times in Yakuza you are tasked to cross from one area of town to another, and there are a variety of things that you can do in between, from side missions for random characters on the street that you can interact with, to just doing random things like golf, or bowling, or going to the batting cages. Yakuza 2 introduces several new mini-games for people to play around with. Some of these are so distracting that they may distract you from the main story mode for hours at a time. I know my wife loves to do the crane/UFO catcher game for me and has caught several Piyos and Robot Managers for me already. In addition, there are also some odd mini-games, such as one where you can go to a host club, which is a club where you can pay to date women, that acts as sort of a dating simulator.

In one of the oddest reversing of roles I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing in a game, the game also allows for you to become a host. There is just nothing more strange than seeing Kazuma Kiyru, the Dragon of the Dojima, try to pick up women and fail spectacularly. Of course, failing at the dating simulation aspect of the game is my fault entirely; apparently I’m no better at hitting on virtual women than I am at hitting on real women.

The only reason for the comparison between Shenume and Yakuza is the fact that both are half adventure games and half beat-em-up games. While there is a wealth of different things to do outside of the main story of the game, as you wander around the city, and in most of the story missions, you will encounter a lot of thugs. I mean a LOT of them. Apparently in Japan all you need to do to get your ass kicked is just look at someone the wrong way, or dress the wrong way, or smell the wrong way… well, you get my point. One guy randomly ran up to Kazuma as I was playing and called him a fuckberry. What the hell? There are a lot of random guys who will either have good reason, or just a random reason, to try and pick a fight with the main character.

Picking a fight with Kazuma is a very, very bad thing.

Like many similar action titles, Kazuma has a couple of simple combos right away at his disposal. Pressing the light attack and strong attack buttons in different combinations will result in different attacks. Mostly these combos are just in the game as an excuse to build up the Heat meter. Once the Heat meter is full, there are all sort of painful looking maneuvers that are at your disposal. Most of them are either environmental Heat moves that are made available by grabbing the nearest enemy and dragging them over to a wall or some other part of the environment while checking to see if the triangle button lights up, or by grabbing a weapon and then using it on the enemy. Every weapon has a Heat action, though many share the same action. No matter which Heat move you choose to use, all of them look extremely painful.

Enemies will engage you while you are either walking down the street or during missions. When this happens you’ll go from the Adventure mode to the Fight mode. In the fight mode the game will throw at you multiple enemies at the same time. Other than light attack, strong attack, grab, and Heat moves, there is also a dodge maneuver, a block maneuver, a lock on button that can change what moves you will do, and a taunt button.

The biggest complaint you could make about this system is that it is almost too simple. When you start out you only have a handful of moves to use, and for a while it may seem that many of the fights, while painful looking, are also repetitive. Don’t worry about that too much however. As you progress through the game you will earn experience points in order to learn even more moves to use over time, and also to strengthen other abilities that you have. While it may seem simple, as you progress through the game and the enemies get tougher the fighting system gets deeper. The game still has a big problem of occasionally not locking on to the enemy you are trying to attack, or the player occasionally being gang raped by a group of enemies, or the always annoying large guys that stand in doorways swinging huge weapons like a whole fucking couch.

The developers did change a small part of the fighting. For whatever reason they decided to add more Quick Time Events into Yakuza 2, for some reason that I can’t understand. The window for these events is pretty small as well, adding to the frustration; however, making a mistake on these events will not cause you to lose the game. Most of the QTE in the game revolve around adding additional button presses to Heat moves, and in some ways this adds more impact to these moves, but I’m starting to get sick of seeing QTE in games, so this was something I personally did not enjoy, though it didn’t effect my overall view of the game.

There are some minor complaints, but overall the fighting system is brutal and fun, and the adventure parts of the game never really feel like a chore. I think some of this is due to the reduced amount of random fight encounters as you run across the city, or maybe I’m just imagining that.

As far as game balance goes, it’s truly a mixed bag. On the easy setting the game is such a breeze that the fighting parts make Kazuma seem like he’s some immortal being that just happens to really like kicking Asian people in the ass. On the normal difficulty people who have played the first game will find the fighting parts sort of easy… until later in the game when the challenge amps up, though the challenge seems to be more from the enemies having larger lifebars and nearly impossible to avoid attacks. There’s still a good balance there, since Kazuma is also a complete badass, and as long as you go into any battle with an appropriate amount of health items there shouldn’t be a problem. Here’s a tip: random enemies give you a lot of cash, and it’s worth going to a pharmacy to stock up on some Stamina Royale.

Another great thing about the sequel is the fact that while there aren’t as many boring missions devoted to extending the length of the game, the game is twice as long as the original title. In addition, there are even more side quests, more mini-games, hidden bosses, and just plain more to do. You could easily invest 20-30 hours in Yakuza 2 before you run out of things to do.

Overall Yakuza 2 is a great addition to the PS2 library, and if it one of the few remaining epic games for the system, then at least the PS2 went out with a bang and not a whimper.

The Scores:
Story: Classic
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Incredible
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Yakuza 2 is a great example of a game not only having a great story, but backing that story up with a fantastic main character and fun gameplay. While the game may not be very different from the first title, offering another city, a larger story, and much more content will satisfy anyone who was a fan of the first game. For the love of all that is holy, please buy the game so that SEGA knows it did something right here; the first Yakuza game barely made a blip on the sales charts in the US, and for $30, the game is more enjoyable than many current $60 games.



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