Playstation 2 eh? Not quite as dead as you thought, while a majority of us have been blasting away at our Halos and Metal Gears the past few months, there has been a select few who’ve been patiently waiting arms crossed (bless us) for their next slice of Japanese brutality. It is here, yes after two long years in localisation hell we can only rejoice that Europe and surprisingly America haven’t been completely shafted after all. Rather than spend the remainder of this review chiding SEGA’s behinds for quite frankly forcing us to wait so long, what you really need to know is that Yakuza 2 delivers. Repetitive fight mechanics? Aye. Graphically dated? Aye, maybe a little. Fractious mini games? … Aye. One of the most elated and engrossing experiences you will have had with your PS2? Definitely.
For those new to the series, Yakuza 2 weaves the tale of Kazuma Kiryu, a retired yakuza spearhead who was once known and feared as ‘The Dragon of Dojima’. While first impressions of the punching, kicking, shagging mafia man may leave you cold, the sensitive side of this rugged old bad ass makes itself clear soon enough. One year has passed since the tragic events of Yakuza, in the mean time Kazuma-san and his lost love’s orphan daughter Haruka have been attempting a new life together in an attempt to leave behind his mafia traits forever. However it certainly doesn’t take long for things to get fired up again - the Tojo Clan (of whom Kazuma was formerly a member) appears to be falling apart at the seams in a cumulative power struggle with the Osaka-based Omi clan. Once again it is up to Kazuma to put things right doing what he knows best… kicking arse. Don’t let this mislead you though, at the heart of Yakuza 2 is one of the most impressively written and branching narratives of recent times. It may not be Shakespeare but it’s certainly up there with the best gaming has to offer.
In terms of game mechanics, things haven’t really changed all that much since the first Yakuza. This may be down to the game’s relatively short production period and the aging PS2’s hardware restrictions but it still impressive to see the vast majority of things on offer here. At the basis of it all there is the exploration; this time round you are free to explore the entirety of the first game’s map, however as the story progresses you will also visit new locations adding more opportunities to the gameplay. The main new environment is the Japanese mega city - Osaka; which is also centre stage for a majority of the game’s larger plot points. While the new map is a welcome addition to the series, it is a little disappointing to see it so constricted with it essentially being a rehash of Kamarocho; the game’s other main environment. Despite this, the two cities complement each other well and are clearly faithful to their real life counterparts.
Yakuza 2 plays much like SEGA’s other money-burning fan favourite Shenmue, albeit a little watered down with extensive emphasis on combat, narrative and side missions. Both Kamarocho and Osaka are full of opportunities to explore and have fun, if you want to take time out from the game’s main story then you can always hit the clubs, shoot some pool or work on maxing out your fighting attributes (this admittedly makes the later bosses a total breeze). One of the biggest distractions however has to be the famous Japanese hostess bars; those who are familiar with the first game will have no doubt splashed their cash in these titillating havens. This time around instead of paying to have women entertain and dine you the tables turn and SEGA have made the welcome addition of being a host yourself. This is entirely optional but it gives a new spin on things being able to earn money lounging around with the ladies and developing relationships.
As already mentioned the emphasis on combat is as prominent as ever - random fights are still spread throughout the city with local goons and mafia men picking fights as they please. This can become tiresome at times but the fight system is put to good use; smashing the heads in of obnoxious street scum with a push bike has never been so much fun and with the addition of extra ‘Heat’ modes (imagine an equivalent of Final Fantasy’s Limit Breaks) it’s hard not to enjoy the brawling once you get into the swing of things. However the real show stoppers here are the boss fights, not only are they host to some of Yakuza 2’s most enjoyable moments but the ridiculous opponents you often face can’t help but make you laugh (this game lets you beat up two caged tigers with your fists…).
There’s no denying that Yakuza 2 doesn’t sport the visual impact it would have had on its original Japanese release, that’s not say it isn’t pretty though. Being a good two or three years into the current generation it’s surprising just how fantastic the game does look considering the hardware’s constraints and the general scale of the game. If the thought of going back to the last generation might alienate you a little, there is no need to worry as the game does a superb job of engrossing its audience despite its visual shortcomings. Cut scenes are eerily well animated; thanks duly to the superb cinematic direction and often emotive character models which have also received an extra lick of polish over its predecessor. It is important to note that a large ratio of the game is in fact cinematics; luckily they do not eclipse the gameplay and for the most part are an absolute joy to watch.
This is a big game, not just in terms of length but also in scale. Those new to the series may at first find the number of places to explore a little overwhelming but you will soon adapt. A majority of the shops and entertainment centres (notably the video rental shop) are not dependant on the main story so it’s unlikely you will ever have to visit them if you stick to a linear path. Those who tend to branch off and enjoy reaping the rewards of the side missions will definitely enjoy the numerous distractions on offer here. The soundtrack in particular is another tick in the box of things that make Yakuza 2 such a joy to experience, consisting primarily of electronic and orchestral melodies; these coincide with their respective sequences wonderfully. The only disappointment here resides in the quite frankly lazy reuse of some of the first game’s score for exploration; this is easily forgiven though considering the general high quality of the new compositions.
To cut a long story short, Yakuza 2 is more than worth your attention. The writing is often sharp and witty, the cast of characters are wonderfully realised each with there own intricate back-story and the story is deep enough to throw off even the biggest of cynics. In addition to this, the decision to keep the original Japanese dubbing works wonders in keeping the story credible; especially after the somewhat hokey performances plaguing the original’s English dub. Even if you have yet to play the original there is still a high chance you will enjoy this, those of you who did however will relish every minute. Also owners of the 60GB PlayStation 3 please note that this is fully compatible with absolutely no problems at present and with that in mind, there is really no excuse not to catch up on this fantastic series.
Nine out of ten