Yakuza 2 Review

Yakuza 2 ps2 box art

Epic gangster adventure filled with drama, romance and brutal violence.

Story

One year ago, Kazuma Kiryu left it all behind…

Marking the anniversary of his split from Yakuza life, Kazuma and his adopted daughter, Haruka, visit the graves of his Yakuza family to pay their respects. There they get a surprise visit from Terada, the chairman who Kazuma put in charge of the clan last year. After the two had met, Terada is assassinated by a rivaling Yakuza clan. Kazuma soon learns that a new war is brewing in the underground, and thus his peaceful life comes to an abrupt end.

The Game

Yakuza 2 once again puts you in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu, a former member of the Yakuza. The story picks up one year after the incidents of the first Yakuza game where Kazuma put an end to his previous Yakuza lifestyle. Now, Kazuma is told to bring a peace treaty to the opposing Yakuza clan, but this proves to be harder than it sounds as some are strongly opposed to the idea – and indeed looking forward to a full-blown underground war.

This is an action adventure game that mixes fighting, exploration and an intriguing story with lots of surprising plot twists at every turn. Exploration is done mainly by wandering around in Tokyo and Osaka city, looking for clues and information about the current situation. With that said, you are free to explore the surrounding area as you see fit – visiting shops, bars, hostess clubs, video arcades and checking out the dark back alleys and its shady population.Yakuza2-3

Content

Yakuza 2 builds heavily on the previous Yakuza game in every way. You will be revisiting many of the same locations – some look familiar while some have been rebuilt. Other than that, this sequel brings lots of new features such as more mini games, Japanese voice overs, new unlockable game modes, more fighting moves and more weapons. Basically it’s more of the same, but now polished to perfection.

The game follows up on the events of the first game very closely, making some references to past events, and is therefore best experienced if you have played the first game before. There are several returning characters and Kazuma’s relationship to those have developed, so players who are new to the series are missing out on a lot of back story. There is, however, an option to recapture some of the key events from the previous game, so it is still possible to enjoy this as a stand alone experience.

Navigating through the crowded streets is easy because the game uses a very simple control scheme and you always have access to an overview map. Most often your mission objectives are pinpointed on the map. Fighting has a central role in the game, and there are plenty of thugs to fight out there – both in the form of random encounters and key confrontations that progresses the story forward.

Yakuza 2 can be played on three different difficulty levels, and for average gamers, the fights are typically very easy to come through. Obviously the fighting sequences aren’t meant to challenge you to the max – rather, they are there to mix it up and keep you on the edge. Also, if you happen to encounter a battle that you can’t manage, you’ll be given an option to lower the difficulty level temporarily for that battle.

During fights the game uses a slightly more advanced control scheme – most buttons have a function; you can kick, punch, grab, dodge and block as well as pick up weapons and pull off combos and finishing moves. You will need to learn how to combine these moves to the best effect in order to stay alive during some of the harder battles.

Combos are done by stringing together punches and kicks. The combos all follow an easy to learn pattern so fighting feels smooth right from the start. You can of course unlock more combos, special moves and abilities to add some complexity to it. As such, the fighting aspect gets a little deeper as you learn more moves, but generally it is very simple and straight forward.

Comparing the fighting in the first Yakuza game, it should be said that it’s much more fluid in Yakuza 2. There are more moves, and attacks can now be directed in the middle of a combo, which gives you much more precision.

During combat you’ll need to keep an eye out on two different gauges; one represents your health and when it is emptied, your game is over. You can heal yourself by using items or eating food at various restaurants. The other gauge is called Heat and it increases and decreases depending on how well you are fighting; taking damage causes it to decrease while dealing damage makes it increase. Once the Heat gauge reaches a certain level you’ll be able to pull off various finishing blows, also known as Heat Actions. These are powerful attacks that deal a lot of damage but they, in turn, deplete your Heat gauge. Perhaps the biggest advantage with Heat Actions are that you can use them even on knocked down opponents. Heat Actions are available to weapons as well – these are entirely dependent on what weapon you’re currently wielding.

Keeping the Heat gauge high can give you other benefits than just powerful attacks. For instance you can be harder to knock down or your damage output becomes greater. It all depends on what moves you’ve learned.

Armed combat is always a preferred alternative to unarmed combat as weapons tend to have better reach and deal more damage. The downside is that weapons break over time due to usage – most weapons break after just a few blows. There is a durability indicator tied to each weapon and it shows how many hits it can deal before breaking. Heat Actions also wear down the weapon’s durability, so you can maximize your damage dealt by using Heat Actions rather than normal swings.

There are tons of different weapons that you can use. Everything from improvised weapons such as furniture, bowling balls, insect spray, bikes and sign posts to more refined instruments such as swords, shotguns, hand grenades and batons. On top of that, there are lots of opportunities to use the environment to your advantage. For example you can throw enemies down from ledges, smash faces against walls and break backs over handrails. Every now and then you’re accompanied by a partner. They will fight alongside with you, and you can even perform special co-op moves.

Fighting and completing side missions earns you experience points, and these can be distributed on three different aspects of combat training; Mind, Body and Soul. Depending on how you distribute your earned experience points you’ll unlock new abilities and moves. You can also further expand your arsenal of moves by acquiring moves from other sources such as learning secret techniques, typically as a result of completing a side mission. All in all, there’s around 100 special moves to discover in the game.

While in combat you can rotate the camera to better follow the action. This is done with the right thumbstick. You can also reset the position of the camera by a simple button press – and at certain narrow places the camera will get stuck behind walls or simply insist on pointing in the wrong direction. Luckily this is easy to adjust, even in mid-fight, so it poses minimal frustration at worst.

While exploring the city you can not adjust the camera other than to zoom in on details. While this may sound restricting, it really doesn’t get in your way that much. Each street is viewed from a different camera angle and the cuts between one angle and the next can be confusing sometimes. Eventually you’ll adapt to it though, so it’s really no big deal at all.

You can save your progress at special telephone boxes that are spread across the city or by visiting special hideout locations, where you can also store items that you’ve found in your adventure. If you die in a battle, you’re given the option to simply retry it from the beginning of that fight. Thanks to this, you won’t have to reload your saved game just because you failed at a fight.

On a similar note, loading times overall have been greatly reduced compared to the first game, making this a much smoother and enjoyable experience.

Yakuza 2 is one massive game. The area in which the game takes place is isn’t too large, but the story takes about 18 hours to play through, and could easily take 20 or even 30 if you’re going to spend time with the mini games, secrets and side missions. As far as mini games go, here are some examples of what you may find; golfing, bowling, UFO catchers, hostess clubs, a first-person arcade fighting game, casinos, shogi, dice games and mahjong. On a related note, you can also manage a hostess club of your own, and try to win Haruka’s friendship by buying her gifts.

Visiting hostess clubs is obviously about getting to know a girl, but if you really want to impress a lady you’ll need to know her preferences and act accordingly – meaning giving her the right compliments, gifts and keeping in touch.

The story will take you through many intense situations and battles, and there’s lots of variation and unique content, even in the many side missions.

Aside from the normal story mode, once you beat the game you’ll unlock three additional game modes, namely; Premium New Game, Adventure Review and Scenario Review. Premium New Game lets you start a new game while keeping your character from a previous cleared game save. This is perfect for those who want to continue training their character and collecting items. Adventure Review lets you freely explore the world and its mini games and Scenario Review lets you replay any cutscene from the story.

The status screen (accessed by pressing the Start button) shows various completion data. For example you’ll see your best scores for each mini game and how many hostess club girls you’ve befriended. Maxing out these can unlock certain secret bonuses too, so there’s quite a lot of reasons to replay this game even if you’ve beat the story.

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The biggest strength of Yakuza 2 is its extremely well written and thrilling story. The story has clever plot twists at every turn. You’ll never know what will happen next, and there’s a large amount of life lessons that can be learned from all the artful dialogue and philosophies that are depicted in the game. The characters are all colorful and believable in their context.

There are a few occasions where you aren’t given any clues as to where you’re supposed to go, and some of the solutions are somewhat farfetched. These issues are negligible on the whole though.

The subtitles are displayed on the bottom of the screen. The text is all white, so occasionally if there’s lots of bright backgrounds it can be hard (but never impossible) to read. But again, this is a minor issue and not worth complaining over.

Graphics

The graphics are extremely good-looking for a PlayStation 2 game. The city areas are full of life, detail and activity, and the character animations are incredibly well done. Some of the details you’ll find do exist in real life, so there’s an authentic feeling to it all. Much like in a real town, there’s a lot to discover if you care to look for it. The most astonishing detail may be the facial animations of the characters – you can really read the emotions off of people’s faces when they speak. Also, all the cutscenes are extremely well directed – giving you lots of interesting camera work to enjoy while the story progresses forward.

There’s not much negative to say about the graphics – this is one of the richest visual experiences you can have on the PlayStation 2, and the hardware is obviously used optimally. The game runs without any visible drops in the frame rate too.

Sound

The music in the game fits the theme perfectly. There’s lots of intensifying background music as the story builds up, as well as more melancholic pieces for the dramatic portions. Also the ambient sounds of the city are very enjoyable – you’ll hear music coming from stores, noise from the video arcade and bustling from all the people around you.

As mentioned, this time around the developers have made the right decision and kept the original Japanese voices. This is extremely welcomed by many fans, as we are finally able to hear the voice acting as it was intended.

Also the sound effects are top stuff – the grunts, taunts and screams uttered while fighting sound great. Heat Actions never fail to satisfy with their associated bone breaking smacks either.

Summary

Yakuza 2 is very similar to its predecessor game Yakuza, but it improves on everything. The fighting sequences are much smoother and more fun to play, the loading times are shorter and the story is longer and even more intense and epic. The level of detail and the amount of content in this game is simply amazing. Its story has everything to make it intriguing; drama, romance and violent conflicts.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable action adventure that will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, then this is it.

Developed By: Amusement Vision
Published By: Sega
Version Reviewed: Playstation 2
Genre: Beat ’em Up / Adventure
Players: 1
Released: 2008-09-19

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