Review: Yakuza 2
Is the PS2 ever going to die?
It’s been a long time coming but here is the sequel to 2006 game Yakuza on the PS2. This sequel was actually released in Japan shortly after the original made it to these shores but we’re only just getting it now. Again it follows the story of lovely, but incredibly violent Yakuza man Kazuma Kiryu as he beats the crap out of anyone and everyone, but is it worth going back to the last-gen for?
That’s right, the PS2 is still going. Not necessarily strongly, but it’s still getting multiplatform releases and a few gems every now and then (see our Persona 3 review, Mercs 2, and Persona 4 is already out in Japan) to keep those who have yet to move onto the next-gen happy. Technical progress has all but stopped on the machine though, as Yakuza 2 looks almost identical to the first. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s not an ugly game by any means, if not up to God of War II or Final Fantasy XII standard, and it all runs smoothly.
So why has it taken so long to make it to these shores? It wasn’t because of recording an English voice over, because there isn’t one. All the dialogue here is in Japanese, with no alternative options. Everything is subtitled (bar the odd utterance as you run around) so you won’t miss out on anything, and the translation team have done a very good job. Everything makes sense and there is a lot of humour to be found throughout the city which could have been messed up incredibly easily.
One issue I do have with the voiceovers is that the voice track seems to be about a second ahead of the acting in the cutscenes, which is actually more noticeable due to the lip syncing being very well done and accurate. Also there is a strange reverb glitch which affects the voices every now and again. It could just be my copy, but I have a feeling it isn’t. It’s a shame because the quality of the cutscenes as a whole is excellent.
They are very long however, and you will notice. As good as the cutscenes are they rival Metal Gear Solid at times for length, and it isn’t really necessary. The story is decent and it is told well but it’s not really the driving force of the game. The longer they go on for the more passive you feel, whereas its strength lies in the many activities you’ll find whilst running around the streets and during fights.
Everything from the first game is still here, from the batting cages to gambling, from cage fights to the Hostess bars, but more have been added. There’s a driving range, bowling alley, YF6 (first person sword fighting arcade game), you can now become a Host yourself and more still. Also back from the last game are the ‘random battles’ you’ll encounter whilst on the streets. You can usually see the encounters and some can be avoided but this aspect of the game will grate with some. The loading times for the fights have been improved upon however, so they are slightly less jarring than the last game, and the fights are just so much fun.
Yakuza 2 improves on the first in so many areas. Whilst combat can still result in punching air, the ability to use combos on whatever’s within striking distance really helps keep the fight going. I might also add how chuffed I am with the addition of an easy setting. So those that fancy a quick blitz can be accommodated.
Graphically, there’s no real rising of the bar. It’s a shame they’ve not made a more notable effort to make the game look nicer although models do seem to be improved, if only slightly. The streets do seem to buzz with life and it’s nice to know that it’s not just Tokyo with a different street layout.
I’m glad to see the story is still as epic and twisting as previously. The optional retelling of the first game provided me with more impetus to finish it and the dialogue’s still very much an f-bomb littered swamp but, thanks to a Japanese voice cast, certain unique phrases sneak into the game’s script. And it makes a nice change to read, rather than to hear.
I’m also delighted the way missions now seem to be structured. You now have to seek objectives out, rather than last year’s linear blueprint. Notes will nicely hint you in the right direction but you feel much more involved in the adventure. It’s much more about seeking out solutions but it doesn’t tax you in any cryptic way. Overall, I can’t fault this game beyond the combat which, whilst improved is not 100% and the colourful script. I’d recommend this to anyone with a PS2. It’s got a lovely Japanese action film feel that really draws you in. Just â€¦ mind your fists.
Secondary Score: 8/10
Which is a good job as fighting makes up the bulk of the main quest. Everything will end up with a little bit of fisticuffs, and those who played the original will be right at home here. There are extras this time around however, with more variation in finishers, both bare handed and armed, and even double team moves when you’ve got someone with you. For those not in the know, fights take place in a closed off environment, but plays a lot like a modern day scrolling beat ’em up where light and heavy attacks in different combinations make up the majority of your moves. Weapons lay about the arena as well, from bottles to bicycles and can be used to great effect. Each hit you land increases your ‘heat’ gauge which will allow you to pull of the impressive finishers and counter moves. Upon pressing the triangle button the camera angle will change and Kazuma will slam his opponents head into a wall, smash a traffic cone over their head, or deal massive damage in some other incredibly satisfying way. The bone crunching sound effects really give a sense of impact which makes the fights very enjoyable, even after you’ve seen the same finisher numerous times. At points Quick Time Events pop up during fights and if you aren’t expecting them then you will miss almost every one due to the split second reactions required, but this is the only real gripe as far as the battle engine is concerned.
If you haven’t played the original Yakuza (I suggest you do), then possibly the best way to describe the game would be to compare it to Dreamcast classic Shenmue. Both involve finding and talking to people, lots of fighting, and both have areas filled with activities to distract you from the main quest. That’s not to say this is exactly like Shenmue though, it’s more like Shenmue-lite. Your objective is almost always pointed out on a minimap, you can only talk to specific people on the streets and the battle system is a lot simpler. If you found Shenmue too slow but liked the concept then this may be the perfect game for you. If you’re someone who prays every night for Shenmue III to get a release (I feel your pain, brother) then this may keep you sane just a little longer, but it’s not a substitute. If you don’t know what Shenmue is but you like scrolling beat ’em ups then you should check it out too, but if nothing in this paragraph appeals to you then this may not be for you.
Yakuza 2 is an excellent game, let down ever so slightly by being on aging hardware. The gameplay is fun, there’s a lot to do, and the presentation in general is spot on. However the sometimes jarring load times between different screens, the overly long cutscenes and the odd sound glitch stop this being top drawer. As a PS2 owner you could do a lot worse, and as far as new releases on the system go it’s at the top of the (very small) pile.