Yakuza 2

Developer: sega
Publisher: Sega

The original Yakuza was something of an unexpected success in Japan despite being released during Sony’s Playstation 2 final years. However, this success did not carry over into its western release where sales were decent if unspectacular. Thankfully, Yakuza managed to sell over a million units worldwide, over half of which stemmed from the Japanese market. This sequel launched in the Japanese homeland merely a year after Yakuza’s release, though westerners would have to wait twice that amount. Despite this time-frame increase, the localization process is noticeably less involving than its predecessor, foregoing its star-studded English dub for a humbler Japanese audio with accompanying subtitles.

Taking place a year after the events of the first game, we discover Kazuma retired and leading a simple life as Haruka’s guardian. At first the Japanese was somewhat disorienting, but every actor performs their part admirably, and while I miss voice-acting legends such as Mark Hamill, the new cast quickly grew on me. Yakuza 2 also offers a lengthy recap feature where players can catch up to all the backstory they either missed, or forgotten. One of my criticisms of the original game was its messy, convoluted plot and while videos and accompanying narrations are of great help, they suffer from information overflow. I can only imagine how confused someone who never played the first game would feel after watching this video.

Once past introductions and recaps, the story quickly begins to unfold itself. A weakened Dojima clan finds itself under siege by a rival Kyoto-based organization, and the foreign Korean mafia. Yakuza 2 expertly manages to convey a heavily romanticized and idealized take on the Japanese mafia. Often characters and plot seem more akin to that of a soap opera with dramatic reveals and overly exaggerated reactions. However, this mostly works to the game’s advantage as it maintains a good flow throughout its narrative. This does not mean Yakuza 2 isn’t susceptible to the same pitfalls of its predecessor, namely how ridiculous it becomes in some parts. At one point Kazuma enters the premises of a mob boss who lives inside a castle that opens up to reveal a second castle made out of solid gold. I’m not sure if this is meant to be intentionally ridiculous, but the tone and mood plays it straight which ruins any depth or gravity of the moment. Thankfully these are mostly relegated to sidetracked plotpoints and hold little weight on the actual narrative, though some manage to considerably hinder an otherwise well told story. The most upsetting case occurs at the ending, I won’t go into spoilers, but I will warn readers that it nearly ruined the experience for me.

The entire main cast from Yakuza makes a return, but sadly most of the appearances can be considered as glorified cameos. It’s a shame the dynamic Detective Date and Kazuma shared in the previous entry is hardly felt this time around. On the other hand, Kazuma is now teamed up with the tough-as-nails female detective, Kaoru who shares a well-executed bond with our main hero. It may take some missteps, and at times vary wildly from cartoonishly unbelievable to overly dramatic and serious, but Yakuza 2’s story is definitely one of its strong points despite the poor ending.

Kamurocho has changed little between entries, most of the shops make a return graphically unchanged and selling the same products. Some new stores and mini-games have been added, but the greatest addition is the all-new Osaka district to explore. It may only be a fraction in size of its Tokyo counterpart, but it offers variations on the already established mini-games. For the most part my thoughts on these remains unchanged from Yakuza; they are enjoyable for a few minutes but quickly become boring. Moreover, the rewards offered are not enough to offset the money and time invested to master them. This time however there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is a spin on the hostess mini-game, where this time, Kazuma is the one who must entertain customers. Dialog in these sections is still mostly guesswork of what works and what doesn’t, but this time players must also ensure customers consume a minimum amount of drinks throughout the conversation. This however, pales in comparison to a game where Kazuma owns and runs his very own Hostess bar. Managing prices, decorations, worker satisfaction and scouting for new hostesses was a very rewarding diversion and a  welcome distraction from the main storyline.

While exploring the city, random groups of thugs will often attack Kazuma, triggering battle sections. Combat is another instance in which Yakuza 2 remains unchanged, gameplay-wise from its predecessor. The difficulty level was increased this time around as enemy patterns and movesets actively encourage players to engage them tactically. These random combat instances seem to happen at disparaging intervals between storyline chapters. Some chapters will constantly swarm you with random encounters while others remain relatively hassle free.

Returning players will likely get a case of Déjà vu, most of the audio and graphical assets are recycled from the first one right down to visual glitches. The odd texture warping, seaming and clipping issues all make a return with little if any improvements added.

Yakuza 2 improves the experience where it counts, the story despite flawed is tighter and better woven. Combat while still largely the same has been slightly tweaked and in doing so became less of a repetitive chore, and a more engaging experience. Finally, the side-content is immense, featuring Yakuza 1’s mini-games while still adding plenty of new things to see and try. Yakuza 2 may have launched during the PS2’s twilight years, but it became one of the finest titles available on Sony’s little black box. Now if only the ending weren't so terrible

Trivia: Did you know that due to the success of the original Yakuza, its sequel featured even more tie-in campaigns? The Matsuya restaurants for example, replace the unlicensed Akagyu chain of the first one. The game has a total of 17 real brand tie-ins.

- A greatly improved story
- Combat slightly tweaked for the better
- More and better mini-games

- Terrible ending
- Story still gets very silly in places
- Much of content was recycled from the first game

Final Grade: A-

I'm sad to say Yakuza 2's cover does not look good. It's an almost identical copy of Yakuza 1only this time the appealing color balance gives way to a black and white image and the tattoo design is cropped. Without these, all we have left is an uninspired cover that blends into the background. Maybe this is why the series seems to struggle outside Japan.

Even the DVD looks plain in comparison to its prequel, what happened?

The manual is does fare a little better, in the sense that it's neither an upgrade or a downgrade from Yakuza. It contains a short paragraph briefly glancing at the events of the first game and goes into a pretty good detail on how to play the game. It features plenty of screenshots as visual aids and even a few hint boxes.

The manual is still in black and white and I did prefer the visual layout of the first one better, but overall this a good manual. A shame about the cover though.

Packaging Grade: C+

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