Practically dripping with Japanese criminal underworld stylings, Yakuza 2 is, unsurprisingly, the sequel to 2005’s Yakuza, and continues the story of protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, and his reluctant involvement with the Tojo criminal organisation. Once again he’s dragged into the midst of an underworld power struggle, and is called upon to stop a gang war before it begins when the rival Omi organisation assassinate the current Tojo leader right in front of him.
If you’ve never played the original game don’t worry. At the start of the proceedings you have the chance to reminisce over previous events, and are filled in on the back-story. From this point on (after over half an hour’s worth of cut scenes) you get to the actual game and the main mechanic – fighting.
Yakuza 2 is essentially a beat ‘em up, and this combat is straddled by some simple exploration and character interaction (it’s often billed as GTA meets Shenmue). As you progress through the game, you’ll explore various urban areas, including a visually impressive recreation of Osaka, at least for the PS2’s ageing hardware). As you wander the streets you’ll encounter various thugs and criminals who need putting in their place, and the main story will pit you against a range of psychos and gang members intent on seeing you as a bloody stain on the pavement.
The game plays decently enough on the whole. Combat is a little clunky at times, but is easy to get to grips with, and the range of punches, kicks and grabs are all straightforward, requiring no lengthy combinations. Fight well, and you’ll fill your ‘Heat’ meter, which opens up special moves, such as finishers. These brutal moves are particularly satisfying, and it’s hard to tire of slamming a thug’s head into a wall before kneeing him in the back of the neck for good measure.
Fights are usually one against many, and you can use such tactics as throwing one attacker into his comrades, or picking up impromptu weapons that happen to be lying around, such as signs, road cones and pipes. Small scraps take place in small sectioned off areas, while others are more akin to a 3D Streets of Rage or Final Fight, with you making your way through buildings and other locations, taking on armies of foes.
In between fights you can explore the world, talk with NPCs (who sometimes help with your quest) and indulge in some mini games, such as a few shots on a golf driving range, and a trip to a bowling alley amongst others.
Sadly, despite promising a much more immersive and lifelike city, Sega still hasn’t managed to deliver in full. True, there are various free roaming sections, and the cities certainly have plenty of people milling around, but you’re usually forced, linearly, along, and most other citizens are simply background extras. You can visit shops to purchase items (such as health drinks) and side activities add to the mix, but there’s simply not enough to do when not engaged in fights or the main story. This makes proceeding through the game’s non-combat sections more of a chore; and you’ll be biding your time till the next cut-scene or fight sequence kicks in. This undermines the free roaming aspect, and makes this element of the game a little out of place, and I can imagine many players quickly tiring of exploring what is essentially a very bland world.
Luckily, the story is actually quite engrossing, and is almost worth the price of admission on its own. And, like the original, Yakuza 2 does deliver a believable journey through the Yakuza way of life. Wisely, Sega has opted to forgo dodgy English voiceovers and have stuck with the original Japanese and Korean speech and subtitles, which adds to the experience. Animation and polish of the cut scenes is great, and you do find yourself getting drawn into the story, and start to care for the various characters, that is, those that aren’t pummelling your face into mush!
It’s just a shame that, when outside of combat, the game is pretty dull. For a game that focuses almost solely on combat, the fighting that is featured is, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, a little undernourished and could use more complexity and variation, and more substance to the exploration and adventure elements would have helped greatly.
If you enjoy a good street brawl, or want to delve into some Japanese culture, then you may enjoy what Yakuza 2 has to offer. But, for the rest, there are superior games out there on the PS2, not to mention next-gen platforms.