Yakuza 2 Review (PS2)

[NOTE: I’ll be using this site mainly to keep my older stories, reviews, etc. alive — those that site “upgrades” elsewhere have made obsolete. First up is my review for Yakuza 2 which was a great title that I’m glad I swooped up right when it came out. Heard it’s a lil’ hard to come by nowadays…]


Latest Draft Dated Sept. 19, 2008 — While everyone is looking to the future of gaming with fancy console boxes and downloadable titles, we haven’t forgotten an old favorite: the PS2. Sure, it’s on its last legs but continues to prove a worthy contender with Yakuza 2, a Japanese crime drama that guises its budget price with excellent gameplay.

Yakuza followed the story of a former Yakuza (Japanese mafia) member, Kiryu Kazuma, and his attempts at trying to leave that life behind. It was a great title that, in the US, employed the voices of Mark Hamill and Michael Madsen to deliver a game full of eastern influences. This time around, Kazuma, takes a bit of a backseat to the main cannon but is still a big focus of the game.

Notable right off the bat is that there are no English voiceovers — and no option for them. SEGA chose to cut out the pricey U.S. talent in favor of leaving the gamer with the original Japanese voices intact. Purists will rejoice, while those of you who spit in disgust of subtitles will have no choice but to read them.

It’s understandable that SEGA cut costs by opting out of including English voiceovers, but it can get kind of annoying to read through 15+ hours of gameplay. A 2-hour movie is fine, but for a game, even shoddy english voices would have done a better job.

Now, you might be reading a lot more in Yakuza 2 than you’re used to, but the lack of English voiceover does makes it so you can relate to the source material a lot more.

You’re put up to speed right off the bat with a quick four-part intro to the series — so newcomers are welcome — at the beginning and the fast-paced story doesn’t stop there. Even with the system’s obvious technical limits, the director did his best to not dwell in one setting with scene after scene of inanimate acting. Yakuza 2 is full of strong, yet flawed, characters that develop throughout the course of the game bringing the story to life.

Visually, Yakuza 2 isn’t the best you’ve seen on the system, but the characters animate believably, and there’s enough clever motion blur to make you forget about the snazzy graphics we’re now accustomed to.

Just like the first game, inferior tech doesn’t scare away high production values, as the city is teeming with life at every corner representing real-world Tokyo locations; the lights, streets, crowds, and chatter all add to the overall atmosphere that sucks you right in from the starting credits.

Aesthetics aside, the gameplay remains, for the most part, untouched but is full of the same visceral, simple fun of the first title. It has the same level-up system that grants you new moves, specials, and improvements to your health as you take on random thugs — similar to the system that’s found in most RPGs.

The gameplay tweaks are minimal, but are quite noticeable. The lock-on system remains a bit wonky and unresponsive — often picking out an enemy you don’t want to focus on — but new quick-time events and bone-crushing finishers add to the game’s generous splash of style. Take notice of the awesome two-player specials this time around.

When a game is a budget title, and one of the caliber of the Yakuza series, there’s little to complain about. Regardless, there are a few sticking points to the game.

Mainly, the camera can be a bit obtrusive when you traverse the world and, most importantly, during fights where you run right into an enemy (with a love seat, no less) and die because of it. The bosses tend to have the same “I can run faster than you!” strategies and the game, overall, is a bit on the easy side — which could be a good thing if you got stuck retrying some of the bosses in the first game.

Storywise, the game does tend to artificially extend its playtime by giving you a few fetch quests and ridiculous detours from time to time. Does Kazuma really need to take his niece out for a night of fun moments before the sh*t hits the fan? Not really. Fortunately, those moments are few and far between.

The Good Stuff:

A continuation of what made the first one so good.

The Bad Stuff:

Funky lock-on system and the camera could’ve used some work.

The Neutral:

The lack of English voiceovers and easy difficulty can go either way with players.

In the End…

If you’re not someone who’s a big fan of Japanese culture and the mafia the title represents, then Yakuza 2‘s charm may be lost on you. Lack of interesting, none withstanding, it still has a solid story, rich atmosphere, tons of minigames, and a fun battle system that easily makes this lengthy action title transcend its friendly price point ($30). Plus, it ends with one of the better — and daring — endings you’ll see in a video game; make sure to stick around until the end of the creditstest


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