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   Yakuza 2 - Staff Retroview  

Kazuma Kiryu's Precious Little Life
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

PLATFORM
PS2
BATTLE SYSTEM
#
INTERACTION
#
ORIGINALITY
#
STORY
#
MUSIC & SOUND
#
VISUALS
#
CHALLENGE
Adjustable
COMPLETION TIME
Less than 20 Hours
OVERALL
3.5/5
+ Excellent story.
+ Combat is much more fluid.
+ Tons of sidequests.
- Graphics are a touch better than Y1, not by much.
- Mandatory minigames are still not fun.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Even if you kill me, our organization will live on. Mafia wars, they never seem to change. Once you get in, it's nearly impossible to get out. The only exit: be killed, or commit suicide. No matter how much he tries to escape, he's always dragged back. This life style requires devotion, even if it means losing one's life for the sake of the family. Taking place a year after the events of the original Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu is back for his second attempt at escaping his former life in Yakuza 2.

   The game begins with a flashback to 1980, when a detective witnesses the murder of a prominent Korean mafia boss by Kazuma's foster father, Shintaro Kazama. After the detective checks on the dying man, he finds out that his child and wife are in danger. Rushing to secure their safety, he witnesses the wife attempting to commit suicide, but thankfully talks her out of it. Moving back to the present day, Kazuma and his adoptive daughter, Haruka visit the graves of Shintaro and Haruka's mother Yumi, when they are greeted by the newest Chairman of the Tojo Clan, Yukio Terada, who is then murdered by the Omi Alliance as a declaration of war against the Tojo. The Tojo Clan, after last year's events with the Nishiki family, is falling apart, and it is up to Kazuma Kiryu to get to the bottom of the war. However, things take a turn for the mysterious when Kazuma meets Karou Sayama, an Osakan police officer who who is nicknamed "The Yakuza Killer."

   Once again, story is the biggest highlight of the game. Yakuza 2's strengths come from its tightly woven narrative, which is even more engaging than the previous installment. From the kidnapping of Jin Goda, leader of the Omi Alliance, to uncovering Sayama's secret past and the mystery of the Jingweon, the game never stops delivering the goods. The story is a pure adrenaline rush, and finding out who's involved is a surprise all its own. Yakuza 2 easily has the best plot to offer compared to both Yakuza and Yakuza 3.

Burn, baby, burn! Burn, baby, burn!

   An element that has been greatly improved in Yakuza 2 is the combat. Sporting the same brawler-combat style as the first game, Kazuma has now added to his repertoire the ability to perform finishers and grappling techniques alongside his fast and furious combos. Kazuma can also implement the popular Heat actions from the previous game, which can be triggered when he is flashing blue by tapping the triangle button. Most of the Heat actions, grapples and finishers also now require more than a button tap, and need to be perfectly timed to perform correctly the action. The original Yakuza suffered from stiff, repetitive combat that lacked polish. While the repetitiveness is still there, combat flows much more smoothly, and combo chains feel more robust than awkward. This is easily a huge improvement, making combat a more pleasurable experience.

   Partner characters can also help Kazuma in combat. Not only can they help fight enemies, they can perform setups for grapples, throws, and finishers. Partner AI is incredibly competent compared to the previous Yakuza game. Boss battles are also a more engaging experience, and definitely feel more memorable than those in Yakuza. The final three boss fights in the game feel particularly epic in proportion.

   Similar to the previous title, Kazuma has three attributes which he can distribute skill points into for new moves and skills: Soul (Shin), Technique (Gi) and Body (Tai). Soul affects Kazuma's spiritual growth, allowing his Heat gauge to fill faster, Technique grants Kazuma new combos, throws, grapples and moves, and Body influences his overall physical strength and hit points. Experience points are granted through combat, weapon use, and Heat actions, as well as through doing side-missions and eating at restaurants. With over a hundred side-missions to partake in, some quests include helping people with their daily problems, or working for a male host club where Kazuma can turn on his charm and make a little scratch on the side.

    Considering that players will be bouncing back and forth between Kamurocho and Sotenbori (Osaka), there are always missions to participate in, and the more side-missions done, the better for skill point acquisition and distribution. There are also plenty of collectables and minigames. Most of the minigames, however, control awkwardly, particularly the UFO Catcher game which is mandatory in order to progress the plot. While the number of mandatory minigames has dwindled in Yakuza 2, they are still not fun to play.

Oh! Ramen! Oh! Ramen!

   Graphically the game is definitely shows more polish compared to Yakuza, but that isn't really saying much. Character models look much smoother, but graphics still feel cluttered in spots, causing Kazuma to get stuck once in awhile. Still, graphically it's far better than its predecessor, as the environments look crisp, detailed and lively. Having two different areas to bounce between makes the game feel more immersive, as the atmosphere seems to match their real life counterparts quite well. The cinema sequences once again look highly stylized, and are pleasant to the eye with plenty of detail. It's just a shame that graphics outside of these scenes don't match in quality.

   The sound quality in Yakuza 2 is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, the game's voice acting is flawless and the sounds simulate Japanese society very well, making players feel completely immersed in the world. On the other hand, there is not a lot of music to speak of. The Yakuza series is known for being atmospheric, and the only moments where music is heard are during combat, where it's all right, but nothing to write home about. Music can be heard in clubs and stores, but it's more to enhance the game's atmosphere, unlike other RPGs that specifically have music for everything else. The music that does exist isn't bad, but neither is it great.

   Yakuza 2 can be completed in roughly thirteen to fifteen hours, though doing all the optional content will easily push it over twenty hours. The game has two difficulties, Easy and Normal, and a Hard Mode is unlocked once the game is completed. Much like the previous Yakuza game, failing to do a mission more than twice will knock the difficulty to Easy, allowing you to retry without much of a challenge.

   After playing Yakuza, I'm happy to report that this installment and Yakuza 3 really fixes a lot of the problems of the first game. While Yakuza 2 isn't completely polished, it lacks the roughness of its predecessor, making it hands-down a more enjoyable experience. With this series' strong stories and highly stylized combat, it's a joy to keep coming back and seeing what kind of mystery they will attempt to showcase next. For those who have yet to play a Yakuza game, this is far and wide a better effort than the first game, and comes highly recommended as its story is one to not miss.

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