Yakuza 2 came out recently on the Playstation 2, and since it was only $30 and got some great reviews comparing it to some games I’ve really loved in the past, I picked it up. I am very glad.
One of the things that got me interested in the game was someone saying it was like a modern version of “River City Ransom”, and this is really one of the best comparisons I’ve seen yet. The gameplay is basically like Knights of the Old Republic in-between battles - you have a storyline with missions you can follow, but there are TONS of side-quests and you can just wander the city exploring, shopping, and meeting interesting characters. There are tons of shops selling real-world branded merchandise, almost all of which effects your stats in one way or another. You can gain experience through completing missions and side-quests, getting in fights, or just by eating different kinds of food. Experience can be used to build up your stats which unlock new abilities and moves, and there is a branching system where sometimes you may have to decide whether your body points are going towards increasing your health bar or increasing the damage you do when you throw enemies.
Combat is a large part of the game, and is very well handled. Your character is quite the badass, even early in the game before you unlock more moves, and your typical battle will have you fighting 6-8 thugs at once, and frequently several of them will be armed. The combat moves are varied and well animated, and there are special moves you can do when you have built up your “HEAT” meter (which increases when you fight or take stimulants and decreases slowly over time, or quickly when you get hit) where you can perform a wide variety of special high-damage moves like smashing their head against a pole or yanking one of their teeth out with pliers. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, although later in the game firearms show up occasionally it’s usually better to just fight hand-to-hand, or grab a pieces of the environment to bash your enemies heads with. Weapons can only be used a certain number of times before they break, although more expensive ones can last longer. I rarely purchase weapons or use ones I’ve picked up that are in my inventory, usually you can take something from somebody in the fight or grab a bicycle or chunk of concrete and use it. Most fights are not very challenging, even on the normal difficulty, but some of the boss fights can have you using up a bunch of potions and weapons in your inventory.
There are tons of things to do in the game between fights. You can find coin locker keys all over the place that can get you neat items. You can end up working in a host club (a Japanese thing where women pay to have handsome men drink with them) where you have multiple choice conversation options to keep the ladies interest and convince them to buy expensive drinks. You can also manage a hostess club where you have to do the decoration, keep the girls happy, and handle various problems that come up. The other night I played for three hours without progressing the plot, just going back and forth between managing my club and trying to woo clients at the host club I work at. There’s also tons of mini games, from crane games in the arcade to batting cages to blackjack at a casino.
The story is very well written for a video game. From what I’ve read, the first game was dubbed in English and had terrible voice acting, but in this one all the voice acting is in Japanese (except for a little Korean and Chinese) with subtitles. The translation doesn’t seem particularly close, with a lot of American idioms and phrasing but it’s not badly written at all and frequently is hilarious. The story takes itself seriously but there are occasional surreal parts, like some of the things said by the “16-bit Gang” or a scene where a hardened gangster decides to give up his life of crime to go live in the country after listening to some old music. The story can be a little confusing at first but it makes more sense as it goes, and though it does make references to events in the first game I haven’t had any trouble at all following the plot.
It’s a fun, deep, and accessible game with a very unique charm. Just wandering around the streets in the game has made really want to visit Japan, and I’ve never been a Japanophile. I’ve laughed out loud at overheard conversations on the street that have nothing to do with the storyline (done with word-bubbles). I’d recommend it to anyone who likes beat-em-ups, sandbox games, or RPGs.