Yakuza 2 Preview
Fans of Shenmue have long since been clamoring for a sequel to Shenmue 2 that might actually make it to the U.S., but instead, it appears Sega is beginning another similar - albeit with a much bigger emphasis on action - franchise. The original Yakuza was quite the entertaining game, complete with a stylish and accessible combat mechanic, a vibrant city teeming with life, and a wonderfully engaging storyline with some outstanding voice acting and characterization. The game did have some glaring flaws, but even so, we consider the announcement of a sequel good news. After all, Sega has another shot at perfecting the now-patented Yakuza technique, and we can't wait to see how the sequel pans out.
Those lucky Japanese gamers have already had access to the game for quite some time; entitled, Ryu ga Gotoku 2, and it's already sold over 300,000 copies. Unfortunately, we still don't know when it's coming to the U.S., but the original did relatively well here, too, probably due to Sega's massive marketing campaign that included full-page magazine and lengthy television ads. Therefore, we have to assume we'll see it eventually, but in the meantime, we can at least take a closer look at what we'll call Yakuza 2. One of our favorite bad-asses in games makes his return, and he goes by the name of Kazuma Kiryu; he looks a bit like Kazuya from Tekken and has a sweet dragon tattoo that takes up most of his back. Yeah, he's cool as the other side of the pillow.
If you're wondering whether or not the story is a direct continuation of the original, we can only say, "we don't think so." While it uses some of the same characters, it doesn't appear as if the this one is picking up where the first left off. However, that dark, very adult-oriented storytelling style is back, as we follow the story of a Korean immigrant, a mysterious crime, and of course, Kazuma himself. As the first game plunked you in the midst of a very lively city (although too small for our tastes), Kazuma will visit Osaka in the sequel, which we hope will feature a bit more in the way of size and interaction. But from what we've heard, we can expect a lot of "bigger" in just about every aspect of the game, from the battles to the environment, and that's a definite upgrade.
In other words, Sega says we can expect more of everything: even more people lining the busy streets, more combat maneuvers, and a bigger selection of battlegrounds. Heck, maybe we'll even get more stuff to pick up and use; in the original, we could pick up bicycles, mailboxes, and even stone pillars and smash them into enemies with a great feeling of satisfaction. But either way, you'll be dropped into a very similar background as the one you experienced in the original. Japanese cities certainly have a lot of lights, a lot of citizens, and a lot of places to get into trouble...especially in Osaka, which is just crawling with gangs and other unsavory characters who want to pick a fight. Remember how you'd just be strolling down the street, minding your own business, and some very rude guys would step in your path? Well, we can probably expect more of that, too.
The random battles were both a bright spot and a failing of the first Yakuza, as they were almost always great fun, and they acted as solid tutorial sessions in the early-goings. However, during the latter portions of the game, they became more tiresome, monotonous, and ultimately worthless, simply because you couldn't earn enough experience to matter. Only the tougher, plot-advancing fights would grant you the upgrades you desire in the last few hours of the game. Perhaps this will be fixed in the sequel, but either way, we still like the idea of street toughs just popping up and challenging us whenever they darn well please. It really gives the game a bit of flavor.
And speaking of the combat, while it was surprisingly deep and quite intricate, there were a few small problems: first of all, you could never alter the direction of your attack once you started. So if you just lined things up incorrectly, you'd miss entirely without being able to fix your mistake. But in the sequel, you will be able to change direction in mid-attack and mid-combo, which means we'll have that much more control. We should also see several more finishing blows, more items, and more chances to enhance our abilities. Hence, when Sega says "bigger and better," we're inclined to believe them. We just hope they don't get too caught up in their own sense of style and try to do too much...whenever that happens, other things tend to get ignored.
The fixed camera makes its return, which is both good and bad. Games like Devil May Cry made admirable use of such a feature, but in Yakuza, it did pose some major issues, especially in cramped spaces. Yes, the camera would switch around in an effort to give the player a better view of the action, but it just didn't work well enough. The sequel is using the same camera, but provided they don't make us fight in very small rooms (as we sometimes had to do in the original), we can live with it. What we won't be able to live with, however, is an overabundance of useless mini-games. And of course, Sega loves these little gimmicks, so we won't be surprised to see them return.
Yeah, okay, we had some fun hitting some balls over in the batting cages, but it didn't serve much of a purpose. We don't mind these little additions to the gameplay, because there are fun things to do in a big city, and it's nice to be able to participate in some of those activities. But in the long run, we'd rather not be sidetracked or coerced into playing too many of these games. We'd rather just get to fightin', and work to unravel the mystery of the crime seen in the intro. And if Sega can manage to create a beautifully-crafted combat engine, a well-written and engrossing storyline, and an immersive environment, we'll be plenty content with that. So what would we consider a worthy sequel?
We want to see Kazuma call a group of gangsters "bitches" a few more times. We want to feel like the quintessential warrior when outnumbered 10-1. We want the ability to use all kinds of cool stuff in the environment, so as to enhance our pounding methods. We want a city and an atmosphere that completely captures the slick and dangerous attitude of the Japanese underworld. And if we can get at least some - or most - of that, we'll certainly have plenty of fun. Don't let us down, Sega!
2/4/2007 Ben Dutka