Yakuza 2 is an action-adventure game set in Japan. You play as Kazuma Kiryu, a tough ex-yakuza with a heart of gold who gets swept back into Tokyo's seedy underworld when the Korean mafia and an Osakan yakuza clan target his old comrades.
Pro Mature crime drama with a strong main villain
The story in Yakuza 2 is one of the best in the franchise. It starts off with a flashback to the 1980s where the Korean mafia gets wiped out, and a policeman arrives on the scene, helping the dead leader's wife with a young child. That type of humanity shows itself throughout the plot, where the villains and the protagonists are never quite black and white.
This shows itself again when the protagonist Kiryu gets taken into protective custody by a fiery Osakan cop named Kaoru, who hates the yakuza, but eventually falls for Kiryu as she gets to know him. The powerful and charismatic villain, Ryuji Goda, also acts as a perfect foil to the honorable and stoic Kiryu, with their fights testing the strength of will between rivals. Learning about Ryuji's and Kaoru's motivations and discovering the true details of what happened with the Korean mafia gives the plot plenty of twists and turns.
Pro Brutal and entertaining brawler combat
The beat 'em up fights in Yakuza 2 are brutal, with impressive up-close-and-personal cinematics that make the fights a lot of fun.
Each punch and kick you throw out builds up a certain gauge for you to pull off special moves, and you can use items in your environment as weapons against your opponents in punishing ways. Once your gauge is full, you can use a special move against an enemy with a nearby trash can, bike, crowbar, or anything else you can pick up, showing a neat cinematic straight out of an action movie as you smash your makeshift weapon into your attacker.
The combat here is intense, making you feel powerful while keeping your interest at the same time.
Pro Dense and realistic open world set in Japan with a dark atmosphere
Yakuza 2 takes place in the districts of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, both of which are painstaking recreations of the actual Kabukicho and Dotenbori districts in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively. They're not huge locations, but they're packed with details that make them seem much larger.
Gleaming with city lights and brimming with people, Kamurocho and Sotenbori are filled with all types of restaurants with various cuisines, stores for you to shop at, and places for entertainment and mini-games. The dark tint over the locations also gives the game more of a serious and mature atmosphere, grounding you in the world in a memorable way. Even for a PlayStation 2 game, the districts are realistic and tangible enough that they make you feel like you're actually there.
Pro Cool soundtrack with a blend of rock, jazz, and trip-hop influences
The music is perfect for setting the mood in tone for cutscenes and fights. It's such a unique sound, mashing up hard-hitting rock tunes with jazz or trip-hop mixes to give certain songs more of an urban feel, like the standouts "North Menace" and "Block Head Boy". "Unrest" is a great ethereal and unsettling track that plays while exploring Kamurocho and Sotenbori during tense story missions, fitting right in with the dark atmosphere of the cities.
"A Scattered Moment" is the best theme for Ryuji and Kiryu that plays during a certain fight, with s softer start that gradually grows in complexity, showing that the two characters are equals who understand each other, but they must fight because of their opposing views. It's such a great soundtrack overall, and one that you could easily listen to and enjoy even outside of the game.
Pro Good English localization
Yakuza 2 is fully voiced in Japanese with a good English localization for Western audiences. The localization team did more than simply translate the game -- they made sure everything is relevant for a non-Japanese audience to understand and relate with. Since there's no option for English voices, the subtitles do a great job at bringing the game to life for those who don't know Japanese but still want to appreciate the culture and support the Yakuza series.
Pro Tons of side content
There's so much to do in between story missions in Yakuza 2, with plenty of quality and polish to keep you entertained for hours. All of the mini-games and side quests almost have a life of their own with plenty of variety and detail. There are dozens of side quests, some of which land Kiryu in hilarious and wacky situations that never seem too far-fetched. And there are a bunch of other mini-games, like singing karaoke, bowling, golf, gambling at mahjong, "watching" racy videos, and many more. It's hard to get bored with Yakuza 2's plethora side content.
Con Too many melodramatic story twists and events in the finale
The story is mostly pretty good up until the end where things fall apart. Way too many reveals happen here with the villains, padding the finale with cutscenes filled with people talking and talking, giving away their true motivations, and taking forever to get to the point. The added melodrama surrounding the events during the final chapter is also way too much, like a bad, hokey Hollywood movie, pulling you out of any suspension of disbelief you might have still had left. The writers could have done with some serious editing here to keep things in line.
Con The game hasn't aged that well
Even though Yakuza 2 innovates in the story it tells and the themes it tackles -- at least for its time back in the mid-2000s -- certain issues make it hard to go back and enjoy the game properly these days.
The graphics are muddy and not all that pleasing to look at, and the beat 'em up fighting gameplay -- while a fun improvement over Yakuza 1 -- is still stiff and repetitive. There's also a lot of stuttering while running around the cities, with the game going through a mini loading process and the camera swinging to a separate angle each time you go down a separate street.
Yakuza 2 was certainly ambitious for its time, though you may want to consider playing Yakuza Kiwami 2 -- the remake of this game -- if you're not keen on going back to a PlayStation 2 title.
Con Annoying cliches with the love story
Kiryu and Kaoru's love story is nice for the most part, but it's really predictable. If you're seen any typical romance movie or read a romance novel, you will more than likely know how the two fall for each other. The love story doesn't change the overall plot in any meaningful way or add to it, either; it's just there for entertainment.