While the Yakuza have featured in several games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, before Sega's PlayStation 2 title, Yakuza, few games had delved into the history and culture behind Japan's most feared organised crime group.
Yakuza 2, available on PlayStation 2, picks up the story from that game - one that received much praise for its authenticity and mature storytelling. The Tojo Clan is falling apart and on the brink of war with Osaka based gang, the Omi-rengo. As a last resort, the Tojo turn to its former Chairman, Kazuma Kiryu, for help, disturbing the peaceful life he has with Haruka, the young girl he rescued in the previous game. The player takes control of Kiryu as he heads to Osaka in search of peaceful way to prevent full-scale war.
Like its predecessor, Yakuza 2 is a mature game, both in terms of content and storytelling. It is very violent and not for children or the faint hearted, as would be expected from such a gritty portrayal of gang warfare. The story progresses at a more methodical pace than in many action titles and the dialogue is as well-written and engrossing as there has been in a PlayStation game; it's totally believable and clear that the developers have done their research - the European version of the game even comes with subtitles, as opposed to dubbed speech, to preserve this authenticity.
The gameplay adds to this emphasis on storytelling, thanks to a mixture of combat and exploration that is well balanced. The Tokyo and Osaka streets are beautifully realised, with an attention to detail unrivalled on PlayStation 2. Passers-by mingle around shops and clubs, making the night seem alive and occasionally offering side-missions, such as asking you to protect them from a local thug or, in one case, win a prize for their girlfriend on an arcade game.
Shops, bars, arcades and pachinko houses can be found on busier streets and offer the opportunity to spend some of your Yen. You can buy items to boost health during fights, or have a few drinks to strengthen your character. Certain buildings contain mini-games, such as arcade machines, pachinko and even a driving range, to offer a distraction and the chance to win unique prizes.
When it's time to fight, there is a range of attacks and combos available. You can unleash a combination of quick punches and, if you time it right, deliver a hard final strike. You can also grab your opponent and pummel them, or, if you have built up your rage meter enough, use the environment to unleash a vicious finishing move. Items scattered around, such as traffic cones and beer bottles, can also be picked up and used to make pain.
Yakuza 2 is definitely for adults only, and where it succeeds most is in how it caters for that adult audience by delivering a mature, superbly-written story, full of style and suspense, capped off with amazing production value. There have been plenty of games based around gang life and few boast the attention to detail and depth of research seen in Yakuza 2.
Unmistakably Japanese, it's one of the most engrossing action adventure games on PlayStation 2.