• Yakuza Black Panther 2 Review Sony PSP Kurohyou 2: Ryu ga Gotoku Ashura Hen

    Already an established PlayStation series in Japan, the Ryu ga Gotoku (or Yakuza) games are now familiar to most Western gamers after the release of the four mainline games and even zombie spin-off, Of the End (Dead Souls outside Japan). Yakuza Black Panther 2 (Kurohyou 2: Ryu ga Gotoku Ashura Hen) is the follow up to the 2010 PSP release that never made it out of Japan and, as a result, has passed most non-Japanese players by. Is this sequel a title that series fans will want to check out, or would they be better sticking with the mainline series?

    As with its predecessor, Black Panther 2 follows main character Tatsuya through a plot involving a lot of fighting and unsavoury types. While that may sound exactly like the rest of the series, the most apparent difference here is that the game is targeted towards a slightly younger crowd and as a result features a teenage lead and a story and characters that would feel more at home on the pages of a Seinen (a demographic of late teens to early twenty year old males) manga. Further emphasising this is the stylised comic book cut scenes that are similar to those seen in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. The top-notch voice acting that is inherent throughout the series is again present here and definitely doesn't disappoint. It's not all serious however, with enough humour and bizarre situations cropping up throughout to amuse as well as entertain.

    The main focus of the game (and where most time will be spent), is the actual fighting. Taking its cues from past titles, the controls are for the most part similar weak and strong attacks mixed with throws, blocks, dashes and usable objects. As blows are taken and dealt, the Heat Gauge will rise until full, allowing powerful attacks to be performed using the X button when an enemy is being grappled, providing a satisfying and effective way of more quickly defeating some of the stronger enemies. Spotting, or at least being able to prepare for, these more challenging duels is made all the easier by how fights are initiated once enemies throughout the city approach Tatsuya (playing out in a similar fashion to how random battles take place in JRPG's), a brief summary screen appears, showing the level and fighting style of both he and the opponent(s), which also allows health or boost items to be consumed, should the player find themselves weary from previous encounters.

    Battles take place in enclosed arenas with three or four characters on screen at any given time, although some will see additional enemies enter the area after the initial lot have been defeated. There is a lack of any HUD to identify health left, although the now familiar FPS staple of red splatters of blood adorn the screen when damage has been dealt. Boss fights are the best of the bunch, usually lengthier bouts where more thought will need to be put into tactics and the fighting style used than with the regular, more routine enemies. One new aspect here is that a second, AI-controlled, player can be called up and brought into fights to help out and make things that bit easier.

    At the conclusion of a successful fight, money, items and experience points are awarded. As well as allowing Tatsuya to level up (again, like with the "random" battles, enhancing the RPG nature of the game), more experience awards status points that can be used to increase the level of stamina, strength, defense and so on. But where the game really stands out and shows its depth and flexibility, is through the numerous fighting styles that can be learnt and levelled. Ranging from wrestling to kickboxing and almost everything in between, they can be switched before a fight or at any time via the pause screen. No two are the same and their inclusion goes some way to negating the repetitiveness of combat that sometimes crept in to the earlier Yakuza games after ten or twenty hours of play. Additionally, combos and special attacks can be unlocked for each style, allowing the player to find a style they like, settle on it and broaden its attack range. Yakuza 4 featured four different characters with their own style, but the sheer choice available here makes it an even more exciting prospect.

    Although the various fighting styles go a long way to keeping the player engaged in the combat, there are unfortunately a few issues throughout the game that may disappoint those that have been with the series since the PS2 days. Firstly, and most noticably, is that the setting is again Kamurocho with its Hostess clubs, real-life Japanese shops, Karaoke bars, slums and so on. The city feels alive with schoolgirls, salarymen and club promoters going about their business, but it can't be denied that what was once comfortable familiarity may be closer to contempt for some. This is alleviated however not just by the amount of things to do (the mini-games so ingrained into the series are still here, be it Gachapon machines at Club Sega, singing Karaoke, visiting Hostesses, cooking food as a part time job etc as are the abundance of optional side-quests) in the city, but also by the fact that there is a whole other location comparable to Osaka to visit with the same scope and range of activity as the first. Tatsuya's clothing can also be altered by purchasing new outfits at one one of the clothing shops and while a minor aspect of the game, in conjunction with the addictive mini-games and side-quests, does provide a breath of fresh air amid a perhaps overly familiar setting.

    Perhaps the more annoying negative to the game is the load times. Whilst it's true that data can be installed to the memory stick to cut down on these, those that choose not to will face quite significant waiting (all the more obvious taking into account the format and portable nature of the game) before every fight and cut scene. One more quibble is the fixed camera, which at times does make it easy to get lost, especially when trying to escape an enemy, but for the most part (and this will be particularly helpful to those who cannot read Japanese) a marker will be displayed on the map to allow progress to be made without much bother.

    Overall, Black Panther 2 is slightly difficult to score Ryu ga Gotoku veterans will undoubtedly get drawn in to the combat and story, although the setting may cause some unwelcome deja vu. Newcomers, especially those with an appreciation of open-world settings or looking for a new take on the RPG/action genre, will arguably get more out of the game, even if it takes some time to grow familiar with series staples. It remains to be seen if most recent release, spin-off Of the End, provided enough of a palate cleanser to allow what is on offer here to feel fresher than it may have been had it followed one of the traditional entries in the series.


    - Lots to see and do.
    - Many different fighting styles.
    - Usually easy to tell where to go.


    - Same setting again.
    - Load times noticeable unless installed.

    Developer: Sega
    Publisher: Sega
    Other Versions: N/A
    Version Reviewed: Japanese

    Score: 8/10
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