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Better than the first but still an overly frustrating exercise in trial and error. Cannot imagine playing this without the rewind and save slots. Music is pretty good and some of the weapons feel satisfying. About half the stages were interesting, the rest forgettable.
I've played 6-8ish hours of this, which is not really enough to give a full review, just a few thoughts ahead of the English localized remake coming out in a couple weeks (which I will play in full).
I do read and write Japanese so I can follow this game - for the most part anyway, there's a lot of older period vocab and speech patterns that come more easily to native speakers. Think Olde Englishe but Japanese. I wouldn't recommend playing this if you don't, it's just too text heavy to bother, IMO.
This is a weird little game. I think what will most blatantly surprise people who are completely unaware of this game's roots is how different it is to the mainline series. Combat is completely different, focusing on your gun, sword, and mixture styles instead of fighting straight up. It's not ridiculously different to the brawler gameplay, but it's a lot less clean and sillier. People will be surprised to learn that it has multiple open world zones separated by loading screens, and sometimes linear ones. Full-on Meiji Kamurocho this ain't. Overall, mechanically this is a little clunkier and jankier than the mainline games (unsurprisingly) and I'm curious how much they buffed those out for the remake, considering it seems to me that a lot of fans in the west are expecting it to be like Yakuza 7 in terms of quality and presentation.
The story is obviously the main draw here, and while simplistic in overarching stuff, the individual notes are pretty cool. You kinda need to know the context of the Meiji Restoration and the last gasp of the Bakufu and what exactly the shinsengumi were and why it's important... but if you have a general grasp of that stuff you'll get a lot out of it. RGG's real stroke of genius here is not Kiryu Ryoma, but instead bringing over dead or minor characters from the main series and giving them room to run around and have fun. The most obvious is Mine as Hijikata. It's so nice to have him back in a major role and he really gets to shine. Baba and Park are fantastic, too, alongside the mainstays like Majima and Saejima. Oddly Nishikiyama is hardly present in the first third of the game, but I believe he plays more of a role later. I'll get into it with the Remake review I'm sure but I really dislike their decision to replace several of these faces/VAs with either Y0 or Y7 characters - the lieutenants especially, but I'll save that rant for then.
Stuff I enjoyed: The substories are a lot of fun - the one to do with the dancing crowds as well as the Lady Who Never Stops Fucking Talking will be well received in the remake, I'm sure. THE BATH HOUSE FIGHT IS AMAZING. The animations and detail on costumes and whatnot are great. The opening song (Clock Strikes - ONE OK ROCK) is super good!! If they remove it from the remake I'll kill them! Ryoma instantly spawns slippers when he walks up the stairs in the Shinsengumi base.
Stuff I didn't enjoy: The crafting stuff is super lame, and I've heard it only gets grindier and worse farther in the story. Some of the level design can be a little odd. One of the first bosses is kinda bad and slow. Lots of unnecessary button prompts and menuing, but that might've just been exacerbated by being aware of playing it in Japanese. The upgrade tree is Y0-style, which is my least favorite upgrade variation in the series.
So yeah, just some quick thoughts to get out before the remake. Cool time, but not super high in my personal RGG-verse rankings. We'll see if that changes!