The Lost Record of Weird Ian - 15th March 2010
[Record translation begins]
Yesterday I was under the odd impression that I would be done with Yakuza 2 in the relatively near future, so rushed out and bought Yakuza 3. I also had this odd compulsion to assure Sega that at least one person is interested in the series, which might be enough to convince them to localise future Yakuza games. Unfortunately my playthrough of Yakuza 2 almost immediately hit a brick wall constructed primarily of surprisingly fun side-missions.
At the moment I am engaging in three completely different but almost identical sound activities: I am being the customer of three different Hostess Bars, I am managing a different Hostess Bar, and I am working as a Host in a Host Bar. Each of these activities is a well developed and reasonably lengthy process, and they are all so uniquely Japanese that I have to consult wikipedia regularly to make sure the things I am doing are actually done by real people somewhere (which they are apparently). The flow of each activity comes to natural breaks regularly where you are waiting for a phone call or a text message before you can process with the next part of the mission, so they work well doing them at the same time.
Considering the hullabaloo surrounding the removal of Hostess Bars from Yakuza 3, I feel the need to describe how these activities worked in Yakuza 2 so you have some idea what you are missing out on. It's not like anyone is going to go back and play two PS2 games to catch up these days, that would be insane.
Hostess Bars which are translated as 'Cabaret' in the game aren't like Cabaret in the slightest; they are sort of like hiring a friend to hang out with for the evening. When you go into a Hostess Bar you can pick an available Hostess who will come and sit with you at a table. Her job for the evening is to try and get you to stay as long as possible, and buy as much expensive booze as possible, as you have to buy drinks for the both of you. You also have to pay a set hourly fee for your time with her.
The job of a Hostess doesn't end at the bar, and it's common for you to exchange emails or texts with the hostess outside of work where she will try and entice you back to the bar to spend more money. You might also go on paid dates outside of the bar itself with the Hostess, where you will buy all their food for them. There is no real analogy for hostesses in western society, in Japanese society they play much the same role that Geishas traditionally filled.
In terms of what you are actually doing during in the game for most of it you just sit with the various hostesses ordering food and drink, and converse with her by picking conversation options in response to dialogue. You also have to switch out your shin guards and other armour for Italian cologne so they will find you more attractive. Your overall goal with each hostess is to fill a heart meter up to 10 by responding appropriately, giving them gifts, and wearing the right items. The writers do a decent job of creating different personalities for the ten hostesses, like the ex-idol lady, and the lady who won't shut up about growing up in Kyoto.
Your ultimate aim is too woo the hostess's into sleeping with you, apparently this is not uncommon for real hostesses to do. In the game it's presented more that they have fallen for you outside of their roll as a hostess. Most of the hostesses have some sob story such as an overbearing father or a stalker stalking them. Kazuma is happy to solve these problems with wrestling moves and bike throwing as is his way, which the hostesses are appropriately impressed by. Just to be clear there is absolutely nothing titillating about any of this, and the sex is only implied by having a large pink heart fill the screen briefly.
Managing a Hostess Bar
In your travels around Kamurocho, the owner of a Hostess bar called Marietta leaves you to run it while he's away for an unknown period of time looking after a sick relative. When you first start, Marietta is tiny and run down, and the three remaining Hostesses aren't particularly motivated to be particularly witty or charming. Initially it's your job to run around the neighbourhood trying to recruit new girls for the club, but soon you'll be doing more general management duties. You can use the club's money to buy new furnishings, adjust the prices of food and drink, and try and motivate your staff.
As with most things in the game, there is an actual narrative with characters running through this mission and you will occasionally have to deal with problems like rowdy Yakuza thugs causing trouble, staff unexpectedly quitting, and in-fighting between the hostesses. To keep their motivation up, you can compliment or berate the hostesses depending on what works well for their personality, or you can more directly influence them with gaudy gifts or monetary bonuses.
This mode progresses effectively in turns, you set up the club by buying furniture and fittings, adjust prices etc., then you have to leave for a few minutes while the evening plays out, giving you time to go and progress one of the other side missions. You'll receive a text message telling you when you can go back and set the next turn going. Of the three activities here, this is probably the lengthiest and becomes a problem in the later stages. When your club is massive, you'll need to save up millions of yen to buy fancy chandeliers which can take quite some time. If I wasn’t so busy doing the other missions, I would probably have gotten bored before the story came to its admittedly decent conclusion.
Working as a Host in a Host bar
A Host bar is exactly what it sounds like. Women seeking the company of a handsome man for an evening can come to a Host bar and pick from an array of strapping men to hang out with. In the context of the game, Kazuma is persuaded to become a host by an ex-host who wants to expose the corrupt blackmailing owner of the bar. You'll have to become the top host in the place in order to get a meeting with the boss so you can throw bikes at him till he stops being such a jerk.
As a host your boss assigns you to a lady, and gives you a quota of how many yens you need to get her to spend on alcohol. You have to work out what balance of directness versus being a big old tease will work well to keep the lady in the bar and interested enough in you to buy time extensions and order the ridiculously expensive champagne that apparently exists. Whenever anyone orders the most expensive champagne, all the hosts all do this weird microphone based dance/shouting routine to the baffled and terrified looking lady called a 'Champagne Call' which does exist according to Wikipedia but only happens in Host clubs, not Hostess clubs.
As you work your way up the host rankings you have to deal with some increasingly tricky customers, like the a terrifying old business magnate lady. Eventually the whole processes folds back on itself in a sequence where Kazuma, the owner of a hostess bar and host in a host bar plays host to the manager of a hostess bar empire and former hostess herself. She eventually orders a bottle of champagne worth 3 million yen ($33000/£21000) which I had to check and yes there is apparently champagne that costs this much.
I am continuing to enjoy the cultural education of Yakuza 2, but I will spare you accounts of my attempt to learn Shogi for now. The PS2's resolution really isn't high enough to make the tiny kanji on the shogi pieces remotely readable to my ignorant eyes. If only Sega hadn't removed Shogi from the Yakuza 3, this wouldn't be a problem as they would of been in glorious high definition on that. Curse you Sega!
[The rest of this record has been destroyed by erosion]