+Extremely well-written stories that unfold throughout the course of the game
+Character development and backstory is spot-on, allowing for fans new and old to enjoy the story as it unfolds
+Combat and experience earning has been completely re-worked
+Minigames such as Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo minigames are an absolute delight to play
-Combat steel feels a bit dated, but the improvements definitely take away from past frustrations.
Since the launch of Yakuza Zero and Yakuza Kiwami, I’ve been in a tricky spot with the Yakuza series. I’ve had little experience with the games outside of the past two reviews I’ve done and only recently have I found myself becoming a dedicated fan of Sega’s long-running underworld crime saga that has continued on over the past three console generations (counting this current generation that is).
However, if you were to decide to do as I have. Jumping into the Yakuza series in its current position, you might find yourself a bit lost, confused even due to how many years have passed and games that have been released since the launch of the franchise. For me, it was a tricky matter due to the fact I’d already begun to experience two chapters of Kazuma Kiryu’s life, both giving me a look at the early days of Kiryu as a gangster and the other giving me a glimpse as to why he had attempted to leave the life he had begun to lead as the 4th Chairman of the Yakuza.
Luckily for us, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is just what it sounds like. Kiryu has left his life of being a gangster behind. He’s decided to settle in and raise a new generation of children at his orphanage in Okinawa, Japan. But this only comes after his three years stint in prison and his having sworn off the life he once lived, but always, he’s pulled back in after Haruka, one of the children he swore to protect, ends up in a coma. Her injury is explained quite simply within the game: She was hit-and-run by a car while trying to protect her child Haruto, someone that Kiryu has sworn to protect and find the father of through sections of the game.
Much as one would expect, the story takes Kiryu on adventures through Onomichi, a location in Japan’s Hiroshima prefecture, a far cry from the streets we are used to seeing in Kamurocho. Just like in previous titles, Sega doesn’t hold back in their drive to excel at re-creating real-life locations into a digital world for fans to explore. Locations such as the historic Senko-ji temple on a hillside in Onomichi is beautiful, but it’s a far cry from the red-light district of the fictional streets of Kamurocho. However, neither held back what they had to offer, each coming with their own unique experiences and the dangers that follow.
Both come with their own unique content ranging from arcade machines, vendors, brawls that occur, and even the food that Kiryu will get to eat. But each even coming with their own vibe. Onomichi is a small laid-back village, a big change from the bustling streets of Kamurocho. In ways, it gives a good idea of what Japan is like if one were to leave the larger cities and explore what the small town life is like. It’s not uncommon in Onomichi to see only a few people walking up and down the streets, a select few vendors awaiting Kiryu’s visit, and even a few smaller brawls than what one would encounter in Kamurocho.
In a way, you can consider these two towns a metaphor for the crossroads Kiryu is at in his life. One where he is ready to move on, settle down and begin his newfound way of life, but the other being the chaos, the past-self he can never fully rid himself of no matter how hard he tries. That’s where things get interesting with Yakuza 6. Much of the cast returns in the game, players will get to see familiar faces such as Goro Majima, the Mad Dog of Shimano, Shun Akiyama, and even faces such as Makoto Date.
But that’s where picking up the franchise with Yakuza 6 gets tricky. It’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Civil War and expecting to understand all of the events that had unfolded beforehand. While the movie itself is a great title, just as Yakuza 6 is, you won’t feel completely lost due to the amount of backstory that has been played within the game, but it still makes some of the most comical moments hard to enjoy within Yakuza 6.
But much of what is expected from Yakuza 6 remains completely intact and allows the game to retain its sense of melodramatic storytelling and a quirky sense of humor that brings this very game to life. Even with Kiryu’s search to uncover the truth behind what happened to Haruka during his time in prison and his being once more tossed into a middle of a gang turf war, there’s a lot more at play within the game.
Combat and controls have been refined to the extent that combat is smooth, it’s no longer a semi-clunky affair. Fighting styles are a thing of the past as Kiryu’s fighting mechanics have been heavily revised, allowing for a more fluid experience when beating up a few thugs on the streets. To ensure that Kiryu becomes effective as he should be in combat, players will earn experience points towards different stats in various ways. Things such as eating, resting, completing sidequests, a few good fights in the streets, and even taking on sidequests through various sources such as the newly implemented Troublr, offer varied ways to earn experience.
While this simplicity does take away from the old system, it does allow for a lot more to happen behind the scenes and gives players even more reason to experience Yakuza 6 to its fullest. This new progression system is entirely new, allowing the legendary Dragon of Dojima to be finetuned to the preference of the player. Minigames such as working out at a gym doing different exercises disguised as a mini-game allow for Kiryu to gain points towards stats such as his muscles (strength), agility, guts, technique, and charm.
Depending on where the points are placed, whether they go into his health, his attack power, or even speed, each have their own uses in combat when leveling up his stats. The same can be said for using designated amounts of each stat to unlock new attacks, combos, and skillsets that Kiryu will use in and out of combat. Even early in, it’ll be quickly noticed that combat is still rather friendly towards button-mashing fans. However, this does change throughout the game. Sometimes the best attacks are the ones that are held back, allowing for Kiryu to take on multiple foes without wearing out (being tumbled around like a rag doll).
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – PlayStation 4
Release Date: April 17, 2018
But even then, combat feels rewarding the moment Kiryu begins to heat up and his “Heat Mode” meter begins to fill up, allowing him to unleash his most powerful attacks for a rather short time. Through and through, Yakuza 6 feels like a step in the right direction, an evolution of sorts as the world around Kiryu has modernized with our current times ushering in the use of smartphones, modernized arcade machines, and internet chatrooms for “adults to enjoy”. If that’s not your cup of tea, then take the leap and enjoy some of the newest features such as taking Kiryu speargun fishing where his levels of excitement never fail to impress.
But just like speargun fishing as a newly added minigame, Yakuza 6 is a solid title and by far one of the best entries in the series. While to some the subtle changes aren’t enough, these changes are a step enough in the right direction whether it’s newly introduced gangs, characters, or minigames, it’s all there, and it’s all paving the way for an even brighter future for the series.
Our review is based on a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.