It’s only been a few years since I became a fan of the Yakuza games, yet it’s still one of my most anticipated titles whenever there is an announcement for a new release in the series. I’ve been looking forward to the release of Yakuza 6 since it’s announcement, hoping that it will give us more of that Japanese gangster styled machismo that we love so much. Well I’ve finally gotten my paws on the game, and I feel safe in saying that if you’re looking forward to this game and waiting to find out if you should pre-order, wait no longer, purchase it now. Now mind you when I say purchase it now I’m speaking to fans of this series that are waiting for an opinion on if this game meets the Yakuza standards. While it does, for the rest of you I recommend completing this entire review before making your decision.
In Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, we continue the story of Kazuma Kiryu, the former 4th chairman of the Tojo clan. If you’re a newcomers to the franchise, don’t worry. The devs have made a great effort to ensure that you are able to catch up to speed on what you need to know about this franchise, even if this is your first Yakuza game. During the first few minutes of opening act we get a flashback as sort of a brief recap for the previous games, and a flashforward all in one. Newcomers may not be sure why it is done like this, but the further you get in the game the more sense it’ll make. The devs also created a full Yakuza Experience site (yakuza.sega.com/experience), with backgrounds on the overarching plot, characters and more. So newcomers feel welcomed to make this your first Yakuza game, and here’s why…
In this entry in this amazing franchise, Kiryu serves some time in prison in an effort to make himself a much more respectable father for Haruka and the other kids at Morning Glory; However, after serving his time he arrives at the orphanage to find Haruka has left without a trace. Being the overprotective father that he is, he sets off to find her in Kamurocho, and later Onomichi. In his search Kiryu is constantly followed by the life and legacy he left behind. At the same time his overall calm yet direct demeanor draws even more people to him. This characterization of a calm yet deadly character is what I love so much about him, and I’m sure most of you will too.
Outside of his search for his daughter and what comes long with that search, Kiryu also finds himself dragging into a new gang war of sorts. As leader of the new “Kiryu Clan” he is responsible for recruiting new members, and coordinating their battles against other gangs. This all works into a mini game of sorts, and I use that term “mini game” loosely, because the mini games in this game are fully fleshed out experiences that could be their own games. As for this particular one, I didn’t really fancy it much. It’s more of a distraction that I’d rather avoid in place of actually controlling Kiryu and busting up thugs and Yakuza in the streets.
The game also has some other mini games that I’d like to mention, and remember I use the term, mini very loosely. If you wonder around Kamurocho you’ll find these SEGA arcades which allow you play other SEGA titles, and I don’t mean just a watered down version of classic games, nope. In one of these arcades I was able to the full arcade mode of Virtua Fighters with all the characters and stages, and then another moment I was getting washed on poyopoyo Tetris. If I wasn’t playing this game for review I’d probably just have spent all my time on Virtua Fighters, but alas I had to move on. Thankfully the rest of the package is also exceptional.
Now it should be noted not all Mini Games are made equally. -_- I hate that damn baby mini game, and the baseball one.
Yakuza 6 retains the over the top combat that we’ve come to expect from this franchise while giving us a deep emotionally engrossing plot filled with memorable new and old characters. This time around we’ve got a much more simple fighting style accompanied by a just as simple leveling skill tree. Unlike the previous game, Kiryu has just one fighting style, that is a mix of all the styles he had in Kiwami. This means that when approaching enemies, it’s much more manageable, and allows for much more focus on other intricacies like counters and finishing attacks instead of switching styles. Overall I liked this combat system more, but I missed some of the over the top scripted QTEs that have been removed in favor of more organic ones that happen based on what moves you uses in combat. This means that you can do a boss battle and only see one QTE if you’re lucky. The combat system also retains its flaws from previous entries. There is still no proper way to lock onto enemies, so expect to make distance in crowds before picking off enemies one by one. A bit of a suggestion to the devs, I recommend a mix of Sleeping Dog’s and Yakuza’s combat systems for the next Yakuza game.
Combat aside, this is a visually stunning game. Reflections, shadows, water, textures, everything really, it’s all looks great. Now yes I can see how they can be improved, but for a game running on the original PlayStation 4 and looking like this, I’m impressed. The game also excels in the audio department. It’s all Japanese dub, and it sounds great. The music accents the the mood of each scene perfectly through this excellent game. Moments when Kiryu is about to get into a brawl, the beat speeds up, it’s like having tribal drums beating as you march into war, but then a few moments later when the scene requires subtlety it slows to a crawl setting the perfect mood for inciting romantic feelings or sadness. In a way playing Yakuza 6 is like watching a long movie in which you are able to interact with some of its aspects. There are even some sections of the game whereby you are treated to some long engrossing cutscenes, not unlike the kind one would find in a Metal Gear game. There were moments when I simply put down my controller, got comfortable and just read subs as though I were watching a movie or anime.
The game also excels with it’s pacing in a way that only a Yakuza game can. It’s possible to run through the entire game and focus on the main plot, but the way in which this game presents it’s subplots to you it would be difficult for anyone to ignore them. They’re mostly optional, but they’re so tempting in the way they are presented to the player that they don’t seem that way, at least not on an emotional level. You want to know, you crave to experience them. They craft a much deeper story, and fleshes out Kiryu as a mush more than a brute who let’s his fists do the talking. This is a game that exemplifies the ideals of bigger is not always better. It’s condensed but in a good way. There’s always something to do and though it’s a familiar setting the difference due to time are present.
Every now and then a game comes along that doesn’t fail to live up to the hype. Usually those tend to be first party titles, but some third-parties like the Persona and Yakuza games don’t fail to impress. Yakuza 6 offers a great almost authentic Japanese experience. Yes its exaggerated in places, but it’s authentic in the ways that matter most. This replication of some iconic Japanese locations is so dense and filled to the brim with recognizable landmarks that it should please any fan of Japan, and with gameplay that should satisfy fans of the franchise, and newcomers alike, it’s hard not to recommend.
So who’s this game for? Adults, mature adults who like great games. This game doesn’t pull its punches, and you shouldn’t expect it to. It’s brutal, tantalizing, and all out fun. If you’re a legal adult with a PlayStation 4 then you should highly consider adding this title to your collection.
The copy of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life used for this review was provided to us by it’s Publisher, SEGA.