The Yakuza series is well known for its over-the-top, often ludicrous presentation with crazy characters, crazy scenarios and ridiculous battle systems. This reckless abandon was rather pronounced in last year’s fantastic Yakuza 0 which followed the two prominent characters Kazama Kiryu and Goro Majima. It was a romp through Japan’s criminal underbelly that pumped pure adrenaline into your veins with its madness. It was a manic display of youthful bravado and mad scenarios. Now, with a huge leap forward in time to Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, everything started getting much more mature.
Kazama Kiryu, the previous fourth chairman of the Tojo Clan and the legendary Dragon of Dojima, is now aged and has been through all forms of the criminal underworld. He’s getting tired of all the rampant punching and intense bouts of power and just wants to settle down and find a place he feels he belongs. This is an allegory for this very game. The series has been going on for so long with so many characters and intense scenarios that it’s starting to become stagnant. We’ve been in Kamorucho more times than we can count and the series feels like it needs to move on. But not after one final throwdown. One last big one.
The essence of paternity
The game starts off in the Morning Glory Orphanage (I know) where Kiryu has taken it upon himself to care for a bundle of orphans and his own adoptive daughter, Haruka, who has been a staple of the series so far. Once an orphan himself, he has taken on the task of raising these children in a positive light and to support Haruka in her Idol career, which she lets go of in order to live with Kiryu. However, since trouble seems to find its way to Kiryu, he gets sent to jail for three years which he willingly accepts in order to gain a clean slate on his troubled life. Once he gets out, he finds Haruka has gone missing with nobody knowing her whereabouts.
He heads back to his old stomping grounds in Kamorucho in search of his adoptive daughter and finds that she has been in a serious hit-and-run incident and apparently now has a son called Haruto. All signs point to foul play and the existence of Haruka’s son is a giant mystery. With Haruka in a coma, she cannot answer for any of it and it’s up to Kiryu to find out what happened. In doing so, he managed to get himself dragged back into the underworld and under threat from some of Japan’s biggest powers that be. Kiryu’s retirement needs to be postponed as he heads back into the fray one last time.
Each chapter is a revelation and you’ll find yourself captivated by this unfolding origami of storylines until you reach the final, satisfying conclusion.
Yakuza 6 has an immensely intricate story that starts off rather humble but evolves into a dramatic epic with interwoven tales and stark coincidences. The story has one big running theme and that’s the theme of parenthood, more particularly, fatherhood. It’s an inherently mature topic to explore and one you don’t often see in games of this nature, but its inclusion is nothing short of striking. It doesn’t make this theme overt, but it makes it a central cornerstone that the often intense story embraces wholeheartedly.
The narrative of Yakuza 6 takes you down many journeys of interesting and complex characters, the lengths that men go to in order to obtain power and all the atrocities that come along with it. Each chapter is a revelation and you’ll find yourself captivated by this unfolding origami of storylines until you reach the final, satisfying conclusion. It’s definitely a much more ambitious storyline than what we found in Yakuza 0 and it wears its influences and intentions on its sleeve. Kiryu goes through a plethora of new challenges in his quest for finding peace. Yakuza 6 is a rollercoaster and one that I very much enjoyed being on. It’s one of the strongest and most unique narratives in modern gaming thanks to its heavy and mature themes and there’s nothing quite like it out there. I intentionally kept the events of the story pretty light because even one hint can spoil the experience, but rest assured that it’s a tale worth living.
The essence of punching people in the face
The game only follows Kiryu this time and since he’s a superhuman capable of destroying entire platoons of armed men, his chosen method of negotiation is still punching people as hard as he can. He wants the diplomatic solution deep in his heart, but often times violence is the only method of resolution. The combat of Yakuza 6 is a lot simpler than what was offered in Yakuza 0 with only one style of fighting as opposed to the three that each character had. It’s your basic brawler moves along with the utilisation of anything that’s not nailed down that can be used as a weapon. The combat is still frantic and intense, but this simplification is much to its detriment. It quickly becomes repetitive to the extent where combat scenarios feel more like a chore of doing the same thing over and over again instead of being an exciting challenge.
You can unlock moves through the new experience system where each action rewards you with EXP in one of five categories and these points are used to unlock new combat moves, more stats and various miscellaneous skills. You can get new Heat actions that reward you with more insane flourishing fighting moves, but these are often context sensitive and not easily used in combat. Even with the fully upgraded Kiryu I had at the end of the game, the combat still felt repetitious where I only used a handful of moves in order to beat the snot out of people. You can go into Extreme Heat Mode which grants a lot more options and heavier combos, but even that became rather formulaic after a while.
The combat is disappointing in many ways, even if it is very much serviceable. The new physics engine also gives a lot more weight to the fighting and you can quite easily toss enemies into each other and see them ragdolling all over the place and literally flying from the force of Kiryu’s mighty fists. However, more variation would have been very welcome when it came to the combat. They could have even reused Yakuza 0‘s combat system and been better for it.
The essence of modern technology
Since the game takes place in 2016 where mobile phones are all over the place and the world has become modern, the game’s mechanics have also followed this trend. Everything is much more intuitive than it was in Yakuza 0 with creature comforts we have come to love being implemented such as autosave, pinning locations on the map, a more streamlined inventory system and better UI elements that make it easy to explore the world and complete quests. Yakuza 6 takes the game in a more modern direction outside of the more modern aesthetic and it is much better off for it.
Kamorucho, the city that is always present in a Yakuza game, is back yet again, but with a new modern look. We also get to explore the small shore town of Onomichi in Hiroshima as well which is in contrast to the fast and decadent lifestyle of Kamorucho and this juxtaposition is one that the game really needed. There isn’t a lot to do in Onomichi, but it’s a nice quiet little town with its own little secrets for you to discover. Kamorucho is still very much the main hub of the game and you’ll still find quite a lot to do within its neon light coloured streets.
Kamorucho, the city that is always present in a Yakuza game, is back yet again, but with a new modern look.
The game looks gorgeous thanks to its updated visuals, bringing Japan to life like never before. In some areas, it’s a little rough around the edges, but you’ll still find a very authentic Japanese experience waiting for you if you want to go explore. Everything within the world adheres to a modern standard which is a little confusing for Kiryu at times since he’s apparently an old man, like everyone in the game tells him he is, even if he still looks like a buff 30-year-old. The only downside of this new visual fidelity is that it hits the framerate down to 30 FPS which can make the combat and general gameplay feel sluggish, but it’s not a huge problem for the most part.
The essence of faffing about
Yakuza 6 still stays with the tradition of having a boatload of activities for you to do. Nothing has changed in that department. You can walk up and down Kamorucho and find oddities and side-stories that you can explore if you so desire. The side-stories are much more themed on modern society with stuff like YouTubers being explored, new relationship problems that can pop up thanks to social media, the effects that technology can have and so on. The side-stories were some of my favourite parts of the game since they explore such a wide variety of themes outside of the often serious main story. They can be silly, thought-provoking, extremely odd or just plain wholesome. It’s worth taking a stroll through the city and finding all manners of people that want your assistance.
The activities have been scaled back a little in terms of volume, but there’s still a ton for you to do. The staples make a return such as mahjong that I still have no idea what is going on in, batting, karaoke and darts. Then there are new activities that range from really fun to just weird. One of the weird ones is you being in a live chat with a lovely lady, who is a real model and not CGI, and using button prompts to convince her to strip to her underwear. There’s a cat cafe where you can befriend kitties and have them be all cute in the cafe. The arcade has full versions of Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo which was quite the shock to me since they’re fully-fledged games that aren’t too old.
You can also go to the gym and take part in mini-games and puzzle solving in order to get the best post-workout meal and you can go make friends with some of the lovely ladies in the cabaret clubs around town. Dining out also wield some benefits this time with each meal giving you some experience and you can find combos that give even more experience if you’re of a culinary mind. Some of the activities like the weird live chat thing are over before you even started and unfortunately the cat cafe isn’t really that intensive outside of going out and feeding stray cats.
However, the side-activities and messing around is still a huge part of the Yakuza experience and the new aesthetic makes things a lot more current than they previously were. A lot more relatable to the millennials like me, in other words.
You’ll also get the chance to create your own gang in a side storyline where you can create your own team of misfits and take over the town and protect it from undesirables. While this initially sounds cool, it’s also unfortunately pretty shallow. It’s an RTS style mini-game where you need to send out troops to fight enemies in real time and the leaders you assign to your strike team each have their own abilities. The design of it is really simple and outside of some of the later missions, it was also really easy. Essentially you dogpile the enemy with your troops and use the skills of your strike team until everyone falls dead. There isn’t much strategy involved and it becomes rather laborious quite quickly. It’s a nice little diversion, but it could have used a lot more polish and extra features.
The essence of art
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is still a colossal game by many accounts. Its story takes roughly 20 hours to complete and is rather slow-paced, and the side-activities will keep you busy for days if you’re going for full completion. It’s a traditionally packed and modern Yakuza game, but it fails quite significantly in some areas like the combat. However, it excels in its strengths which is the incredibly rich and mature narrative that ended with me breaking down and crying a few times throughout. It’s the quintessential modern Yakuza game and you don’t really have to worry if you didn’t play the five games before it, even if it would be optimal. The story is self-contained enough for it to not really matter if you don’t know the true journey of the Dragon of Dojima.
Following the trend of the games that came before it, Yakuza 6 has great value for money, is feature rich and has a fulfilling storyline that you need to witness. Even with its stumbling, it remains a fantastic game that you really should consider picking up.