It’s safe to say that Yakuza 5 ended on one hell of a downer. Kiryu slumped in the snow near death after getting beaten half to death Haruka abandoning her career as an idol because of her adopted father’s underworld ties. Taking place three years later, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life opens with Kiryu returning to the Sunshine Orphanage after yet another prison sentence to find Haruka missing. After a tip-off that she may be in Kamurocho, Kiryu returns to “That damned city” just in time for Haruka to end up in a coma after a car accident and Kiryu to be left holding her baby.
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Platforms Available: PS4
Release Date: December 8, 2016 (Japan), April 17, 2018 (Worldwide)
This review is based on a review code provided by SEGA.
The first few hours of Yakuza 6 ease players back into the world of Yakuza at a relatively easy pace. Recapping previous events and letting them get reacquainted with the games myriad side stories, mini-games and systems. This makes the game suitable for both long-term fans and newcomers alike. Newcomers can also read up on previous events via the main menu.
Heading to the sleepy seaside town of Onomichi in Hiroshima to find his adopted grandson’s deadbeat dad, Kiryu eases back into life as a single father, hunting for baby food in a small town with no late-night stores, while comforting little Haruto using motion controls, all while antagonising the local bumbling gang of Yakuza lead by a doddering Patriarch played by Beat Takashi (Battle Royale) who steals every scene he’s in.
Things soon pick up with Kiryu and little Haruto getting caught up in a grand conspiracy with plenty of twists, turns, and a ton of deaths. That being said the main narrative remains relatively grounded this time, eschewing the bear fights and prison breaks of Yakuza 5 for an epic, but believable crime drama.
That’s not to say there aren’t completely crazed moments and send-ups of popular culture like Kiryu meeting ‘The Girl Who Lept Through Time’, or him having a run in with a YouTuber desperate to go viral, to seeing him contending with a self-aware phone assistant. However, this time they are all confined to Yakuza 6’s numerous side quests (though there’s not as many as Yakuza 0).
Random encounters have been made slightly less random, with the Troublr app which sees Kiryu respond to messages from citizens in distress. Helping people dangling off buildings, roughing up thugs that specifically target couples, diffusing bombs and much more besides.
The clan builder from Yakuza 5 also makes a return, with Kiryu recruiting bored thugs across Kamurocho and Onomichi to bolster his ranks as the Kiryu gang wages war against the members of JUSTIS, lead by the “six maniacs” each played by wrestlers from New Japan Pro wrestling. Each gang fight sees players spawn thugs of various types, from balanced soldiers to more hard-hitting brutes and gun-toting ranged fighter, along-side officers, and lieutenants with special powers, like healing and buffing abilities. The goal is to try and wipe out all the opposing forces in a set amount of time. It’s simple but fun and trying to find all the shiftless tough guys littering the map is a major time-sink even before you get into battles – which are a game within a game.
Speaking of games within games, Players can go to Sega Arcades throughout Kamurocho and play full versions of several arcade classics including After Burner, Space Harrier, Puyo Puyo and most impressive of all – the full arcade version of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (with 2 player modes for all of them accessible from the main menu).
The new ‘Dragon’ engine is a high point, breathing new life into the bustling open world of Kamurocho. The streets are more densely populated, and there are no more loading screens. If you want to go into a shop you simply walk in. if you start a fight with a gang of thugs, once they have noticed you it starts instantly and can spill over right into the corner shop you just bought some bento from. It’s so good it has me looking forward to the inevitable western release of Yakuza Kiwami 2 which also uses the engine.
The new engine also brings with it a much more refined combat system. While past iterations were all fun in different ways, there were times where the brawling could feel stiff, clunky and separate from the rest of the game. However, thanks to the new engine, combat is instant, fluid and much more dynamic. With fights breaking out at any time, you can even send thugs flying through storefronts and carry on the fight inside. (then suffer the consequences as staff refuses to serve you for trashing their shop.)
Dropping the multiple combat styles of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami is a double-edged sword, as though the new system is far more fluid, with all of the styles effectively merged into one. I found myself using very similar tactics in each fight whilst as before I would be forced to switch up my tactics depending on who Kiryu was fighting. There’s also not so many heat actions, (and what ones there are now need unlocking) which is a shame because watching Kiryu slam thugs into the environment in increasingly brutal and ridiculous ways has always been a high point.
Likewise, the games new leveling system which has players earning points in five different areas dependant on Kiryu’s actions, (including what he eats). that can then be spent on either increasing his base stats or unlocking new various abilities, looks new and shiny, but is ultimately pointless because to best more powerful enemies it pays to keep Kiryu’s base stats balanced and most new abilities require points from all five categories anyway.
However, players ability to rack up XP by doing practically anything in the game, which makes its myriad of diversions feel more rewarding and worthwhile. Even the game’s more questionable sideshows such as its cringe-worthy cam girl minigame and trips to hostess clubs contribute to unlocking better abilities and improved stats.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is billed as the concluding chapter in Kiryus story, and it shows. The focus of the game is on Kiryu passing the torch and both the series, and in-game world welcoming in a new generation. Kamurocho is changing, the Yakuza are changing, and the game does a good job of introducing a slew of new (mostly likeable characters), even if this is at the expense of old favourites as Goro Majima and Daigo Dojima, who are noticeably absent for most of the game. This is a shame considering this is supposed to be Kiryu’s last hurrah..
The more grounded, personal story does come at the cost of scale, with the whole game taking place in Kamurocho and Hiroshima.
It’s a new era for Yakuza, both in game and out. Yakuza 6; The Song of Life may not be the grandiose send-off that some fans may have wanted, but it’s a fitting conclusion to Kiryu’s story and thanks to the new engine one that not only makes old favourites feel new again but make me look forward to the future.