Published on May 30th, 2018 | by Joseph Saulnier0
I have not played much of the previous entries in the Yakuza series, but before I sat down to play the 7th entry in the mainline series (it’s seven if you count Yakuza 0, which most people do) I did my research. I wanted to make sure I went into this game knowing what you all did, so I read. I watched videos. And I learned. So when I heard the first words spoken by our protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, I had to laugh to myself.
“How do I always end up back in this damned city?”
Seven games in and here comes poor Kiryu walking into a situation that every player familiar with the series will likely land him in major trouble yet again. The guy just wants to live his life in peace on a tropical island raising his 7 adopted orphans (he’s in a secret competition with Angelina). What’s so wrong with that?
Well, this time around, Kiryu gets pulled… well, dragged back into the seedy underbelly of Japan’s criminal underworld with the disappearance of his daughter, Haruka, all while dealing with a newborn baby. As a father to toddler twins, I have mucho sympathy for this guy. While I’ve not had to go round for round with bad guys galore in the process of raising my boys, I feel like the double trouble more than accounts for that void in my life. Doesn’t it?
Back to the topic at hand, Kiryu comes back to Kamurocho, a city different than before he went to prison. Not the least of which is the new Little Asia district filled with Chinese Triad who are brazen and openly at odds with the Yakuza. As with any game in the series, looks can be deceiving, being more like a duck treading water (if you don’t know this metaphor, it’s basically a duck looks calm on the surface, but below water his feet are madly treading water to keep him afloat). Plotting, backstabbing, politics… it’s all in there, and while not the strongest narrative in the series, it’s still a great way for people such as myself to settle into the Yakuza storytelling style. I’ve heard it described as a sort of action-based Asian drama – having no experience with Asian dramas, I’ll have to trust this as accurate.
I really love games that has great character development and complex personalities that aren’t always black and white, and Yakuza 6 definitely delivers. Playing the grey line pretty well, it seems in-line with what I have read and seen of the previous games. Never shying away from hot, and often uncomfortable, topics such as forms of racial and social standing prejudices. But through it all, in the game that has been described as his swan song, Kiryu manages to remain moral and upstanding. Well, as moral and upstanding as he can be, I suppose.
Yakuza 6 has some notable changes to the combat mechanics from the previous entry. Kiryu will not adjust his body and attack based on his distanced from the target, and there’s a brand new powered up mode that gives you a little extra oomph. However, despite all of this the new system feels a little too complicated and burdensome. Fighting groups of enemies feels like it could be simpler, and a friend of mine said it felt more difficult than he remembers from Yakuza 0. My advice, utilize the things around you. You see that bicycle, well start swinging like it’s gonna save you. Because it will. Especially in the early stages of the game when you’re stats are pretty low and you’re still figuring out the skill trees.
Food played more into this game than I really expected. Eating is not just a good way to ensure you survive the fights you inevitably find yourself in, but it’s a big part of game progression as well. The realization of exactly how much time I spent searching out fights to get pocket change just to buy some potstickers was a little staggering.
I feel like saying that Yakuza 6 is the best looking game in the series to date may need to be left unsaid. I mean of course it’s going to look better. Developed on newer and better technology, most new games look better than previous iterations. (Hey… I said most.) The characters have a classic look to them, reminiscent of Virtua Fighter, despite the movement seeming clunky at times. I have not been to Japan myself, but am told that the Kamurocho captures the essence of similar places in the real world. Being a sandbox game, there are lots of things for you to discover (I’d recommend the Karaoke). Yakuza also definitely has a sense of humor as well, knowing just the right times to even poke fun at itself. The overdramatics of even the smallest part of a mission are quite charming and only make you love the game more.
Rumor has it this marks the end of Kiryu, but not necessarily the series. Some see this as great news, indicating that Yakuza could benefit from a fresh story and face, while others will be sad to see him go. But either way, you have a great swan song of a game for Kazuma Kiryu in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. The Dragon of the Dojima has one last story to share with you, and despite some minor flaws in the combat and story, Yakuza 6 is a strong entry into the series that manages to retain the franchise’s charisma, soul, and offbeat humor.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, as always, is exclusively available on the Playstation 4 today.
4 stars out of 5