Yakuza 6 review: The father, the son and the song of life

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life dangles an enticing mystery in front of the player, sending them deeper into the seedy underground to unravel its truth.

Title: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Platform: PS4
Release Date: April 17, 2018 (North America), December 8, 2016 (Japan)

“How do I always end up back in this damn city?”

It’s true; Kamurocho is like a seductress to Kazuma Kiryu in the way it beckons him to its well-lit streets. No matter how much the Dragon of Dojima tries to become just a regular civilian and provide for the kids at the Sunshine Orphanage in Yakuza 6, many in the city still know him as the fourth chairman of the Tojo Clan; a notorious Yakuza organization that runs the city.

He needs answers that cannot be uncovered by a common citizen. Haruka, a young woman he’s treated as a daughter since she was a child, is now in a coma after a tragic hit-and-run accident. Unbeknownst to Kiryu, in the four years since he was jailed for his acts in the previous game, Haruka birthed a son, Haruto. Kiryu makes it his mission to take care of the child while uncovering the mystery surrounding this accident, who the father is and why this all takes place in the middle of a triad war.

Yakuza 6 Onomichi

Sega

The open worlds of Kamurocho and Onomichi immerse you in two widely different city cultures, contrasting the bustling mayhem of a red light district with the down-to-earth tranquility of a small fishing town. Both cities are characters in their own right, showcasing two very different scales and styles of gangster corruption and power struggles.

The actions and events that take place in this game by several antagonists of varying in-universe importance are telegraphed and explained with extreme care, making you understand their motivations and their personalities beyond mustache-twirling villains.

Yakuza 6 is both complex and simple. Its story takes you down a proverbial rabbit hole, trying to find one loose end after another in hopes of making sense of senseless violence. It takes a very somber, respectful approach to its storytelling and lets the player figure it out as each piece of the jigsaw puzzle slides into place. It treats the player with respect despite its complicated story threads while making sure the cultural trappings of Japanese gangster life are honored with authenticity.

This series has created some of the most memorable characters, excellent stories, sublimely entertaining gameplay experiences and worlds with unparalleled depth and attention to detail. There is plenty to praise in Yakuza 6, including the introduction of the Hirose family and its lovable gang of ragtag gangsters. Nagumo, Yuta and the rest of the gang serve as honest foils against the bigger evils at play, carrying the meticulously intricate plot on the strength of its protagonist and antagonist characters.

Even as someone who’s never set foot in Japan, even I could see how much Yakuza 6 places great importance on understanding the culture and nuance of its criminal organizations. The actions and events that take place in this game by several antagonists of varying in-universe importance are telegraphed and explained with extreme care, making you understand their motivations and their personalities beyond mustache-twirling villains. Even villains are humans, too.

Yakuza 6 Beat Takeshi

Sega

What best aids the game’s storytelling is its excellent actors, including the star talent. Beat Takeshi shines in this game, as does Tatsuya Fujiwara. Both bring their A-game to their performances, capturing the heart of their characters well enough to transcend language barriers.

The side stories that shine are few and far between.

On a disappointing note, the side stories of Yakuza 6 are rather simple and mundane compared to those found in the series’ predecessors. This series is known for mixing its serious main quests with wacky, out-there side quests that satirically bite at pop culture. While there are certainly highlights in this game, including a pre-Logan-Paul scathing look at YouTube viral culture and becoming a town mascot, they are often solved with an eventual fight with a handful of rather weak thugs. The side stories that shine are few and far between.

Speaking of fighting, the combat and progression systems in Yakuza 6 have undergone yet another transformation. Instead of retaining the four different styles showcased in the two most recent releases in the franchise, Sega has opted to streamline combat under one system that expands under Extreme Heat Mode. Build up heat with a flourish of square (light hit) and triangle (heavy hit) inputs, unleashing a furious string of attacks with upgraded damage and additional combo options.

Yakuza 6 combat

Sega

It’s all part of the new way to upgrade your character: through EXP. Whether you’re fighting, playing minigames, eating at a restaurant or working out, you gain EXP in Strength, Speed, Endurance, Knowledge and Social bars. You can spend EXP gained in these traits to upgrade your character’s base stats, unlock stronger passive abilities, improve your combat abilities and unlock powerful heat moves.

Regrettably, this makes combat in Yakuza 6 even more repetitive than it has been in the most recent entries. The arcade brawling system that fans have come to know over decades is more streamlined than ever, taking its core gameplay loop a step backward in exchange for upgraded animations. Outside of boss battles where you can’t use chairs and benches to mow them down, there are a few repeatable actions that make combat a breeze throughout this game.

Of course, anything to expand the ridiculous ends of Kiryu’s helpful personality and to explore what he will do in his downtime is a welcomed treasure. Despite the lack of an arena in this game, there are tons of series standard, plus brand new, minigames and distractions to explore. Chief among them is the Clan Creator, an offline and online mixture of RTS and MOBA-lite combat management packed into a story-driven venture.

Yakuza 6 clan creator

Sega

At a certain point in the game, a group named JUSTIS threatens to take over the streets of Kamurocho and Onomichi. How Kiryu fends them off is to gather tough guys from both cities (through battles or helping them out in side stories) and assemble a clan of his own, complete with a hierarchy and strike team. These characters have stat values and can be leveled up through training and clan battles, treating it like a MOBA-like battle map overview strategy with an RPG-like progression system.

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It’s a complex, but welcomed large chunk of Yakuza 6, dialing up its difficulty in the later stages. While I still rather treasure the business and cabaret systems of past games, the ability to take out teams built by other players online and complete daily missions adds to the ongoing replayability of this game, one that can be enjoyed for dozens of hours at a time.

There are also large-scale minigames that follow, including working out at the RIZAP gym, speargun fishing, a gameplay-light baseball management system and interacting with others at the bar. These are on top of the series-standard minigames such as karaoke, mahjong, batting cages and more.

Yakuza 6 side stories

Sega

Yakuza 6 is the first title in the series solely dedicated to the PS4, giving Sega the opportunity to debut the brand new Dragon Engine for its gameplay. Meticulously recreating the world of Kamurocho from the ground up, the lively universe shimmers in its open-ended designs, lighting systems and visual fidelity. The city and its denizens have never looked better, and both Kamurocho and Onomichi are represented in stunning fashion.

…It kind of makes you wish the team would return to the PS2-era NPC graphics and stylings of past games just to maintain its 60 FPS gameplay…

The challenge for Sega remains in making sure the world Kiryu interacts with stays as gorgeous as it can be. The way the developers implemented the Dragon Engine forces it to render everything surrounding the player, including the inside of buildings (which no longer require separate loading screens and can be entered almost at any time). Unfortunately, it seems as though it has pushed the limits of the PS4’s hardware resources, as the base system struggles to maintain an even 30 FPS frame rate or keep an even frame pacing.

Most egregious is the constant screen-tearing present as you move the camera about in Yakuza 6. This becomes less of an issue with the PS4 Pro mode, but the majority of players should get used to jagged cuts throughout combat, natural movement through the cities or doing pretty much any minigame. In all honesty, it kind of makes you wish the team would return to the PS2-era NPC graphics and stylings of past games just to maintain its 60 FPS gameplay, which made combat much smoother and more responsive than what’s present in this game.

Yakuza 6 karaoke

Sega

Even though there are plenty of ways to understand and appreciate the Yakuza story within memories and flashbacks, as made evident by the development team, this is Kiryu’s swan song. Anyone can pick up and enjoy the hell out of this game, but I implore series newcomers to at least try playingYakuza 0 or Kiwami first. Plenty of characters throughout the series pop up to help you out, and Kiryu’s actions and comments are pieces of loving appreciation for past games.

I loved most of my time with Yakuza 6, but couldn’t help but feel it was a lot looser in its presentation and design than its predecessors. With the exception of its story and minigame components, previous titles have handled combat, computational performance and extravagant side stories in more enjoyable ways. The way this game handles its created worlds with care, respect and honor remain an exemplary trait worthy of recognition, however, making Yakuza 6: The Song of Life a fitting end to the tale of the Dragon of Dojima.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

SEGA

8

While Yakuza 6 takes a small step backward in its combat, sidequest content and presentation, its attention to detail with its engrossing, dynamic story paired with its near-infinite replayability makes this a thoroughly enjoyable, if only slightly disappointing, chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s life.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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