(Available on PlayStation 4. Played on a base PS4.)
The end of a legend
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the final chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s long running tale that has spread over seven games. I, like many others have played all of the previous numbered titles and have gotten to know Kiryu very well. His journey has had many ups and downs but like every journey, it must come to an end at some point.
As well as having a beloved protagonist, the Yakuza series is known for its engaging and well-written main narrative and having some of the most hilarious and outlandish side activities in gaming (vividly remembering Mr Libido from Yakuza 0). Last year we got Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the first game and Yakuza 0; a prequel set in the 1980’s which many people including myself think is one of the best entries in the series. Is Yakuza 6: The Song of Life better than Yakuza 0?
The big question is however, does Yakuza 6: The Song of Life give Kazuma Kiryu the send off he deserves?
Yakuza 6 takes place three years after the events of the fifth entry. Kiryu has served three years in jail and hopes that he can finally rest and look after his adoptive daughter Haruka and the kids at Morning Glory orphanage. He comes back to find out that Haruka left the orphanage three years ago and no one has heard from her. Kiryu soon finds out that Haruka has been involved in an accident and is in a coma and has a son. Determined to find out who hurt Haruka and who the father of the baby is, this sets the story of Yakuza 6 in motion.
The story spans two cities, Kamurocho and Onomichi Jingaicho and both are complete opposites. Kamurocho is a busy place filled to the brim of people, bright lights and technology. Onomichi is a quiet fishing village in Hiroshima, where people are more laid back. The contrast between the two is night and day and the addition of a new area to explore is most welcome.
The story for Yakuza 6 is brilliant and if you’ve played the previous entries, then the emotional scenes will hit you harder and you will get some of the references to previous games. The final scene will leave a lump in the throat of longtime fans. Even though this is the seventh instalment (I’m counting Yakuza 0 in this), Sega have done a good job of making Yakuza 6’s story easy to understand for newcomers. That said however, the story will have a much bigger impact if you have played the previous games. For newcomers curious of the stories of previous games, Sega have done written plot summaries of Yakuza 1 through 5 (weirdly 0 is omitted) which do a good job detailing Kiryu’s journey prior to Yakuza 6.
Is the story better than Yakuza 0? That’s subjective but in my opinion Yakuza 6’s tale is a bit weaker than 0’s. That’s not to say that Yakuza 6 isn’t good, far from it but Yakuza 0 set the standard so high that it’s hard to topple it.
The Yakuza games are action-adventure beat ’em ups with RPG elements added in to give the games more depth. Yakuza 6 has changed up the fighting side of things by replacing the four different fight styles found in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami in favour of just one fighting style. Each punch and kick feel as though they have weight behind them and they look painful. This is thanks to a new engine called the Dragon Engine, which helps in making animations look more realistic but more on the that later.
Heat has also been changed too, gone is the Heat Bar and in with Heat Orbs. A full Heat Orb will allow you to perform a Heat move which deal more damage than normal attacks and look more painful. However you could enter “Extreme Heat Mode” instead which makes Kiryu stronger and allows him to automatically pick up weapons and do unique Heat moves.
Whilst I do like the new combat system in Yakuza 6, I do miss the multiple fight styles from 0 and Kiwami. They kept the combat feeling fresh and each fight style had unique Heat move. You do see some of the same animations during fights frequently in Yakuza 6 but it isn’t a major gripe I have with the game.
The RPG elements have been simplified in Yakuza 6 and EXP is much easier to get. There are five categories of EXP and each of them are required to purchase new skills, Heat actions or upgrades to stats. EXP can be obtained via beating up thugs, playing mini games, eating food and completing story objectives and sub stories. It’s a better system than the one that was in Yakuza 0 as it isn’t as grindy, which is most welcome.
One area the Yakuza series is known for is its substories. They can range from serious and sombre to downright wacky and bizarre and provide a change in tone from the very serious main narrative. One substory in Yakuza 6 has Kiryu chasing a robot vacuum around Kamurocho after it sucked up an engagement ring. Yes, you did read that correctly. Another one had Kiryu meet up with a rather annoying “in your face” vlogger who is trying to make it big on the internet and this ends up annoying Kazuma but it has some hilarious moments.
The big change here is that every substory has voice acting which is fantastic. I don’t mind reading text in boxes, I’m used to it but having all of the side missions voiced is an evolution for the Yakuza series and one I hope gets carried forward in the future
The Yakuza series usually has a large side narrative that is effectively one massive side quest. In Yakuza 0 there was the property development and hostess club management which I thought were absolutely fantastic. Yakuza 6 has a similar thing going on, this time Kiryu runs his own clan. You’ll get introduced to the “Clan Battles” as you progress through the game. Kiryu then leads his own clan called the “Kiryu Clan” to take down a group called JUSTIS which is made up of wrestlers from New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Stars like Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano and Testuya Naito are part of JUSTIS and yes you fight them, which made me (I’m a wrestling fan) very happy.
The Clan Battles play like a lite RTS and is rather fun and addictive. I’m not particularly big on RTS games so me liking this was surprising. The Clan Battles aren’t that hard until you near the end of the side story and the tutorial provided is in-depth and greatly appreciated.
As you run your own clan, you can put who you want in it. You can put in people you fight on the street or you can have some familiar faces like Goro Majima and Taiga Saejima. There are several clan codes available for you to use which will add a new character to the Kiryu Clan. A simple google search will give you a list of clan codes.
Mini-games have always been a part of the Yakuza series and Yakuza 6 is no different as it brings in some new ones and unfortunately gets rid of some. Let’s start off with what has gone. Bowling has gone which makes me sad as I can no longer have a chance of winning an actual chicken. Pocket Car Racing has gone which is sad as it became one of my favourite mini-games in the series but its removal makes sense. A weird omission though is the coliseum, which has been in most Yakuza games so its absence is felt. Don’t worry though as some of the fan favourites are still playable such as karaoke, darts and the hostess mini-game.
Whilst some mini-games may have been taken out, the new ones that have been brought in are incredible fun. One of my favourite new mini-games is the “Spearfishing” which plays like an on-rails shooter set underwater. There may only be three levels of spearfishing but it is incredibly addictive and very replayable. Another new mini-game is the conversation mini-game that is available in a bar called Snack New Gaudi. Whilst a conversation mini-game may sound boring, it is actually rather fun. It stands out amongst all of the other mini-games in Yakuza 6, it’s more mature and sophisticated. There is also a baseball simulation mini-game which tasks Kiryu in building up a baseball team. I’ve never played baseball and I’m not that into sports but this mini-game had me jumping out of my seat whenever one of my team scored a home run. Yakuza 6 made me care about baseball.
As with previous entries some of Sega’s older games are playable in the Sega Arcades. There’s Super Hang-On, Outrun, Puyo Puyo and more. The biggest game in the arcade is also the most surprising, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. It may be only the arcade mode of VF5: Final Showdown but the fact they put that in Yakuza 6 as a mini-game and it plays wonderfully is absolutely fantastic. You can also play Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown with a friend too which is brilliant for Virtua Fighter fans.
Yakuza 6 is the first game that will run on the Dragon Engine, Sega’s shiny new engine for the Yakuza games. Graphical quality has been increased both in gameplay and during cutscenes. Lighting is much better as the neon lights of Kamurocho reflect vibrantly at night. Kiryu’s movement is also more realistic than ever before thanks to the new engine. All of this helps create a believable and engaging world and atmosphere. I like the new engine, it gives the Yakuza series the lick of paint it has need for a while.
The downside to all of this though is that Yakuza 6 runs at 30fps instead of 60fps like Yakuza 0 did. It’s a trade that I am willing to take as with time, the developers will get to know the engine better. I’m confident we will get a Yakuza game using the Dragon Engine at 60fps at some point however, Yakuza 6 is not that game.
Now I’ve been rather positive about Yakuza 6 but it isn’t perfect. The game runs at a smooth 30fps for the most part but it can dip during some of the more hectic fights. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, it is noticeable. I know Yakuza 6 uses a new engine but to come from Yakuza 0 which ran on the old engine at a solid 60fps it’s disappointing. I’ve put the frame rate issues down to the dev team still working out the new engine they have.
I’ve mentioned that there are some weird omissions when it comes to mini-games but some of the biggest removals are parts of Kamurocho. In Yakuza 6, the Hotel and Champion districts are cordoned off and you are unable to go to them. The inability to go to those areas is given a reason in the game but it feels as though the developers didn’t have enough time to finish them off. It’s such as shame as I would have liked to have seen those districts in the new engine.
Yakuza 6 is a fitting swansong for Kazuma Kiryu. It may not be as spectacular as Yakuza 0 but surpassing that is a tall order. The game isn’t perfect, it’s a got a few flaws but that reflects Kiryu himself. He may be a badass but he is flawed and those flaws are what make him so relatable.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life marks the end of an era. Over the course of the series, Kazuma Kiryu has become one of my favourite characters in gaming as with each game we have gotten know him better. Longtime fans have pretty much grew up alongside Kiryu, so with Yakuza 6 being the last new numbered instalment he is in, it feels as if I am waving goodbye to a good friend.
So long Kazuma Kiryu. As for the new protagonist Kasuga Ichiban, fella, you may end up being good but you’ve got some mighty big shoes fill.
Do you want to talk about Yakuza 6 or the Yakuza series in general? Why not talk to me on Twitter – @ThatGreenDude95
I bought my copy of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life at retail.