Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

If Yakuza 6 (available April 17 on PS4) is your first trip to Kiryu Kazuma’s world, fear not. As an option on the title screen, the game can fill you in with rundowns of the previous five entries with a series of cut scenes taken from previous installments. These cinemas not only get you well up to speed, they’ll very likely make you want to track down the older games at some point (well, you’ll also need a PS3 for three or four of the older titles). As for this latest installment, it’s brilliant, bittersweet and worth the time investment for plenty of reasons.

Kiryu’s journey takes him from Okinawa back to his old stomping (and kicking and punching) ground of Kamurocho with an eventual journey to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima. Par for the course, the many plot twists and turns he’ll face range from melodramatic to absurd, but the main plot is quite serious stuff. After his former pop idol daughter Haruka goes missing, Kiryu tracks her to Kamurocho only to discover she’s been struck and badly injured by a car. He also finds out he’s a grandfather as Haruka was hit while protecting her son who Kiryu knew nothing about until he has to take care of him. With all this happening, the poor guy has to deal with a Yakuza and Triad gang war where both sides also want him taken out and a few other matters you’ll want to check out.

As with the other games in the series, it’s up to you as to where to take Kiryu on his journey once the assorted story scenes play out. While it’s entirely possible to go from chapter to chapter in a somewhat linear fashion, the open maps of Kamurocho and Onomichi Jingaicho allow you to run into all sorts of distractions. Getting into fights with strolling gangs nets you cash and experience, while taking on side missions allows for some great and often pretty amusing diversions. The cool thing about these side missions is you’ll often literally stumble across someone who needs Kiryu’s help and you’ll almost always find yourself wanting to help out.

In one early mission, you’re tasked with trying out a new phone AI that’s kind of a more psychotic version of Siri or Cortana crossed with HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In another, a stranger offers to show Kiryu the world of chatroom interaction at a public internet spot. There are cats to collect for a kitty cafe, Hostess dating is back (of course), and there are also enough other activities to keep you busy for too many hours. Classic to a few recent Sega arcade games, karaoke, darts, a load of traditional Japanese games and much more. If you really want to go deep, there’s even a great Clan Creator where you can assemble a gang and take on six other AI-controlled clans to become the top dog. My own experience with this mode had me tapping out at the 4th clan because I wanted to get through the main story and get this review up, but I’ll be back to that craziness at some point soon.

That said, the Kamurocho map initially seems smaller than previous installments, but that’s thanks to some areas being closed off (there’s a lot of construction going on) with the trade-off being more building interiors can be accessed as well as what seems to be some new shortcuts. As I only have a stock PS4 slim here, I did notice the otherwise beautiful visuals suffer a bit from screen tearing and what seems to be a lower frame rate. Still, it’s the best-looking game in the series to date, particularly when you stop and really look at things closely.

Combat here has been streamlined and simplified with a nifty XP-based skills system that allows you to spend points where and when you want outside of combat if you have enough to spread around. If you want the game to be harder, you can sit on accrued points and keep your base stats for a while. But it’s too tempting not to want to unlock new moves and skills because it’s hilarious to learn some battle-ending moves that can take out multiple foes with a few button presses. While the different styles are missed, the game certainly isn’t boring what with Kiryu being able to mop up the floor with most low-level baddies. Some of the bosses, on the other hand… they’ll take a bit of work if you’re unprepared.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll just leave it at what’s here because you’ll want to drop the full price for this one and play for yourselves. I was going to post this closer to the release date, but a friend pointed out that so many reviews have been posted that it seems Sega’s not minding the potential boost in sales this will get from early peeks. In other words, Yakuza 6 is going to very likely be anther hit and with Yakuza Kiwami 2 (the full-on remake of the long out-of-print Yakuza 2) headed to the US in August (Yes!), it looks as if we really haven’t seen the last of Kiryu Kazuma in the game space.

Hmmm, I wonder if the Yakuza team can revive the offbeat and up until now, Japanese only game Rent-A-Hero using that Dragon Engine? I still have the review disc I received of the Xbox version in the library here, but it would be awesome to see it get a modern update for current consoles. But hey, I know that’s a long shot (but you have to dream big, I say).

Score: A- (90%)

-GW

Review code provided by the publisher

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