Fond farewell, Kiryu
After a wild 12-year run, SEGA is finally saying goodbye to Kazuma Kiryu in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on PS4. For diehard fans of Yakuza, this ex-mafia-member-turned-civilian has taken on a legendary status, similar to mainstream gaming icons like Solid Snake or Lara Croft. This latest chapter in the Yakuza series wraps up his saga while at the same time, perhaps, hinting at more to come.
I say that because Yakuza 6 introduces us to the Dragon Engine, a from-the-ground-up, next-generation game engine. The results are stunning: this is by far the best-looking game in the series and comes with many others benefits. Surely SEGA wouldn’t invest such time and effort to produce just a single Yakuza game, would they? I sure hope not considering how impressive Yakuza 6 is, particularly from a technical perspective, but also a narrative one too.
The growing popularity of Yakuza
The arrival of Yakuza 6 comes at an opportune time considering the surging interest in the series as of late. That’s a direct result of SEGA’s amazing work revitalizing its property following last year’s well-received Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami. Both of those games provide a thorough introduction to Kiryu’s saga, and I highly recommend checking them out. It is possible to jump straight to Yakuza 6 though, considering how accessible it is.
In fact, the game opens with a very lengthy sequence of cinematics that recap events of the previous entry. Most importantly you’ll learn that Kiryu is a retired yakuza clan member, and is nearly finished serving a 3-year prison sentence. To further educate you on past games there are summaries you can read, and interstitial messages during loading screens offer even more insights. Taken as a whole, these easy-to-digest refreshers make it simple to dive into Yakuza 6 no matter how familiar you are with the series.
If there’s one thing Yakuza games have always excelled at, it’s telling incredibly rich stories. That tradition continues in Yakuza 6, which weaves a tale rife with betrayal, fisticuffs, and mafia political jockeying. It also, in a big departure from previous games, places huge emphasis on family, and the tender moments that go along with it.
You see this focus on family right from the game’s opening moments. Following Kiryu’s release from jail, the first place he goes is the Okinawa orphanage to find his adopted daughter, Haruka. It turns out she’s gone missing, and clues point to her travelling back to Kamurocho, the infamous red light district of Shinjuku. Once there, Kiryu discovers his daughter is in a coma, and she left behind a baby boy named Haruto.
To discover how all this happened, Kiryu heads to Onomichi in the Hiroshima prefecture, a place Haruka may have spent time in. It’s also, Kiryu suspects, where he’ll find the father of baby Haruto.
Right from the top, SEGA’s new Dragon game engine puts its graphical prowess on display. Tokyo looks stunning—much nicer than previous games—with exquisite detail seen on every street block. Crisp, neon lights, refined building textures, and excellent use of shadows accentuate every square inch. I also discovered that numerous shops actually exist in real life, turning this game into essentially a virtual tour of Japan.
Onomichi, too, is eye-catching in its own right. It swaps out the mesmerizing sights and sounds of Tokyo for a rural, fishing town setting. The cool, calm waters and older architecture creates a more laid-back vibe, which is something new for this series. As well, the yakuza present here are much lower in the hierarchy than we’re used to, again reinforcing the more relaxed setting. Onomichi is a place where everyone knows each other by name, and social connections are tight.
Another huge improvement, courtesy of the Dragon engine, are the game’s cinematics. Character details are much improved, so much so that Yakuza 6 is easily a showcase title for graphics on PS4. Kiryu in particular looks excellent, with his chiseled physique, copious tattoos, and constant poker face appearing especially lifelike. The game also stars several famous Japanese actors, including Beat Takeshi and Tatsuya Fujiwara from Battle Royale fame. Both them are accurately represented in-game, again showcasing the power of SEGA’s new engine.
Speaking of the cutscenes, as fans of Yakuza will know, this series prides itself on lengthy story moments. Cutscenes often last five minutes or more, with some critical scenes in the 15-20 minute range. While it might sound excessive, the writing is generally very good, and a lot of scenes involve intense, entertaining fistfights. In an odd contrast, Yakuza 6 (and the series in general) also peppers in highly comedic moments that are among the funniest in all of gaming. Needless to say, these lengthy cutscenes are very fun to watch.
Another facet of the game that’s been completely redone is the core combat mechanics. Battles have a slower and more deliberate pacing that feels much more accessible overall. However, it does come with a cost as the simpler approach leads to repetition. You punch (a lot), occasionally kick, and can grab then twirl around and toss an enemy. The ability to pick up nearby objects, such as a mountain bike or traffic cone, does make it return though.
While your combat options are more limited, you’re now able to move brawls into local shops. Beat up thugs inside your favourite corner store, check. Take some hooligans into a casual ramen shop, check. Beat up rival yakuza members inside a Sega arcade, check. There’s no loading at all when you enter, which is another huge technical achievement advancing this franchise forward. There are also numerous context-sensitive attacks you can perform, like shoving a menacing man’s head inside a convenience store microwave. Ouch.
Hilarious side missions
I would be remiss without mentioning the amusing side quests you can opt to participate in. These include singing karaoke, hitting the batting cages, visiting hostess bars, or working out. Impressively, there are also several Sega arcade featuring classics like Out Run, Space Harrier, and Puyo Puyo. And yes, the arcade also has a full version of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown that you can play at any time. Talk about value for your money.
There are also a slew of weird, yet wonderful side quests sure to make you laugh. During one mission I had to rescue a selfie-stick YouTuber who was attempting increasingly dangerous stunts. In another, I had to don a funny character costume and answer interview questions from adoring kids. You also have a ‘Troublr’ app installed on your phone where folks who’ve got themselves into precarious situations can ping you for a rescue. With dozens of sides activities and quests to complete, don’t be surprised if you find yourself veering off the main path for hours of extra content.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life offers a fitting conclusion to Kiryu’s legendary story. With its all-new game engine, this is the most graphically impressive entry too. Gameplay take a small step back, but I do appreciate the greater accessibility. You’ll get at least 25 hours out of the main story, and with countless side quests (including full games for free) there’s tremendous replay value here. If you enjoy story-driven game you won’t want to miss this one.
+ Graphics are best in franchise history
+ A superb, involved story
+ Tons of fun side missions
+ Loaded with personality
– Combat offense is limited
– Onomichi could use more activities
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5