When it comes to video game franchises, there are few that are steeped in as much history and sentimentality as Yakuza. While most franchises change up the characters and story for each new installment, Yakuza has always focused on the same man: Kazuma Kiryu. This is a man that we’ve been with right from the start, throughout his story and development. Steeped in rich Yakuza and Japanese culture, Yakuza 6 brings Kiryu’s story to a head, taking us on one last ride before we reach the ultimate conclusion for our favourite Japanese gangster.
If you’ve never played a Yakuza game, then you bloody well should! But, given that we’re talking about a franchise that’s been around since the days of the PS2, that’s easier said than done; as such, players can access summaries of what has happened in each game before this one from the start menu, filling in the blanks and lending some much needed context to what is about to unfold.
Here’s an word of warning: when you first get in to Yakuza 6, you’ll get a short moment of gameplay before a series of cutscenes to set up the story for the game. These cutscenes will take up quite a bit of time, but they aren’t a chore. Rather, they kick off the final tale of a reformed gangster who has spend a few years in prison for the benefit of those he loves in the hope that, upon his return to society, a sense of normality will return to life. Of course, if that were the case, the game would end within an hour. Instead Kiryu is once again forced to return to Kamurocho and the Yakuza underworld that is still prevalent. The point is, despite the lengthy exposition, you definitely need to pay attention.
Yakuza 6 is an open world adventure, and the city of Kamurocho is full of life no matter what the hour. Night time is where all the real fun begins, and it’s when the city really comes to life: drinks are flowing, music is pumping from clubs, and henchman are walking the streets ready to cause all sorts of nefarious mischief. What does this mean for Kiryu? I think you know the answer to that!
Despite a return to the classic brawling we’ve come to expect from a Yakuza game, Kiryu ain’t no spring chicken anymore, and the years of fighting have clearly taken a toll. There is more of a need for timing when engaging in fights, and blocking is a hell of a lot more important this time around. In the heat of the fight, landing blows successfully will build up heat that will allow Kiryu to unleash his inner Cher and “turn back time and find a way” to unleash hell fury upon his foes, and take them to town with a series of brutally satisfying finishing moves.
When you aren’t fighting, the city is your oyster. Yakuza 6 is all about experiencing life as Kiryu, so you can go for a feed or a drink in the restaurants and bars, play some classic Sega games in arcades, and even discover Kiryu’s discomfort with all modern technology that seems to have passed him by. All of these extras are just distractions from the end game though, and can easily be left alone as they don’t add a great deal to the overall story, acting more as a distraction from the man’s mission than a complement to it.
Family is important to Kiryu; he’s yearned for the simple family life for years, and tried to leave the Yakuza culture behind. The story is still violent and full of drama, but it’s also a slower-paced character piece, taking its time to tell its story, and it enjoys the benefits of taking this approach. Every aspect is carefully thought out, the only downside being the extensive cutscenes I mentioned; they really can be very long, and it feels like you’re not playing a game so much as watching a movie. For the impatient among us, this will be too much, but this is Kiryu’s swansong and every one of those cutscenes serve to advance the story forward. Again, to fully enjoy the Yakuza experience, you need to pay attention.
Graphically Yakuza 6 is a masterpiece. Kamurocho is as you would expect from a Japanese city; bright and full of life, it explodes into action with bright neons and excellent textures that truly make the metropolis vibrant and believable.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the sort of game that doesn’t come around too often these days. It takes its time to tell you Kiryu’s tale, one that seasoned Yakuza players will find bittersweet since this is the last hurrah for Kiryu. But when it’s a character that we’ve cared about for so long, it doesn’t need rushing and boy is it enjoyable. This is a special type of game that prides itself on its excellent storytelling, fantastic cast, and beautiful looks to being an end to a beloved character’s saga.
Ben reviewed Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on PS4 from code provided by the distributor.