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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: April 17, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Yakuza 6: The Song of Life'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 17, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, finds out exactly how much people are willing to sacrifice for family - be those ties through blood or bond.

Buy Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

The Yakuza franchise is a bizarre blend of average life simulation and excessively manly brawling crime drama. The mix shouldn't work, but it does. Somehow, it consistently manages to make a game where playing baseball or singing karaoke is as engaging as getting into a dramatic fistfight with a crime lord or a literal tiger. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the latest game in the franchise and billed as the swan song for longtime series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu. As far as swan songs go, it's a good one, but it does leave something to be desired in some areas.

Yakuza 6 opens up mere moments after the ending of Yakuza 5. Legendary ex-yakuza Kazuma Kiryu was badly injured at the end of the previous game. His adoptive daughter Haruka also threw away her up-and-coming singing career to remain with her father. Unfortunately, Kiryu's actions have consequences, and he's forced to spend three years in jail to take the heat off his family. When he leaves prison, he finds the world has changed while he was on the inside. Haruka is in a coma and has left behind a newborn child for Kiryu to take care of. No sooner does Kiryu settle down to a normal life than the politics of the yakuza seek to draw him back in. Before long, Kiryu is forced back into the violent world of organized crime to protect his family and to discover the truth about what happened during his absence.

On its own, Yakuza 6 has a really engaging story and is a lot more down-to-earth than the other recent Yakuza games. The tale is sometimes ridiculous, but at heart, it's a story about Kiryu and his family, and somehow the franchise genuinely makes it work. Some of the most engaging and emotionally driven moments don't involve Kiryu's manly brawling against impossible odds but rather him taking care of an infant or dealing with his desire to have a normal life with his family. Those manly moments do happen, and the franchise's excessive qualities and great humor are still a part of the game. It's just that they're tempered by a surprisingly emotional climax to Kiryu's wild adventures.

The one thing that might be disappointing to Yakuza fans is that the game tones down its connection to the previous titles in the series. The focus is on Kiryu, and many iconic characters are reduced to glorified cameos, arrested offscreen, or otherwise set up to have a minimal impact on the overarching story. It isn't fair to say Yakuza 6 is stand-alone, but it builds too much on the relationships established in the previous games — right down to frequently using flashbacks. Those who grew to love the Yakuza characters (especially fan favorite and Yakuza 0 co-protagonist Goro Majima) may find themselves disappointed by this Kiryu-centric plot.

Not a lot has changed in the Yakuza 6 world, and the basic gameplay is pretty much the same. You're given direct control over Kiryu and can explore a small chunk of the detailed town as you wander from place to place and find missions, side-quests, and tons of random mooks to fight. The Yakuza gameplay has always been engaging, and Yakuza 6 is no different.

Yakuza 6 features a simplified version of the combat from the previous games. The biggest difference is that it's clearly geared toward large group battles rather than the smaller three-people fights from the previous titles. Kiryu's basic combat skills are pretty much the same. You have access to a variety of moves that you can use to beat up all sorts of bad guys. You can use special Heat actions to do damage to foes, and Kiryu can go into a powerful super mode where he uses everything around him as a weapon and brutalizes his foes with ease. Unlike the previous games in the series, the battles in Yakuza 6 are almost seamless.

I'm torn on the new combat system. On its own merits, it has a lot of improvements. The seamless combat transitions and general focus on large brawls is a good step forward for the franchise. However, I can't help but feel that it's somehow lacking. The recent games in the series had multiple characters, multiple fighting styles, or both, and here, it feels rather basic. There seem to be noticeably fewer Heat actions in Yakuza 6 than in the previous game, and that's disappointing since Heat actions are highlights of any Yakuza game.

As with the rest of the franchise, fighting is only part of what you'll do in Yakuza 6. A lot of time is dedicated to the minigames, side-quests and the like. Other activities include baseball, a bizarre dating minigame, hostess clubs, old arcade games, and spear fishing. There's nothing too surprising here for fan of the franchise, but if you're new to Yakuza, you might be bewildered by how much non-fighting stuff there is to do. You could spend hours just playing minigames or helping random folks on the street. It's important to do these side-quests, as you'll gain color-coded experience points that you can use to level up your character.

Perhaps the most noteworthy minigame is the Clan Creator. Kiryu gains the ability to create his own yakuza clan by scouting members and taking them into a 100-man battle. These battles play out as a sort of simplistic RTS, where you recruit various members and build the theoretical ultimate clan to take on your foes. You can take on a series of wrestlers-turned-yakuza-villains and also upload your created clan to face others online. The battles are simple and easy to pick up.

Clan Creator is fun for a bit, but it loses its luster pretty quickly. Once you figure out a winning strategy, it's easy to spam your strongest units and wreck everything. It's a fun minigame and is one of the highlights of the title, but it comes so close to being better that it's a little frustrating. Like a lot of Yakuza minigames, there's not much beneath the surface, but the concept is so engaging that I couldn't help but wish for more.

Yakuza 6 suffers largely from being the game that moves to a new engine. There's plenty of content, plenty to do, the game isn't lacking in anything, but coming on the heels of last year's amazing Yakuza 0, it feels a pared back in many ways. It has fewer minigames, less content, simpler combat, and in general, it's clear that the developers were getting their feet wet with the new engine. This makes it seem somewhat lacking in comparison to Yakuza 0 and might be disappointing to fans who joined the franchise at that point. It's a good stand-alone game and is better than Yakuza Kiwami, but it suffers in comparison to the other recent games in the franchise.

Yakuza 6 looks absolutely incredible. The new engine really shines, especially in the cut scenes. The character models and animations are impressive, and while the game may be lacking in the quantity of combat, it's hard to argue with the quality of the combat animations. The graphics are so good that the occasional dead-eyed animation or lackluster character model stands out more than it did in previous games. The difference between the high-end character models and low-end character models can be pretty staggering.

The voice acting, which is entirely in Japanese, is as excellent as ever. Kiryu's voice actor Takaya Kuroda does a fantastic job with the entire story. Able to seamlessly transition from world-weary aging yakuza to the manliest man in the world, he carries the story on his shoulders, and the rest of the cast does a fine job, too.

Yakuza 6 is a solid entry in the franchise. It's carried by a strong story and excellent visuals that make up for the fact that it's a fairly bare-bones Yakuza title that has less content than other titles in the series. Fans of the franchise should find a lot to like in Yakuza 6. It's not the best entry for a newcomer due to it being the end of Kiryu's story, but it's a solid and enjoyable game.

Score: 8.0/10

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