I usually know what to expect from a Yakuza game: action, drama, manliness, betrayals, big muscles and bromance. Like its predecessors, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life delivers all of that and serves a convincing, even if perfectible, final chapter for Kazuma Kiryu’s story.
Although it is recommended to have played the previous entries, the game is approachable even for someone unfamiliar with the Yakuza series. Summaries of the previous mainline titles are provided and can be read before starting the game. This last chapter also introduces many new characters so newcomers shouldn’t feel disorientated too long.
Action, drama, manliness, betrayals, big muscles and bromance.
The story takes place in 2016, Kiryu has (once again) spent some time in prison after the events of Yakuza 5. With his sentence served, he plans to live a normal life and put his past behind him. When he finally returns to Okinawa, he learns that someone he cared for disappeared during his absence, leaving some secret behind. If you watched the trailer of the game, you probably already figured out who that person is, but we’ll keep it spoiler-free here. Story-wise, the game has its great moments with tons of thrilling, shocking, and unbelievable revelations.
Many of Kiryu’s old friends don’t make it on screen and the ones who do only show up for a few minutes.
Kiryu’s new mates are great characters and it’s easy to become attached to them. On the downside, I expected the return of iconic characters of the series for this final chapter but I should have known better — trailers can not be trusted. Many of Kiryu’s old friends don’t make it on screen and the ones who do only show up for a few minutes, which is approximately the same amount of time as in the trailers.
Apart from that, it is worth mentioning that the game features many Japanese celebrities such as actors and even pro wrestlers. As you probably noticed, the man who once claimed he hated video games is also part of this great new cast and serves some of the most memorable moments of the game. Most of those characters fit perfectly well with Yakuza’s testosterone-filled world.
The game introduces transitionless battles for the first time and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Fights are another key component of Yakuza games. At the beginning, Kiryu only knows a few basic attacks but you unlock new fancy moves pretty quickly. Everything that you do lets you earn points that will go into 5 different categories: eating food or going to the karaoke will give “entertainment” points; whereas exercising at the gym will be a better option if you’re looking for “strength” points.
Every skill and ability will require a certain amount of points from different categories so you can upgrade Kiryu’s stats and abilities as you see fit. The game introduces transitionless battles for the first time and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s also really nice to be able to interact with many different elements of the environments.
Like in the previous games, Yakuza 6 features two main cities. Tokyo’s Kamurocho returns and is even more atmospheric than ever thanks to its incredible lights, colours, and drunk characters wandering the streets. The whole area feels very much alive and it’s a pleasure to go from one building to another without any loading screens. The second city introduced in this game also has a very pleasant atmosphere, although it provides fewer activities compared to Kamurocho.
Overall, you will still have a great deal of things to do. People in trouble will ask for your help as you walk past certain areas and these are often worth your while. Thanks to hilarious writing with various nods to real-life events and video game tropes, each sidequest feels unique and can easily distract you from the main story. There are tonnes of mini-games and plenty of activities (karaoke, darts, bowling, arcade games, etc.). I lost track of the time I spent playing Puyo Puyo.
As always, the game has its own major mini-game that could almost be its own game. In this real-time strategy game, you will have to fight an evil gang by relying on an army of devoted men who follow your orders. Yakuza 6 does provide tonnes of amazing content but, unfortunately, nothing significant compared to the previous games of the series.
Yakuza 6 also marks the return of its famous hostess clubs. You will try to get closer to a hostess by choosing the right topic of conversation, represented by cards. If you’re bad at it, you can just spend all your money on drinks or food, it sure is more costly but it works somehow.
The main characters look absolutely gorgeous in pre-rendered scenes.
I enjoyed this mini-game, but I finally gave up because of the weird feeling caused by the uncanny valley; facial animations can be very off-putting during non pre rendered scenes. The upper and lower part of the faces look disconnected and it becomes a real problem when the voice sounds excited over something while the character keeps a blank expression. For some reason, I thought this problem was less perceptible in Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 0. This may be my biggest issue with with the game, as it affected all the non-playable characters and lessened the appeal of going through all of the sidequests. Although this is a let-down, the main characters look absolutely gorgeous in pre-rendered scenes with a special mention for their skin and sweat effects that make them look fantastic.
Since Kiryu lives in modern times, he now uses a smartphone. Being able to take pictures or answer messages through expressive stickers is a nice addition to the gameplay. It also brings new timed challenges which aren’t as bad as they sound. Once you have received a challenge, you will have to accomplish something within a certain period of time, for instance finding the spot in Kamurocho where a mysterious man has placed a bomb that you need to defuse. The good news is that the timer will only start once the challenge has been accepted.
The areas look great and realistic, partly thanks to the recognizable products, shops and brands. Product placement (or “marketing co-operations”) have always been a thing in Yakuza, as it helps make the world feel more realistic. Only this time brands are literally all over the place. It started to become a bit too much for me when even the main menu reminded me that I too should buy myself a Sony smartphone if I wanted to look badass.
One thing that is enjoyable is the attention brought to the details, like how NPCs would react if you started taking a selfie with them. Below is one of those nice awkward moments I captured. The woman was awkwardly staring at Kiryu who was trying to smile for his selfie, while the NPC behind just casually started lighting his cigarette.
A note on the English localisation
As you’d expect from the same internal localisation team behind Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza 6 in English is a real treat through and through. Yakuza is a series that manages to earnestly straddle the line between the extremes of comedy and drama, and it all comes across wonderfully in this translation
Whether it’s laughing as Kiryu explores the world of online softcore erotic chatrooms for the first time, or battles a SIRI-esque phone AI; or being moved to tears as he struggles to keep his non-blood related family safe, reflecting upon the familial bonds that are stronger than blood and his own upbringing — it’s all here in a script that wonderfully sings with the hectic, bustling life of 2016 Japan.
Seamless battles and exploration are welcome changes in the series.
Overall, this sixth episode is a nice conclusion for Kiryu storywise, but I felt many things were lacking in gameplay compared to Yakuza 0: lifeless face expressions, less variety of combos and fighting styles, fewer mini-games, and so on. On the other hand, seamless battles and exploration are welcome changes in the series.
It might be the last time we see Kiryu, but maybe not the last Yakuza game, as hinted by a recent survey published by Sega, in which the publisher asked its audience how likely they would keep playing the series despite the lack of its emblematic protagonist. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the next few years.
Oh and did I mention how awesome the skin of the characters look ?