"Get over here!"

- Scorpion, Mortal Kombat

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

By Jeremy | 24 May 2018
The experiences that the Yakuza franchise, developed by Sega, offers to players are definitely unique. It's the only franchise on the market that offers a fantastic modern take on the “beat 'em up” genre. It makes me think of games from my youth like Streets of Rage only with modern features and wonderful graphics. Its street brawler-style combat mixed with its Japanese crime drama, not to mention its large assortment of sometimes silly, yet always fun, mini-games, just can't be found anywhere else. Its uniqueness is probably my favorite quality of the series and Yakuza 6 is absolutely full of everything that has made the series so fun and unique. At first, it may seem like Sega has taken away a few features and, to be frank, they did. Though I promise you this is a situation where less is more. Yakuza 6 is a very focused experience and, if you give it some time, I'm certain it will win you over. Whether you are new to the series or have been with Kiryu from the beginning, I promise you will find a lot to love in this title.

A Small Town Mystery

The story of Yakuza 6 finds long-term series' protagonist Kazuma Kiryu getting out of a three-year stint in prison and, suddenly, caring for an infant due to an accident involving his adopted daughter, longtime Yakuza mainstay, Haruka. The set up pretty much mirrors the events of the very first Yakuza game when Kiryu found himself suddenly caring for Haruka who was a small child at the time. This story has been billed as Kiryu's grand finale within the series. There will definitely be more Yakuza games, but the Dragon of Dojima isn't going to be the star anymore. As such, The Song of Life completely focuses on Kiryu during for the entirety of the game. Don't expect to be switching between multiple characters this time around.

The game's narrative is very strong and full of heartwarming (and gut-wrenching) moments, plenty of suspense and even more insane, over the top action. It is a mystery at its core and one that I could never predict. It is extremely layered and will keep you guessing all the way until the end of the credits. I feel the need to point out that the story will pull you away from any actual gameplay for extended periods of time very often. The story is so enjoyable and entertaining that this hasn't bothered me during 30+ hours with the title so far. Also, all of the dialogue in Yakuza 6 (and the rest of the series) is in Japanese so be ready to read a lot of subtitles. I'm personally the type of person that hates being forced to read subtitles, but I wouldn't have Yakuza any other way. The performances of the Japanese actors are beyond stellar and really add to the authentic feel of the franchise. I may not understand the language but the performances convey such a full range of emotions that it has to be seen and heard to be believed. Quite a lot of the major Yakuza cast gets sidelined in this release for a new group of low on the ladder Yakuza, who I hated at first but I quickly grew to love them and I hope to see some of them in future titles.
Every character was wonderful by the end of the show.

Mini Games Galore

When you aren't watching the many beautifully rendered and expertly voiced cutscenes, you will find that Yakuza 6's playground offers you plenty of things to do. The overall mini-game count is lower than in past entries, but what is available is still enough to keep you busy for quite a long time. Old favorites, such as karaoke and mahjong, return alongside a slew of new additions, such as hitting the gym, saving stray cats for the cute as can be cat café, and a very extensive mini-game called The Clan Creator. I'll have more on that in just a moment.

Games in the Yakuza franchise typically have a few mini-games that are a bit risqué and mature in nature and Yakuza 6 continues the trend. Cabaret clubs make a return with six hostesses for you to win over and there is also the brand new chat cafés. The chat cafés have you sit at a computer and chat with a real-life adult video model with the goal being to see a PG13, live-action video of them removing a few articles of clothing. This mini-game proved to be hilarious due to the chat comments from the “viewers”. I laughed out loud quite a bit during my time at the cafe. Some gamers are bound to say this mini-game objectifies women and they would be right, but Sega has always set out to deliver an authentic Tokyo experience and this really is a thing over there. I promise you it's more humorous than anything else. If you don't like it, the game never forces it upon you, so feel free to ignore it entirely if it's not your thing. I think it's worth just a bit of everyone's time for a good laugh.

The most extensive of the mini-games is the new clan creator mode which sees Kiryu place himself in the middle of a war between youth gangs. You take control of one of these gangs and precede to scout for new members, then organize the overall hierarchy of the gang. Battles in this mode play out like a simple, real-time strategy game. Kiryu plays as a type of overseer during this mode. He doesn't actually take part in the fighting. As Kiryu, you direct your team in battle and help them achieve a victory. There is a lot to this mini-game, but its mechanics are simple and grow repetitive quickly. It's a shame that in practice it's not very gripping because with its impressive set of online features, such as daily missions, ranked ladders, and competitions with other players, it sounds like a blast. It's not that the mode isn't fun. I did enjoy it, but it was very short-lived.

I can't talk about the famous Yakuza mini-games without mentioning those that are available at the Sega arcade buildings. Old favorites, such as Outrun and Super Hang-On, are available as well as full online-enabled versions of Virtual Fighter 5: Final Showdown and Puyo Puyo. I was extremely impressed to find a fully featured online enabled fighter, that's really good, included here for no extra charge. Go Sega!

Off To Hiroshima

All of the game's action plays out across two open world maps in The Song of Life. The now iconic Kamurocho returns, along with a quiet rural setting in Onomichi, Hiroshima. If you're a longtime Yakuza fan, I'm sure you'll notice that the Kamurocho map is slightly smaller this time around. I never really noticed after the initial hours of the game. I was too busy enjoying everything there is to do.

The small town of Onomichi is everything that Kamurocho isn't. Kamurocho is filled to the brim with people. Colorful neon signs are plastered all over every building as far as the eye can see and, to be honest, the place just feels a bit dirty. In complete contrast, Onomichi contains smaller buildings, fewer people, and it just has a more wholesome feel to it. Roughly half the game takes place in Onomichi, so expect to see a lot of this quaint rural town. Almost all the new cast members originate from this location as well.

Both settings look absolutely stunning thanks to the new Dragon Engine that Sega used to build the game. You will feel like you are actually in Japan and the new, optional, first-person camera perspective will give you a good reason to walk around and take in the sights. Kiryu can even stop to take selfies with the people of the community and the results can be hilarious.

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

I've gone on now for an awfully long time without mentioning Yakuza 6's most important mechanic; the actual fighting. Like the rest of the game, the fighting has been dialed down and even simplified a bit. The multiple fighting styles of the most recent titles have been replaced with a modified version of Kiryu's brawler style. I have a feeling Sega did this to simplify things for newcomers, but I feel it was unnecessary. While I do miss the old setup, the new version is still just as furious and brutal as before. You'll face off against the biggest mobs in the series' history and it will still be fun thousands of enemies later. Helping to keep things fresh and to improve the flow of combat, Sega has taken out the loading screens for battles. I can't overstate how much this improves the overall flow of the game. You can now run into enemy mobs freely, without interruption, or you can high tail it out of there and to your next destination. You can also now take the fight into any accessible indoor area. There are no load screens for those either now. Battles often spill into local convenience stores where products will literally be flying off the shelves. I loved these wonderful unscripted spectacles. Just don't expect to be served by the employees if it happens.

The Quirky Sub-stories Return

Yakuza's usual array of quirky sub-stories makes a return. There aren't as many of them as usual, but the games funniest moments stemmed from these optional endeavors. Seeing Kiryu struggling to come to grips with cellphones, drones, automated vacuum cleaners, and YouTubers had me bent over with laughter at times. There are also some very sweet, loving, and joyous stories littered throughout. The themes of parenthood and family seem to permeate every facet of the game. The main story and the optional quests are full of these themes. For a game that is filled to the brim with violence, it also has many contemplative, tranquil, and endearing moments.

A Case of Less Is More

The final new feature of Yakuza 6 that I would like to elaborate on is the new experience system. You now earn experience for pretty much everything you do. Every mini-game you play and even every meal you eat rewards you with a bit of experience. In the past, meals were only good if you needed to top off your health. Now you'll have a good reason to stop into all the exquisitely detailed eateries that line the streets. There is a new hunger meter in place that governs how often you can make use of your feature so make sure not to overeat!

I know it seems like Sega removed a lot from the franchise in Yakuza 6, but, outside of the switchable fighting styles, I never missed a thing. The entire experience is extremely polished and well put together. As I stated earlier, this is a very focused Yakuza experience. The story is entertaining and emotionally gripping. The combat is fast, frantic, over the top, and, most of all, fun. The amount of side content will have you busy for hours and, most importantly, the story serves as the perfect finale to the saga of The Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu. Don't let the number six in the title scare you away. Yakuza 6 is a game that can be enjoyed by newcomers and series veterans alike.

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The Good

Tons of content.
Strong story.
Fun mini-games.
Great combat.

The Bad

No switchable fighting styles.
Clan creator isn't as fun as it is ambitious.


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