Yakuza 6 The Song of Life Review An Unforgettable Sendoff
Publisher: SEGA USA
Platform:PlayStation 4, Played on PlayStation 4 Pro
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date April 17th
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the seventh main entry in SEGA’s open world beat ‘em up series. Yakuza 6 has a lot to live up to; not only is it the seventh mainline entry, it acts as the swan song for serious protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. The game is also the first to use SEGA’s new high fidelity graphic engine The Dragon Engine. So with all of this riding on the games back, how does the game do? Does it live up to the expectations of a Yakuza game or does it buckle under all the pressure?
As mentioned Yakuza 6 is Kazuma Kiryu’s final story. In this entry you learn that your adoptive daughter Haruka was in a car accident leaving her in a coma. You come to find out she did this to protect her newborn son Haruto from any danger. On Top of that, the Tojo Clan is in the midst of a war with the Chinese triad, who may be connected to Haruka’s accident. Now Kazuma Kiryu must go to the sleepy town of Onomichi in Hiroshima to discover more on what happened to Haruka and the roots behind the troubles of the Tojo Clan.
The story of Yakuza 6 is really something else. This may be the first Yakuza game in awhile where the game’s story had me on the edge of my seat the entire time craving to know more of what in the world is happening. Not only that, but the new cast of characters in the Onomichi Yakuza are probably some of my favorite additions to the series. The chemistry that they have together is just amazing and feels more like an actual family of brothers as opposed to a criminal organization.
Yakuza 6’s story plays out similar to other games, you will have to go around Kamurocho and Onomichi to various points to progress the story. Along the way you will inevitably have to beat up waves of thugs who are foolish enough to get in your way. The set pieces in this game are honestly very well detailed and fun to explore as you progress through. Sometimes going through these scenes and buildings can add an entire new atmosphere to the game where it makes me feel like I am in a separate game altogether. I won’t show gameplay of this as I don’t want to spoil it, but there is a level where I feel like I went from Yakuza right into a Metal Gear Solid game. These scene changes really add a whole new level of depth to the story fights and makes them a lot more fun.
One thing I will say about the story is that it may leave long time fans disappointed. Unlike Yakuza 4, 5, and 0, this game focuses solely on Kazuma Kiryu and Haruka and their time with the Onomichi Yakuza. Fans expecting to see series regulars such as Majima Goro, Daigo Dojima, and Taiga Saejima may be a bit disappointed. While they are part of the game’s overall plot, they are more or less absent for 98% of the game, with the only returning characters being Akiyama and Date. I understand why they went this way, the other characters mentioned have larger than life personalities and would honestly take away from the story. Remember, this is Kiryu’s swan song, and SEGA wanted this to focus on him. We can only hope this means that while this is the end of Kiryu’s story, it won’t be the end of the Kamurocho gang for future installments.
All in all, Yakuza 6’s story is fantastic, the Dragon Engine really does an excellent job of adding a new breath of life into the series with its cinematics. I was deeply invested in the story from start to end, and this was one of the first Yakuza games where no amount of side content was stopping me from the story.
As mentioned earlier, Yakuza 6 is SEGA’s debut of their brand new engine that boasts much better graphics, lighting, and a brand new physics engine complete with ragdoll effects. I honestly love the new engine that this game uses. It manages to create some of the most stunning and beautiful sceneries that I have seen in a video game. Kamurocho never felt so full of life until recently, and Onomichi is a gorgeous coastal town to explore. I would often find myself exploring the two towns in the games first person mode to fully take in all of the sites of the two cities. This is all to show how immersive Yakuza 6 really is, the game is littered with little details, from texting random people to drinking out of a vending machine. The game sucks you right in.
What also helps drive home the immersion in this game is the soundtrack. While Yakuza 6 may not have the best soundtrack in the series, it certainly has a lot of memorable tracks played throughout. A lot of the boss themes in this game have become as memorable as “Twin Dragons” and “Turning Point” to me, and they fit the characters they accompany very well. From the most up beat to the high tension or the somber moments, the game has a track that is ready for each situation.
The Dragon Engine also helps this game with cutscenes, as well. In the pre-rendered cutscenes the animations are full of life and emotion. At times, I felt like I was watching a movie when playing this game. That is how immersive the visuals are. They really draw you in and drive the point home. It’s a shame that not all of the scenes are done this way. Like all Yakuza games, this game also tells stories within game cutscenes, and the jump from pre-rendered to in game is noticeable, but thanks to the cinematography and the full voice acting, the in-game scenes almost manage to capture the same magic of the pre-rendered ones. If these scenes didn’t have the X button prompt to let me know I can skip dialogue I would think some of them were still pre-rendered.
Overall, the presentation of Yakuza 6 is top notch in the visual department, but sadly in the technical department, it begins to show some cracks. Yakuza 6 targets thirty frames per second, and in most cases it doesn’t have a problem hitting it, but when a lot of enemies are on screen and the physics engine is in full effect you will see noticeable frame rate dips. You will also see these dips when exploring the more heavily populated areas of Kamurocho as well. This is the biggest shortcoming of the game. However, since this game is the first game to use this engine, this is expected. Hopefully, in future games it will be much more optimized to have a more stable frame rate.
Yakuza 6 has a revamped combat system that works around the new physics engine, and is a huge departure for those who are coming in from Yakuza 0 or Kiwami. Each punch and kick you perform has quite the bit of force behind it that will send your foes flying away from you. It took me a bit to adjust to the new combat style and speed, but once I got the hang of it I had a blast playing with it. Enemies in this game are also quite good at guarding your attacks, so you won’t always be able to get away with just spamming heavy punches and hoping for the best.
A new addition to this game is the inclusion of Extreme Heat. Similar to how heat moves work in previous games, you build up your heat meter, and when the time is right you go into a burst type mode. In this Extreme Heat, all of Kiryu’s abilities are amplified and you can perform some gnarly heat actions. However, with Extreme Heat there is a bit of a trade off, and that is in terms of traditional heat moves. While Yakuza 6 does have standard heat moves for you to perform outside of Extreme Heat, this game easily has the least amount of heat moves to perform in the series since the original Yakuza. Most of the regular heat moves revolve around environmental takedowns or takedown with weapons you find lying around. That said, due to the high visual fidelity, and new physics engine, the few heat moves that are in this game are oh so satisfying to watch in action. I would often find myself always trying to get into Extreme Heat to do as many over the top finishers as I could.
The final thing on the combat side I wanted to talk about was the new experience system. Yakuza 6 moves away from the combat trees prevalent in previous games, and instead focuses on grinding for tokens in many different stats. Through this you unlock the ability to raise your stats, unlock new battle abilities, Heat moves, or overall skills for side content. I honestly like this new system a lot more than the old trees, because upgrading your abilities is a lot more streamlined. If you want to focus on maxing out your HP without having to unlock several prerequisites to do so, then have at it, or if there is a move you really want to learn, it becomes a lot easier to learn said move. The best part about grinding is that just about everything gives you experience tokens. From eating at restaurants, to doing sub stories, to having a night out on the town, you will find yourself stockpiling plenty of these tokens. Because of this, grinding never became much of an issue when playing through the game!
Like any Yakuza game, you will find yourself of no shortage of side content to do. You have the usual date nights with hostesses, mahjong parlors, SEGA arcades, and the works to keep you distracted. In this entry you get full access to Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter V, complete with multiplayer. You also have 52 substories of peoples’ troubles around Kamurocho and Onomichi to solve. Ontop of all that, new to the game is you can run a cat cafe, manage a baseball team, and form the Kiryu Clan in the new tower defense campaign. There’s a lot to cover in this game in terms of side content, which could arguably be turned into a game in of its own, so I’ll focus on the new stuff.
New to Yakuza 6 is the clean creator minigame. In this game mode you form the Kiryu Clan in order to take down JUSTIS, an up and coming gang in Kamurocho. Here your job is to act as the group’s leader and organize missions and recruit new units. This game is really a tower defense mini game, but it’s honestly a fun one. Each mission you are given an objective and you must complete it within the time limit to win. Not only is doing this a good source of yen, but it is honestly a fun distraction with it’s own fun side campaign that can be completed in a few hours. This new mode also touts an online option where you can raid other player’s clans, but at the time of the review I was unable to test this feature. The Clan Creator however is a welcome distraction that I put up there with Yakuza 0’s cabaret club manager.
Next I want to touch on the substories here. In Yakuza 6, there are 52 to complete, each one as creative as the next. While some of them boil down to beating up random thugs, a lot of them have some pretty nice storytelling and fleshed out characters. Honestly, Yakuza 6 has some of the best sub stories in the whole series in my opinion, and it’s mostly in thanks to the fact that this game is fully voiced and the graphical prowess of The Dragon Engine. Thank to the engine, each substory give the same feel and quality of that of a main story cutscene. Another cool thing is that a lot of the substories make connections to a lot of earlier Yakuza games, allowing Kiryu to find a way to tie up a few loose ends.
Along with the substories there is a new mechanic known as the Troublr system, in previous Yakuza games you would often run into random people being mugged and you had the choice of saving them or moving on. In this game that has been replaced with the Troublr app. You will randomly get a notification that someone in town is in danger and it is up to you to take on the mission or not. This can range from taking down a group of graverobbers, helping a guy get toilet paper, or disarming a bomb. What makes this even cooler is that it helps add a lot to Yakuza 6’s already immersive world building as you interact with the people of Kamurocho and Onomichi through this app.
To call Yakuza 6: The Song of Life a mixed bag would honestly be the most unfair thing to do with this game. Yakuza 6 tries its best to change a lot of series conventions and tries to bring the series into a new era. While the story may be a bit of a letdown to some fans, the overall package that is Yakuza 6 is an amazing time. Yakuza 6 is easily the most immersive video game I have ever played, and is just a lot of fun. The amount of times I couldn’t help but smile while playing this game is a testament to the fact of how much I enjoyed myself. While the game does has its flaws, SEGA has once again delivered a fantastic game that is easily one of the best games currently out this year. I honestly cannot recommend Yakuza 6 enough, and I can’t wait to dive back in and playing this game in Premium Adventure.