Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Krista Noren, posted Mar 15, 2018
Mar 15, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): April 17, 2018
  • Release Date (EU): April 17, 2018
  • Release Date (JP): December 8, 2016
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Developer: SEGA
  • Genres: Action/Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
SEGA brings its latest entry of the Yakuza franchise to western audiences. Mixing heavy mafia drama with over-the-top action, it's bound to be a wild ride. So let's try out the sixth game in the Yakuza series!
Krista Noren

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The Yakuza franchise is an interesting one, spanning over a decade of releases, culminating with the sixth mainline entry into the series; Yakuza 6. Initially starting in 2005, the series had a solid line of localizations, until the fifth game released, and went untranslated for years. After major fan support and outcry, the series is back in the spotlight for western fans, with a bevy of new releases lately, including a remake of the first entry, Yakuza Kiwami, a prequel, Yakuza 0, and now, Yakuza 6.  

Like a Dragon

If you've never played a single entry in this Japanese mafia series of games and are wary to start from here, fear not, as Yakuza 6's premise makes it incredibly easy for first-time players to jump right into the story without any prior knowledge. Thanks to a bit of a flashback right at the start of the game, you're given a sort of soap opera-esque recap which gets you up to speed with the plot and acquainted with all the major characters you need to know. 

We start off with the main character, the ex-Yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, walking into a bar and enjoying a drink. As he does so, a drunken man smacks the glass out of Kiryu's hand, prompting him to slowly get up without looking his aggressor in the eye and wordlessly and emotionlessly step outside to challenge the man to a fight. From moment one, it's clear to see that Yakuza 6's protagonist is the epitome of cool. This short introduction brings us to the combat tutorial, and how to fight. If you've played past Yakuza titles, you'll notice that fighting has become a bit more streamlined; there's less options for attacks, but it's for the sake of making things a little less clunky to control. In fact, that's something that older fans will likely be thinking as they play the game--it's fun, but older titles just felt like they had a little bit more to them in general. 

Getting into fights is to be expected of a Yakuza, even a retired one, so you'll commonly be finding yourself challenged to tons of brawls by opposing mafia groups, random thugs, and other assorted goons on the streets. Combat here is quite simple, relying on light and heavy attacks, a defensive guard, and grabs. What sets Yakuza's gameplay apart is being able to smash random objects into the faces of your enemies, so if you find a traffic cone, or a large display sign, or even a bicycle on the side of the road, you can pick that up and just start beating up anyone with it. It's absolutely hilarious, and some of the finishing attack animations are utterly brutal. 

 

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For those of you who are returning to the series after Yakuza 5, this game's plot takes place directly after that one's ending, and shows how the characters were impacted by the events of the previous game, with Kiryu barely making his way home alive from his fight with the last game's final boss, before collapsing in the snow where his adopted daughter, Haruka, hugs him, and gets him to a hospital. As he recovers from his injuries, the police come to arrest him, and Kiryu doesn't put up a fight, resolving to go to jail so that Haruka won't be put in jeopardy because of his ties to criminal organizations. This was in vain, however, as even though he's locked behind bars, the public at large still judges Haruka because of Kiryu, and it's starting to affect her loved ones, as well. She decides to leave, and run away to live in secrecy, without informing anyone of where she plans to go. Three years pass, and Kiryu is released from jail, where he goes home to see Haruka, only to learn that no one has seen or heard from her in the time he's been incarcerated. Before he has any time to learn about her whereabouts, he's called by a detective, who tells him that Haruka has been in a horrible accident, and is in a coma. There's one more surprise to be had though, as she also has a newborn son. Now, Kiryu must take care of this baby, while also delving back into his criminal past in order to get information on the person who hurt Haruka. 

Yakuza 6's plot is very much like a dramatic soap opera, and it relies heavily on story-based cutscenes, of which there are many. This is especially apparent in the first few chapters, as the game slightly restricts what you can do, in order to focus on building its narrative, which, while well-written and very interesting, can feel a bit too overbearing early on. A good majority of your early playthrough will consist of watching characters talk and walking back and forth between your next destination with minimal events occurring between. However, as you progress further into the game, the balance between actual gameplay and story begins to even out, giving the player more freedom.

This is the first game in the series to be built from the ground up on the PlayStation 4, which makes for an impressive jump in visual quality, and thanks to that extra processing power, there are no loading screens, making the world feel much more open and seamless. At the same time, if you're playing on a standard PS4, there's quite a few moments where you can tell that the console is a bit stressed by the game, and performance quirks begin stacking up. Transitions between entering shops or getting within range of a destination marker leading to a scene had a tendency to make things feel a little "jerky", with common stutters or even short freezes during them. The framerate itself never significantly wavered during battles, but by the end of my time with Yakuza 6, it became expected to see the game lurch before making it to a plot-related destination. However, these were not the most noticeable issues to be had, as the game has some rampant screen tearing going on in the nighttime levels, which can be incredibly distracting. 

 

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One of the biggest hallmarks of the Yakuza franchise is the minigames and side content, and while the jump to a new engine might have lead to some past activities from older games being left out, (bowling, pool, and card games to name a few) there are still a ridiculous amount of things to do in Yakuza 6. You can invest a multitude of hours into all the minigames alone, with inclusions like fishing, baseball, mahjong, darts, karaoke, chatting online, the hostess club, and even running around to find kittens for a cat-cafe. Being a SEGA game also means that the classic arcade is back, letting you have access to full games of OutRun, Space Harrier, Super-Hang-On, Fantasy Zone, Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5, with the latter two including a 2-player local option as well, which you can access from the main menu. Besides that, there's the new Clan Creator mode, which lets you make your own gang, and deploy your members against the enemy gang JUSTIS in an RTS-styled subgame. Yakuza 6 is packed to the brim with things to do, and nearly all of them are enjoyable. 

Completing side missions, eating at restaurants, taking out enemies in fights, finishing bonus objectives, and even playing games will cause Kiryu to gain skill points in one of five different attributes. You can use these points to level up base stats like attack, defense, health and evasion, as well as learning new combat maneuvers. While the fighting system itself still feels a little barebones, this customization helps lessen the issue.

SEGA has done a fantastic job on the localization for this game. The top-notch English translation, coupled with the original Japanese voice acting, of which many of its actors are famous Japanese stars, make for a quality cinematic feel. That, along with beautiful graphics and great sound design allow for some really stunning moments. 

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Yakuza 6 is a great game overall, but there's a few things that hold it back from matching up to recent amazing Yakuza games like Yakuza 0, and if you've been playing the series from the start, you might come away feeling a little disappointed. In the end, we're left with a solid title, full of a myriad of fun content and entertaining sidequests, but one that also suffers from some weak combat gameplay and mild performance issues. If you don't mind those problems, Yakuza 6 is sure to be a fun romp, and a lovely way to send off Kiryu and end his story.

Verdict
Pros
+ A large amount of fun sidequests, minigames, and content in general
+ The new engine doesn't require many loading screens
+ Detailed visuals and impressive graphical quality
Cons
- Reoccurring performance issues
- Combat can feel a little lacking
8 Presentation
The graphics, localization, and overall presentation of the game is great, and there are times where you can just marvel at how detailed the cities are here. A few negative quirks regarding the performance can take you out of the experience, but it doesn't majorly mar the game overall.
7 Gameplay
Perhaps the weakest link here, the gameplay is below average in terms of previous Yakuza games. It's still more than serviceable, but the improvements made to the engine as tradeoff don't feel worth the downgrades from Yakuza 0.
9 Lasting Appeal
The game is at its best during its side content, which is sure to keep players hooked for the 20+ hour journey. There are so many different quests and minigames, that you can get so absorbed to the point of forgetting there's even a main story. If you want to do everything there is to do in Yakuza 6, you're looking at upwards of a 50 hour investment.
8.3
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Yakuza 6 is a wonderful, heartfelt conclusion to Kiryu's story, offering a hilariously fun and unique experience for both long-time fans and newcomers. While this isn't the best entry in the series, it's still an incredibly solid title that anyone with a PlayStation 4 should pick up.


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