Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Review: Kiryu and Cub
Kalvin Martinez / Mar 15th, 2018 No Comments
Despite being around since 2005, Yakuza has only recently received wider recognition in the west that rivals its popularity in Japan. Yakuza 0 brilliantly contextualized the series for players who’d never played the PlayStation 2 original. As a jumping on point, 0 benefited from the advancements made in the series to that point and a story free from the baggage of the game before it.
This left a lot of pressure for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. The game must follow up on the increased popularity of the series while satisfying fans who’ve followed it since day one. Luckily, Yakuza 6 navigates this troubled water as deftly as Kiryu taking on a fight of overwhelming odds. It strikes the proper balance between being friendly to newer fans and honoring the fabled history of Kiryu and the Yakuza series.
Life doesn’t stop when you’re gone. You can’t put it on pause; time will continually move forward. Those around you have to continue their lives.
Yakuza 6 picks up where Yakuza 5 left off; with Kiryu taking the heat for the Tojo Clan and willingly going to prison. He gets out of prison after three years for good behavior, and he realizes that things have changed. During the time he spent imprisoned, his adoptive daughter, Haruka, tried to keep the Sunflower Orphanage running.
However, the fallout of Yakuza 5 didn’t just affect Kiryu. Haruka retired from being an idol after announcing Kiryu was her father during a big concert. Due to Kiryu’s yakuza past, Haruka not only couldn’t continue as an idol, but her former fame and Kiryu’s past meant she couldn’t stay with the kids at the Sunflower Orphanage.
When Kiryu returns to Okinawa, he finds the kids of the Sunflower Orphanage keeping it together, but he is troubled by Haruka’s absence. Vowing to find her, Kiryu heads to Kamurocho and tries to chase down some leads. While there, he learns of a brewing conflict between the Tojo Clan and the Saio Triad, which he gets caught up in. Fortunately, news of Haruka keeps him from getting too involved — but the news is not good.
Turns out Haruka was in Kamurocho. Before Kiryu could find her, she got in a hit-and-run accident, leaving her alive but comatose. And that isn’t even the most shocking news. Her injuries were worsened by protecting her child, Haruto, from the oncoming car. Before Kiryu can deal with the existence of Haruto, child services tries to take him away.
Kiryu can’t let that happen, so he takes Haruto and heads to Onomichi to track information about his father. As Kiryu attempts to find information about Haruto’s father and what Haruka was doing in Onomichi, he gets drawn into local yakuza business, making the difficult yet straightforward information-gathering mission much more complicated. How far will Kiryu go to find out the truth and try to restore his family?
Jumping into the sixth entry in a series can be daunting. It can be intimidating to gain a foothold given the huge backstory and established continuity that comes with such a history. A major credit is due to Yakuza 6 since this isn’t an issue. There is a handy primer contained within the game that gives players a concise, detailed history of the five games preceding The Song of Life.
Even if you don’t read the synopsis, Yakuza 6’s story provides you with all the necessary backstory, and its own story never feels bogged down by the past despite embracing its storied history. A lot of this boils down to Yakuza 6 leading with an emotional approach to its story rather than focusing on the larger conflict. What made Yakuza 5 impenetrable was it threw you into the deep end with the yakuza business. Luckily, that isn’t an issue here.
While there is major yakuza business brewing in Yakuza 6, the main conflict for Kiryu is personal. It deals with him rebuilding his family after a great sacrifice for a clan he left long ago. Trying to track down Haruto’s father and figure out what Haruka was doing in Onomichi is extremely compelling. It also acts as a breath of fresh air by taking place in a sleepy fishing town rather than the hustle and bustle of Kamurocho.
Onomichi introduces a whole new cast of characters to interact. Kiryu forms bonds with new people in the main story and encounters colorful substories while tracking down information.
Even though the main story packs a lot of emotional weight, the substories bring levity. These substories are what makes Yakuza 6 so brilliant. Players will experience bizarre and heartfelt encounters during these moments, such as two teens having their bodies switched after a collision and a father being reunited with his estranged son. Hell, Kiryu even gets a chance to be the mascot of Onomichi and help inspire the youth of the fishing town.
Yakuza 6’s main story will keep you moving forward to see what will happen, but the substories suck you into its wonderfully off-kilter world.
There are many things that define the Yakuza series. Much of it is story related, but the most iconic aspect of the franchise has to be its brawler combat. In Yakuza 6, the combat the series is known for is at its smoothest, most refined and most addicting.
At its core, the combat is easy to pick up. A string of combos can alternate between light and heavy attacks, with some grabs thrown in for variety. On the defensive side, Kiryu can do some quick evasion and block attacks. There is more to it, but mastering these basic actions make up the bulk of combat.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the basics, you can add in weapons and unique heat actions.
Speaking of heat, the heat meter allows Kiryu to unlock his full power and become absolutely ruthless. In heat mode, you can automatically grab weapons, gain a huge stat boost and perform heat climaxes, which result in heavy damage through massive chain attacks.
That isn’t all there is to combat though. Yakuza 6 has a deep upgrade system, which allows you to upgrade Kiryu’s base stats and unlock new moves, heat actions and upgrades. There is a ton of depth to explore in combat.
While the base gameplay is engrossing and satisfying, Yakuza is known for its remarkable minigames. Yakuza 0 featured a wide variety of minigames, but its main attractions were the real estate and cabaret club management minigames. Yakuza 6 is no different.
The traditional minigames return, including karaoke and darts, and Yakuza 6 also has full versions of classic Sega games such as Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo (which are accessible from the main menu and can be played with two players). However, the real draws in Yakuza 6 are the Clan Creator minigame, a real-time strategy gang fight, and the baseball club manager, a baseball sim.
What makes both minigames so compelling is that they aren’t just minigames. They are both incorporated into full, sprawling substories. Whether you’re facing off against enemies in the clan creator or helping turn the underdog Setouchi Warriors into champions, it is hard not to get sucked into these games. These games also spill into Yakuza 6’s gameplay by having you recruit new gang leaders and baseball players to give you an edge in each minigame.
Believe or not-ichi, there is so much more to Yakuza 6. Prepare to have hours of your life taken away as you explore all that Kamurocho and Onomichi have to offer.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a triumph. As the sixth(-ish) entry in a series that has spanned multiple console generations, it manages to be fresh and break new ground. If you haven’t gotten into the Yakuza series or avoided it because of such a hefty backstory, Yakuza 6 does a superb job of maintaining the balance between accessibility and a new entry in a long-running series.
Its story packs a major emotional punch. While it is obvious there is more going on than either Kiryu or the player knows, Yakuza 6 never loses sight of the emotional core, which keeps players eager to see where the twists and turns play out.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life releases on PlayStation 4 on April 17.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.
tags: review , Yakuza 6 , Yakuza 6 review , Yakuza 6: The Song of Life , Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Review