Yakuza players have been waiting a long time since Yakuza 6’s initial Japanese release almost two years ago. Yakuza 6 is a culmination of everything Sega has been working towards over Kiryu’s 12-year journey. In some ways Yakuza 6 doesn’t fit the mold that Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami started to build for the Playstation 4, instead reining in some of the scope of Yakuza 6 and providing a fitting conclusion to Kiryu’s storyline.
Yakuza 6 picks up with Kazuma Kiryu in the hospital about to be arrested for past crimes. He goes willingly and spends a few years behind bars. After being released, he returns to a home he has created for foster children where he finds out where his adopted daughter Haruka has gone missing. The storyline for Yakuza 6 is definitely more grounded than previous entries. It has plenty of hysterical moments, but I found most of the plot more gripping than funny. A lot of this comes down to fewer scenes with certain characters like Majima throughout. Franchise players might be disappointed by the lack of serious inclusion of series mainstays, but this is done at the expense of moving the plot forward.
Players don’t need to play previous entries if they don’t want to either. Yakuza 6’s central story is self-contained. Before players jump into the core game they have an option to recap the entire Yakuza storyline (with the exception of Yakuza 0). It’s a lot of reading, but anyone who picks this up should read them. They aren’t that long, and hit all the main points from previous entries. Additionally, embedded in each cutscene are quick snippets of who each of the main characters are. This helps Yakuza feel like its own entry instead of a continuation of what came before it.
Visually, this is the most impressive realization of Tokyo so far in the series. Lights blink on every storefront, a large number of NPC’s roam the streets, and there an impressive number of interactive objects littering the world. Equally impressive is how streamlined the enemy encounters are in the world. Like before, as Kiryu roams the world the enemies he encounters can instantly pull him into battle. Items on the street like bicycles, signs, and poles can all be picked up to beat enemies with. These battles are more streamlined and simple than previous entries, but are just as satisfying when Kiryu uses stationary objects as weapons.
Some of these early fights were a little frustrating before I was able to upgrade Kiryu. Yakuza 6 didn’t help me learn where to buy healing items, but since I’ve played previous entries I was able to figure most of it out pretty quickly. As players undertake side quests and participate in battles Kiryu earns different stat points that can be put into different skill trees. Some increase health and power while others teach him new skills. It was pretty overwhelming opening up the stat menu for the first time trying to figure out what to prioritize first.
There aren’t many loading screens either. Early on I interrupted a young couple in an argument, after learning about his “chat room woes” he guided me to a building where men can engage in online lewd chatrooms with scantily clad women. Transitioning from outdoors to indoors was seamless, and made my journey through Japan more like a living world instead of a video game. Conversely, there is less to do in Yakuza 6. A certain point in the story definitely helps the world open up, where Kiryu can have fun in batting cages and karaoke bars. Still, side activities aren’t as abundant as previous Yakuza entries. Luckily, the side missions are so interesting and fun due to the characters that you don’t have to spend a ton of time playing mini-games if you don’t want to (you probably still will).
Yakuza 6 continues one of the series strengths of being incredibly well polished. The only thing that stutters a little bit compared to previous entries is the smoothness of movement. With one button grabbing enemies as well as items, often I would end up picking something up off the ground during fights instead of grabbing an enemy. Other times I would get stuck running against an object instead of going around it like I intended. These were the only times I would get sucked out of the drama and remember I was in a room of my house instead of in Tokyo.
Much like most of the Metal Gear series, Yakuza 6 is a slow burn. Players expecting to jump from battle to battle should stay away, or at least expect a large number of cutscenes. Yakuza 6 is a crime drama, built around family and owning who you are. The themes are dark and adult, but players might forget this after getting sucked into a marathon of batting cage gameplay.
Despite the scattered gameplay, Yakuza 6 really is fully streamlined. Incorporating some of the strongest elements of what Sega has built over the last 12 years with a slightly clumsier fighting system. Activities may not be as densely packed as last year’s Yakuza 0, but there is still a ton to do in this entry. Kiryu’s journey is still the main focus, and there are less things to pull players in all different directions between story segments, resulting in a fantastic swan song for Kazuma Kiryu.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is available now for Playstation 4. This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher for that purpose.