The Dragon of Dojima is back and he’s ready to put a foot in the ass of anyone who steps to him wrong, especially if they are threatening his family. Built with a new physics engine called the Dragon Engine, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life takes some bold first steps for the franchise while giving fans more of what they love about the game. Billed as the final adventure for the games signature character, Kazuma Kiryu will face many difficult decisions as he makes his way through the story. Featuring a visual makeover that will surprise and delight you, this game will transport you to a new location, the port town of Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima Prefecture, and take you to familiar old haunts like Tokyo’s biggest red light district, the city of Kamurocho. You’ll need to make sure Kiryu is in the best physical condition possible because this game is the penultimate melding of the franchises Japanese gangster theme featuring intense CQC fighting and tops it off with fun activities that every location in the game has to offer.
As is true of every Yakuza game before it, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is very heavily story-driven and does a great job of keeping the player riveted to the screen as the events in Onomichi play out. The story goes that after the events of the last game, Haruka, one of Kiryu’s charges from the orphanage and now a huge pop star, reveals on stage at one of her concerts that he is considered family to her. Her fans abandon her forcing her to end her career and return to the orphanage that has been the only real home that she has ever known.
Meanwhile, Kiryu decides to turn himself in and face the music and earns a 3 year bid in a maximum security prison for his involvement in last games shenanigans. Once back at the orphanage, the press swarm the facility frightening Haruka and she begins to wonder if she is not putting everyone else in danger because of her decision. She decides to leave and disappears without any contact for over two years leaving Kiryu, once he is released from prison, and the other kids to wonder what has happened to her.
If you have played a game in the Yakuza series before then you will feel right at home as you navigate the mean streets of Tokyo in 2016. You can walk or run to your destination, talk to people on the street looking for help with this or that, or stop in at a local eatery and enjoy a fresh plate of steamed rice and vegetables with slices of baked pork. You will often find items laying on the street like a key, an item of clothing or a piece of jewelry that will no doubt at some point come to good use so be sure to pick those up.
Streets in Tokyo are narrow after all, so bumping into thugs as you make your way across town will cause them to want to fight you. Once you are done giving a group of young disrespectful punks a lesson in humility and liberating their funds and other items, you can head over to the local Internet cafe and chat it up online, join an intense, action-packed game of baseball at the local park or head on over to the neighborhood bar and grab a drink between songs in karaoke or rounds of darts.
The fighting system in the Yakuza series is where the franchise makes its bones as no self-respecting member of the Yakuza would ever be caught without knowledge of at least a cursory understanding of the martial arts. Punches and kicks are mapped to the square and triangle buttons on the PS4 controller. Button press combinations unleash devastating attack combos that are sure to leave your attackers wishing they had gone down another street.
You can press the R2 button to unleash your Heat Attacks once your Heat Gauge has filled allowing you to pick up extremely heavy items that you normally wouldn’t be able to lift or level your opponents with super-cool hyper-violent attacks called Heat Actions. If a thug decides to bring a nodachi or a pipe to a fist fight, just take it from him and use it to your advantage. And if worse comes to worse, just grab a chair, or a bicycle, a potted plant, or a store sign and beat them about the head and face with it; that will teach them to mess with you.
As you navigate your way through the game, you can access the town map by pressing the touch pad on the controller. This will allow you to see where you are, the locations of convenience stores, bars and other locations as well as the location of your current destination. You can set a pin that will make a navigation point on the map if you want to remember to go someplace or so you don’t forget an important location in the city.
The game is broken up into Main Missions and Sub Missions of which you can do any that you want at any time once they become available. Often, you can tackle a Sub Mission when you are in the middle of a Main Mission, which upon completion, awards you with an item or even some cold, hard cash. Additionally, you will earn EXP points to bolster your stats a little so that you are ready for the next Main Mission event which almost always involves Kiryu having to put his hands on some loud-mouthed gangster boss type character.
Yakuza 6 features a cool way to access all of the pertinent information and places it right at your fingertips so that you can make adjustments to your character or to gameplay on the fly. To access the options in the game, you simply press the “options” button on the controller and it will bring up Kiryu’s Sony Xperia phone which will allow you to use items, adjust your stats, use apps, check your email, or receive and send text messages, just to name a few. Sega isn’t new to having the character use a cellphone as a way to allow the player to access the “Pause Menu” (if you remember, GTA 4 did this as well years ago) but it fits well here and makes this thirteen-year-old franchise feel like it’s making an effort to stand with the times.
The game features an all new skills system that breaks Kiryu’s stats down into five main areas: health, attack, defense, evasion and heat gauge. Each of those stats are composed of five other skill categories that I think are strength, speed, heart, knowledge and maybe luck. The reason that I say “I think” is because I couldn’t find a written explanation for these pictorial representations anywhere in the game or on the official Yakuza 6 website.
In order to level Kiryu up so that he is strong enough to face off with anything or anyone that crosses his path, you need to interact with the people of the towns and cities that you meet as well as taking part in the may activities that are available. Experience, or EXP, is earned in the game by completing Main or Sub Missions, finding missing cats, enjoying some of the finest cuisine that Japan has to offer or just spending time visiting the many shrines located throughout the game.
The restaurants that are found in the game feature actual Japanese dishes that not only keep your hunger pangs at bay and renew your health, but will add points to your skill categories a little at a time. Individually, many of the dishes will give you a certain amount of points but there are certain restaurants that will allow you to create combo plates that will give even larger points boosts, but will cost you quite a few thousand Yen. The options for earning EXP are huge and figuring out how to gain as much as possible from different activities is really entertaining.
While the story-lines in the Yakuza games have always been fantastic, sometimes the visuals seemed primitive in comparison to other hit titles that would launch around the same time as those particular games. What I mean to say is that they just didn’t look as visually pleasing as other games on the market but this entry is definitely not one of those times. Yakuza 6 has to be the best looking game in the franchise ever to come to consoles.
The visual fidelity in the character designs are meticulous from the stitching in an overcoat to the individual pores on their skin. Kamurocho is alive with people walking the streets and brightly lit signs adorn just about every building while in Onomichi the buildings are weathered and the streets are wet and narrow. I was simply amazed as I watched an older gentleman as he was slowing walking down the street in a wet overcoat that was glistening under the streetlights as the smoke from the cigarette he was smoking wafted up into the air behind him as he continued on his way.
I mentioned in the intro that the Yakuza series is typically very story-heavy and this may be a turn-off for those gamers that like all action, all the time. There are some pretty long cut-scenes in this game and they are not always action-packed affairs but they are very necessary to telling a great story and giving the player a deep understanding of the characters motivations. That fact alone is probably going to be a deal-breaker for some but to those of use who have been fans for the last thirteen years, that’s just par for the course. If this game ends up being the end for Kazuma Kiryu, then this will be a very fitting farewell for one of gaming’s most beloved characters. There is so much packed into this game to do and to see that it is absolutely astounding. As a long-time fan of the series, I can’t recommend picking this one up enough if you are looking for something a little off of the beaten path for sure.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A fitting farewell to the Dragon of Dojima
Challenge - 8/10
Gameplay - 10/10
Design - 9.7/10
+ Great story and cast of characters
+ So many fun mini-games
+ Fighting system is top-notch
+ Visuals are something to behold
- Some items in the pause menu aren't explained at all
- Sub Missions can get tedious at times and are just fetch quests