I feel a sense of sadness as I write this review. It’s never great to see the end of a long-running video game icon, but what usually comes with a departure of a protagonist usually comes with a grand finale, I mean look at Nathan Drake. Well, as we saw, his final adventure became one of the best video games ever made (I dare you to argue), but now that torch passes to another fan favourite: the Dragon of Dojima himself, Kazuma Kiryu.
Loyal Xbox gamers won’t be familiar with this guy, but PlayStation fanboys will know him and his life inside out. Beginning his tale on the PS2 way back in 2006, his highly acclaimed and highly praised Yakuza series has been nothing more than a huge success. Seven main entries and a remake with another remake on the way, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most appreciated franchises in Sony’s beloved string of systems.
Kiryu’s final act is entitled Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and takes place in and around the Kamurocho district in Tokyo, Japan as Kiryu is left with a three-year gap in his mind after he begins Yakuza 6 hospitalized, then he is subsequently arrested and sent to prison. During his stint, his adopted daughter, Haruka, is in a coma after a car accident and, with her newborn in tow, Kiryu plots to find out what went on during his time inside and who put his beloved daughter in hospital. The story is a fitting end to Kiryu providing tonnes of action, intrigue and emotion as you truly want to find out what and who put Haruka in the hospital. The tale is told in true Yakuza fashion, long cutscenes with a truckload of dialogue, a staple of the series, maximising character development and enhancing the immersion but invoking empathy to the player. It’s masterfully done, cutscenes are long, sure, but they need to be to truly deliver the game’s extensive plot. You don’t play Yakuza games for a quick gaming fix, you play to get involved physically and emotionally, and the same goes for The Song of Life. To truly enjoy the game, you must be invested. It’s outstanding how the developers manage to cram in so many plot twists, side stories and storyline evolution in Yakuza 6. Kiryu’s yakuza background, of course, plays a massive part here, but there’s more to Haruka’s incident than you might think. Top notch storytelling. If you’re new to the series, Yakuza 6 comes with a brilliant tool that allows you to relive key moments in the series to familiarise yourself with the characters.
When you are finally handed the controls, Yakuza 6 plays like the other games in the series. You control Kazuma navigating Kamurocho towards your next objective. As simple as that sounds, there is much more to the world when it truly opens. You will encounter thugs wandering around to fight, citizens requiring some assistance triggering an abundance of side quests and mini-games galore, etc. Fighting plays a huge part in any of the Yakuza games, and it is the main aspect of it that has changed constantly throughout the years. Yakuza 6 takes away Kiryu’s multiple fighting styles to focus on his Dragon style, which is without doubt a fan favourite. Focusing on this one style means his movesets can be streamlined, and this eliminates confusion as to which fighting style to use against which type of enemy. Kiryu is a master martial artist, so giving him a boxer and hulk-style weapon-based variant seemed out of place, but thankfully he has a traditional style that mixes them all together. Kiryu can use any weapon around him. These range from bicycles and shop signage, to knives and guns. Street brawling has no rules, so using weapons is a given.
The star of the show with the combat is your Heat gauge. Attacking enemies fills it up, and once a section is filled, you’re able to use it in two ways. Activate Heat mode to enhance your strength until it runs out or let rip with the multitude of Heat moves on offer. These are spectacular finishing moves that do major damage, and they can be used in all sorts of situations. Backed up against a wall, Kiryu can use the wall to his advantage, and while holding a weapon, Kiryu can pull off a flashy but devastating slam; every Heat move is fantastic to pull off, and it’s fun to experiment and discover new ones. The combat never feels tiresome as Kiryu’s moveset is constantly expanding thanks to the new way you level up and unlock new moves. Each time you complete quests or beat up enemies, you’re given different types of experience points that can be spent on more Heat moves, increased health and Heat gauge, more money and experience earned from battles and more. The upgrade system is huge and extremely rewarding, giving you ample reasons to grind, especially if you want a Heat move that allows you to take your enemy’s weapon and use it against him.
If there’s one thing the Yakuza series is known fondly for, it’s the selection of mini-games, and The Song of Life is not short on them. As well as the returning karaoke and club managing, Club Sega arcades now have full versions of Outrun, Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter 5 for you to burn time on. Sadly, UFO Catcher is gone, but come on, Virtua Fighter 5!
A new side activity to the series makes its mark: Clan Creator. Upon arriving in the game’s second area, Hiroshima, Kiryu is recruited by local gang members to establish a gang of his own to combat the growing threat of a mysterious cult called JUSTIS. The basis of this side act is to recruit soldiers and then use them by taking part in a simplistic version of a real time strategy game. You direct your guys by telling them where to move, when and who to attack and activate buffs and rebuffs. It’s a nice change of pace after all the emotion and high octane fighting, and although it’s a little on the easy side barring a few boss battles, it is enjoyable to play.
My only issue with Yakuza 6 is that some of the side stories don’t match Kiryu’s aesthetic. He is a badass ex-yakuza that, whilst mostly serious and stoic, is easy to see as a modern day hero, so it feels wrong taking part in side quests that bring out the uncomfortable perversion in him, such as viewing a sex show on a webcam and taking part in a peep show chat room; it didn’t sit well. Then there are the quests that had me fighting ghosts in a graveyard and looking for and rounding up escaped cats. Kiryu’s a great guy, sure, but keep it real.
Release Date: 17th April 2018