In the past year the Yakuza series has enjoyed a resurgence on PlayStation 4. Last year saw Yakuza 0 (a review of which is on this site) and Yakuza Kiwami (a remake of the first Yakuza title on PS2). These titles mark the beginnings of Kazuma Kiryu, the protagonist of the series. Yakuza 6 is the seventh game chronologically and marks the end of Kiryu’s story. Newcomers to the series need not worry about tracking down the copies of the older games however, as this title has a reminisce mode that will give players a brief overview of the major plot points in each game.
Yakuza 6 begins immediately after the end of Yakuza 5. Kiryu is being arrested for his part in the events of the previous game, the ending of which is included in the opening to Yakuza 6. Haruka returned to the orphanage Kiryu manages to look after it whist he is behind bars. It is not all happy families however, as Haruka’s past fame is coming back to cause trouble for the other kids at the orphanage. Understanding that the media will not leave her alone due to her yakuza connections, Haruka decides that the only way to keep everyone else safe is to leave the orphanage again. Haruka tells the others she is moving to be closer to Kiryu, but when his four year prison sentence comes to an end Kiryu returns to the orphanage to find that nobody knows where Haruka is.
The game begins with Kiryu returning to the fictional city of Kamurocho, Tokyo, but the story soon sends him off to Onomichi, Hiroshima. Whilst there are only two locations to explore in Yakuza 6, each are bought to life in amazing detail thanks to the new dragon engine powering the game. The Yakuza series has always had detailed cities to explore, but required the game to transition to an interior whenever a building was entered. The new engine allows Kiryu to wander seamlessly around the cities, inside and out, and opens up multi-storey buildings for exploration. Secret passageways exist that link some of the densely packed buildings together and items are often hidden in out of the way locations.
Previous titles in the series have allowed characters to look around in first-person whist standing still. Yakuza 6 not only allows Kiryu to move whilst in first-person view, but he can also whip out his phone camera and snap shots of his surroundings which are then saved to the hard drive of the PS4. Kiryu has always acted like a man out of his own time due to the fact that he is often sent to prison, so while not the first time he has had a mobile phone, it is fun to pose him for selfies with landmarks around the cities. The phone also acts as the menu, allowing the player to access the various sub-screens, like Kiryu’s stats, or the clan creator.
One of the sub-plots of the game see Kiryu aiding a young man whose former gang turned against him. Kiryu does not wish to take part in the fighting however, but is asked to stay on as their leader. This leads to the creation of the Kiryu clan. Many people around Onomichi can be recruited for the clan if Kiryu can prove his strength to them (as in, beat them senseless), but only up to six people can be taken into clan battles. Each battle has a few commanders that must be beaten to win, and a fair amount of fodder enemies to mow through to get to them. Kiryu has deployment points that are spent to send his own commanders or troops into the field. By wisely spending this slowly regenerating resource, the player must take down the enemy commanders within a time limit. Players can take their teams online as well and partake in daily and ranked battles. Daily battles are a set of rotating challenges for the player to engage in. Ranked battles sees the player pit their clan against other players clans in on a ranked leaderboard. Commanders earn experience and level up by taking part in battle, or the player can use Kiryu’s experience to level up anyone they have recruited.
The way Kiryu acquires experience has changed slightly in Yakuza 6. Instead of earning a single experience currency, there are now five different kinds that require different methods to acquire. Three of the five are easy to pick up through regular combat, but the other two are earned by completing quests and story missions. All five type can be gained through eating meals in the various restaurants throughout the game, so regular calorie intake is essential. To prevent the player from gaming the experience system, a new hunger meter prevents Kiryu from gorging himself silly. Any item of food that would go over the limit will still heal Kiryu, but will no longer provide any experience points. There are various upgrades that will allow Kiryu to eat more and digest faster, thus allowing the player to gain experience faster as the game goes on.
Okay, it is time to get to the real heart of the Yakuza series; the combat. Kiryu does not have all the fancy styles that he did in 0 and Kiwami, instead he is back to a single form commonly used in the PS3-era games. Beating up opponents fill heat orbs that can be spent on heat moves that deal extra damage to an enemy. Many of the flashier heat moves are locked away through the upgrade system, but Kiryu can always pickup a nearby object and launch into a basic heat attack. Alternatively, all orbs can be consumed to enter extreme heat mode wherein Kiryu can largely ignore pain (though he still takes damage) and just beat upon a single enemy repeatedly. If enough combo attacks connect, Kiryu can perform an extremely powerful finishing move.
There are many items in the environment that can be picked up and used as weapons. Thanks to the new engine both Kiryu and his opponents can now kick these objects around to deal damage to people that they hit. The player can even enter shops during combat and start wrecking the place as enemies will still try to attack Kiryu in the aisles of the local supermarket. There are some strange physics bugs with this though, as some objects and enemies can suddenly gain a massive amount of speed, launching them rapidly into the air. This is a relatively minor complaint though, as the new engine allows characters to ragdoll somewhat instead of having fixed knock-down poses.
The Yakuza series has generally had a high standard of music, and Yakuza 6 is no exception. Though a lack of title screen trailer means that there is no single song that is associated with the game, each piece generally sets the mood of the area with faster paced pieces for the action sequences. It is therefore a shame that none of the pieces really stand out from one another, or are particularly memorable after the fact.
To sum up, Yakuza 6 is not the ideal entry point for newcomers to the series, despite the ability to catch up on the story of previous games. This is better left to one of the earlier PS4 entries of the series. Fans of the series will want to play this game not only because it wraps up Kiryu’s story, but because it strong game on its own merits. A basic clear of the game will take less than twenty hours, but aiming to complete all the content the game has to offer will take considerably longer, especially if a player takes their clan online to compete against other people.
Title: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 8 December 2016