The Yakuza series is notoriously known for its many serious twists and turns, just as much as it’s known for random light-hearted goofiness. Though not as over-the-top and wacky as Yakuza games of the past, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life squares up well against some of the other games in the series. Its serious and intriguing plot will satisfy long-time fans, while newcomers will have a much easier time exploring what the game has to offer and getting acquainted with the franchise. However, not everything is clean and fixed on this new tale of the Japanese underworld for Kiryu Kazama and his allies, as some of the series’ kinks and missteps still linger around. But that stop keeps Yakuza 6 from being a fun experience that is well worth taking a chance to jump on gangster the ride.
The story of Yakuza 6 picks up a few years after the events of the previous game. If you’re coming into this blind and missed out on all the previous games, you have a basic review of the plot for each Yakuza game in the main menu, with the exception of a few spin-offs and prequel titles. It doesn’t give you all of the finer details, but just enough to get you ready to jump right into Yakuza 6, which is great for anyone that needs it.
Without getting into too many spoiler elements, Yakuza 6 picks up right after Kiryu Kazama returns home from jail, after serving a few years from the fallout of the previous game. However, there’s no rest for the wicked, as Kiryu’s adopted daughter Haruka has gone missing. This forces Kiryu to return to the city of Kamurocho and dive back into the underworld he thought he was through with.
Yakuza 6’s main story is as intricate and double-edged as you might think, especially if you’ve played any of the previous games. You still have the mysteries, back-stabbing, and random twists that make the series so unbelievable, but everything is much more grounded this time. You don’t get a ridiculous moment on the same level as “punch a tiger”, but there are still some shocking things that happen later in the story that still feels like a Yakuza game. It can be a little tough for some to follow all the characters and their motivations as things progress, but you’re always given some sort of recap in one way or another, through dialogue or flashback.
The visuals of Yakuza 6 make the series look as good and stylish as ever. Exploring the city of Kamurocho and other areas you visit still gives a whole lot of eye candy. Yakuza 6 populates the city of Kamurocho a lot more, with many NPCs moving around as you traverse the streets. More often than not, you’ll casually bump into someone as you jog and run from location to location completing quests and other activities. There are lots of places to explore, shops to visit, and mini-games to play in varying locations all over the city. Out of all the Yakuza games to release so far, this is the game that makes Kamurocho feel like the city is constantly thriving and never sleeps.
The fighting is what makes the Yakuza games cartoonish, despite the serious side of the stories, but Yakuza 6 dials things back a little. You still have brutal attacks that look like they hurt REAL bad, but there is far less over-the-top signature moves that you can do on enemies you run into on the streets compared to previous games. Fighting and leveling up Kiryu is limited to one combat style this time, with all of your stats and unlockable abilities being earned from experience you get throughout the game.
Earning experience to level up or unlock new moves can come from fighting enemies, eating at local restaurants and shops, or completing side quests and mini-games. There are points where it feels like you have to grind a bunch to gain the upper hand in some story fights, but these moments aren’t frequent enough to bring the fun to a halt.
Battles against groups of enemies can be chaotic, especially when you can pick up weapons on the ground to beat enemies down with. These fights aren’t bad to deal with, but the real challenge and frustration can sometimes come from stronger enemies that you need to square off against 1-on-1.
Like other Yakuza games, it sometimes feels like you’re either underpowered or need to abuse certain aspects of the enemy A.I in order to defeat opponents. Luckily, you can still grind out for experience and boost Kiryu’s stats beforehand, but this can sometimes force you to reload a save file and briefly stop your progress of the story.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Yakuza game without all of the extra stuff you can do outside of the main plot. There’s plenty of mini-games to get lost in, as well as side quests to follow that tell some wacky stories about the people in Kamurocho and elsewhere. The karaoke, darts, baseball, and arcade mini-games are all prime examples of how ridiculous and cheeky Yakuza 6 can get. Interacting with any of them yields a bit of experience, so you’re technically not losing anything by wasting time with them.
The side missions are also handled in the same way, but with more story and rewards to gain by completing them. Some of the things you see with these side stories can get a little dumb and ridiculous, like someone believing that they’ve leaped through time, but if you don’t take it too seriously you’ll have some fun finishing them all.
Yakuza 6 once again includes the hostess bar and other seductive mini-games that usually give the series a bad rap. While not much has changed with what you get from these optional mini-games, they don’t push the envelope as far as previous games. You’re still fawning over and interacting with beautiful women in different ways, which has a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor to all of it, but they don’t go too far most of the time.
The only part of the game that does get a little weird is the internet café. Kiryu can be in a chat room with women streaming themselves online and chat with them as they get closer to flirting and eventually stripping for the chat room. The video clips are of real people, not in-game models, which is similar clips found in other Yakuza titles. The joke is that the chat room is made out to be like a bunch of creepers online looking for a peep show, which can be a commentary on this part of internet culture. It doesn’t go too far, but just enough to make you think about playing these mini-games without other people in the room.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is good fun in many ways, despite a few standout missteps. Its story has enough to keep your attention and offer a satisfying end by the time the credits roll. As always, there’s a lot to do if you’re looking for something different, which can be just as satisfying as progressing through the main story. While the crazy humor and wacky moments aren’t as rampant here compared to other games, it doesn’t make Yakuza 6 inferior by any stretch. What you get is another solid entry from a series that continues to grow and mature, yet still, keep that same style that makes it look and feel so good.
This review was based on a digital review code for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life for the PlayStation 4, provided by SEGA.