Rating: Overall 8.5
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the final chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s story, a hero we have been following for over a decade, spanning three console generations. The series has just gained popularity outside of Japan, as SEGA is now scheduled to release four full games in less than two years. While it will be strange for newer fans to jump from Kiwami to Yakuza 6, this latest entry is well worth playing, irrespective of your prior experience with the series.
After serving time in prison, Kiryu finds out that Haruka, a daughter of sorts to him, has gone missing. She is revealed to be in coma after being run over, leaving behind a baby boy named Haruto. Kazuma then travels to Onomichi in search of the father, while unravelling a plot that will bring him back to a world he had seemingly left behind.
Yakuza games take place in an extremely small but dense open world, with emphasis on story, combat and mini-games. Kiryu can use his fists, kicks, weapons and all sorts of objects to beat up enemies. His repertoire consists of multiple ways of dealing damage, including wrestling moves such as dropkicks, suplexes and powerbombs. Landing hits increases the heat and filling an orb lets you unleash heavily stylised finishers. Players can also activate Extreme Heat Mode, which increases their damage and gives them access to unique attacks and heat actions.
I was disappointed to learn that there are fewer heat moves than previous games, and the fact that unique heat actions for different objects are absent. Regardless, beating up thugs is as satisfying as it has ever been. Building up your heat meter before utilising an over the top move is at the core of the battle system. There is a unique charm to the ridiculous nature of combat, and one cannot help but glee in delight as they shove a guy’s head into a microwave and electrocute him.
You gain XP for everything you do, whether it is fighting, eating food or completing side quests. This is divided into five types – strength, agility, spirit, technique and charm. This forms the basis of the game’s elaborate progression system, allowing you to unlock new heat moves, battle skills, stat increments, various advantages in mini-games and so on.
Sub-stories in this franchise are pretty unique due to the absurd situations Kiryu finds himself in, and Yakuza 6 does not disappoint. You will meet a boy and a girl who have seemingly swapped bodies, an app that aims to control your every move, a woman who has sent her consciousness back in time, and many more. Not only are they interesting on their own, some of them are tied to mini-games while others act as palate cleansers between the otherwise melodramatic main story missions.
This game was developed using a completely new engine, and as a result you can seamlessly transition in and out of combat or explore the world without loading screens. But as a side effect, some features got left out. Bowling and pool are not a part of the game, and the mini-games that are present aren’t that engaging. Baseball is severely underdeveloped while clan battles get boring after you have played over a dozen of them. Fishing suffers from the same fate, while sweet, are basically you choosing right options in a series of dialogue.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life showcases several key pillars of the franchise at their best. The game will suck you in with its interesting story, stylish combat, thrilling boss fights and relatable characters. It mostly falters when we compare the quantity and quality of side content, as well as the depth of its battle system to other games. It is a fitting end to the legend of Kazuma Kiryu....