With an emotionally gripping action-packed story, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life delivers a fitting finale to the epic Kazuma Kiryu storyline. This action-adventure game focusing on the organised crime syndicates known as the yakuza isn’t without its flaws however.
Despite being the final chapter in the 7-game long story, Yakuza 6 is greatly accessible to both newcomers and series veterans alike. Although the game builds upon the story of its predecessors, it doesn’t rely on you having knowledge of the previous games. The few essential tidbits of information required are communicated early on. You can also read through the story developments of the previous games through a ‘Memories’ section of the main menu. The amount of reading in this ‘Memories’ section is a bit overwhelming and I feel would have been better suited to a series of cutscenes.
The game follows Kazuma Kiryu, a much respected former high ranking member of a major yakuza clan. Following a 3-year prison sentence, Kiryu is released only to find his adopted daughter, Haruka, is missing. While on the hunt to find her, Haruka suffers an incident which leaves her in a coma. To make things more complicated, she was clutching a baby at the time. With Haruka incapacitated, Kiryu then sets off to uncover the truth about the incident, the baby and where Haruka has been for the last three years.
It is one of the most captivating stories I have encountered in a video game for many years. The characters are interesting and well developed, the pacing is superb, and it is one of those stories where you never know what will happen next.
Despite the story heavily centring on the yakuza, the game doesn’t feel too action-orientated. Instead a good mixture of of intense action and slower emotion evoking sequences are strung together to form the story.
To facilitate the telling of this excellent narrative, the game relies heavily on cutscenes. I never found this to be an issue however it may not be for everyone. It feels as if the story was created first then the gameplay and world crafted around it.
While the story is superb, the open-world gameplay does feel lacking. There is a whole bunch of side missions and minigames to play however they aren’t very well developed or entertaining. I found myself tending to stick to the main story rather than getting distracted by the side missions and events.
There is a distinct difference in tone between the stories in side missions and the main stories. While the main story has a serious tone, the side missions are often light hearted or absurd in nature. The side missions aren’t fun or satisfying enough for this contrast to work. They feel more like a time waster more than anything else.
The most noteworthy side mission to do is the clan creator minigame. In this you complete side missions to unlock more people to add to your clan. You can then take on a rival gang in what plays out basically the opposite to a tower defence game whereby you slowly spawn your units to attack stationary enemy units. Although I liked the concept, the gameplay isn’t deep or enjoyable enough to warrant playing it.
The game features two main areas that serve as the setting for the story and your playground to roam around in: Onomichi and Kamurocho. Kamurocho is the red-light district in Tokyo that has served as the main backdrop of the series. In welcome contrast to Kamurocho, Onomichi district is a small port town located in the Hiroshima Prefecture.
Both Kamurocho and Onomichi feel very small in size. If you are stringing together main story missions, you won’t really notice this. It is only when you go to explore the world that you realise how small the districts are.
The game features competent yet basic fighting game mechanics. Stringing together combos and taking down enemies never ceases to feel satisfying. My biggest gripe is the inability to transition from an attack to block or dodge. Because of this, you will frequently get hit in situations where there was no reasonable opportunity to prevent it. This is only a minor annoyance though and it doesn’t significantly detract from combat.
The leveling up system in the game is impressively deep and versatile. As you complete missions, eat food or take down enemies, you gain experience points. The experience points you gain are categorised. You spend these experience points on different upgrades to your character. There is a plethora of upgrades you can choose ranging from new moves to increased stats. I enjoyed how much freedom I was given to upgrade my character how I wanted.
Despite some flaws, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life proves to be an excellent video game export from Japan. The wonderfully crafted story is the true drawcard of the experience. Fortunately, the aspects that the game falls over with, namely the side missions and minigames, can largely be ignored.
Released: March 2018
Platforms: PlayStation 4