Yakuza: The Song of Life Review (PS4)

Kazuma Kiryu is back and he’s here to kick butt and chew bubblegum… only none of the convenience stores sell bubblegum in Yakuza 6. Though the game may not be coming out until next week, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to read more about it.

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At the core of it’s gameplay elements, Yakuza 6 is a 3D action-adventure game that gives you the ability to explore a world where the yakuza (Japanese mafia) have a tight grip on the underworld of Japan. In this game you control Kazuma Kiryu, an ex-Yakuza that seems to always get pulled back into the dark underworld no matter how many times he might try to escape it. When not being engrossed in dialogue, you will spend most of the game duking it out in the streets with people that enjoy getting beat up (trust me, there’s some enemies that just keep coming back for more). Luckily, Kazuma is really good at finding a variety of ways to let loose the pain.

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In fights, your basic actions include a quickstep, block, pummel your opponent with light and heavy attacks, grapple enemies (which can be thrown at each other!) or pick up nearby objects (e.g. traffic cones, bicycles) and use them as weapons. There are also special attacks you can unleash called “heat actions” where Kiryu performs a cinematic maneuver that results in high amounts of damage to opponents. New to this game is an “extreme heat mode” where you can use up your heat gauge to enter a mode that gives Kiryu more power, the ability to use special heat moves only available in this mode and – as far as I can tell – prevent Kiryu from dying. But be careful to pay attention to your gauge because it only lasts for so long.

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Every victory earns you experience. Experience points are used to level up stats, gain new skills or learn new techniques. In Yakuza 6, you have different types of experience point attributes you can gain depending on what activity you are gaining experience from. Experience is obtained by a variety of ways such as reaching specific in-game milestones, winning fights, completing sub-stories,eating food (trust me when I say that Kiryu is a total foodie), or simply advancing further in the story.

Like its predecessors, the story starts off with a seemingly simple plotline that evolves into a story that’s much bigger than just yourself. Kazuma, having just been released from prison, finds that his adoptive daughter, Haruka, has gone missing. Not long after, you find out she was the victim of a hit-and-run accident, is now in a coma and it’s not certain she’ll make it through. Adding icing on the cake, you find out Haruka also has a child. Not one to sit around and wait, Kazuma takes it upon himself to find out who the father is and why he isn’t sitting at Haruka’s side in her most desperate moment.

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As you might have inferred, the storyline for Yakuza 6 starts off very serious and at times can even tug at your heartstrings.  The series tends to portray Kazuma as a man of few words and, when angered, a force to be reckoned with. But the game is not without its more light-hearted moments.  That’s where the sub-stories come into play. Think of sub-stories like side quests. Most of them put Kazuma into odd situations. Many times, these turn out comical because Kazuma takes everything serious, no matter what.  For example, you may find this tough ex-Yakuza in settings like dressing up as a mascot to entertain children, figuring out how to use live chat, learning how to do a proper kabe-don (kabe-don’t ask me about it) or preventing an artificial intelligence from taking over the world.

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There are also some sub-stories that rely in large part on the mini-games that support them.  (There’s also lots of mini-games that you can just sit down and play for fun just about anytime in the game, but you can read more about those in my previous impressions review by clicking HERE).  You will find yourself deep sea harpooning to help an old fisherman stay in business. You’ll become a manager for a local baseball team, complete with batting minigame. But there’s one that feels like the developers put the most effort towards that I want to mention more, and that is the clan wars sub-storyline.

Later in the game you unlock the ability to create clans and engage in clan wars.  You recruit people into your clan and use them to fight in battles against other clans.  You’re given a handful of people to start with, but everyone else you recruit is either through talking to people in the street (some after finishing certain sub-stories) or by getting further in the clan war sub-story itself.  Clan battles take place on a street with enemies set up in particular spots. Your goal is to defeat the leader(s) of the enemy squad. You do this by sending soldiers into the fray. There are different soldier types, each with their own attack attributes (e.g. gunners, swords, bombers, etc.) and there is some sort of rock/paper/scissors meta built into the fights.  You can send out as many troops as you have resources to send them out, but don’t worry if you run out of resources as it continues to build up while the battle rages on. But don’t let that lull you into being passive, as you have to win before the timer hits zero. Honestly, this feels more like a tower defense game.

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I’m almost loathe to call the clan wars a mini-game because the overarching plot for it requires a considerable time investment to see it through to completion.  But the main point I wanted to bring up with it is these Yakuza games tend to have a lot of mini-games built into them. Some of these mini-games may seem simple on the surface, but actually have a lot of depth put into them.  The clan wars and the baseball manager mini-games are such examples of games that fit this description. It’s games like these that really show off the levels of innovation and time investment on the part of the developers because these aren’t just things they slapped into the game.  There is legitimate thought and ingenuity that was built into these games to add a layer of difficulty that builds up as you progress through them. You simply have to give the developers kudos for putting this much thought into some of these min-games.

You can really tell the developers have a passion for this game because some of the details are uncanny.  In cutscenes, you can see the wrinkles, skin blemishes and facial emotions portrayed so well it’s like you’re looking at actual people.  Some of the background scenery is simply stunning. I was lulled by staring at the movement of the ocean at night in Onomichi on more than one occasion.  The food in all of the restaurants looks appetizing enough to want it on a plate right in front of you. And to drive this detailed point home, restaurants have bathrooms, cooking areas and fire extinguishers.  Clearly, the developers expected every restaurant you walk into to pass a health inspection.

The game even makes it a point that it’s bringing Kiryu into the 20th century.  Gone are the days of finding a phone booth to save your game – and I dare you to find one – because you can now save from anywhere thanks to your handy dandy smartphone.  Pedestrian road barriers are only a minor annoyance because NOW you can simply walk over them. They’ve even figured out a way to allow cars, of all things, to drive around in areas you can walk!  Most dialogue can now be fast forwarded with the press of a button, though it may make the pacing of some scenes go more quickly than the writers intended. Even street skirmishes have been sped up in that they are more seamless and don’t require obviously separate loading screens.  As a whole, the game feels more freeing rather than restricting.

It’s hard to find fault with the game, but I’m still going to give it a shot.  Yakuza 6 feels may feel more open than previous games, but it also feels more limited.  There’s a lot less weapon variety to choose from and you’re not able to keep them, but this could also be an argument that they chose to make the game more simple and accessible.  It feels like there’s less variety of special attacks (heat moves) you can do, although this is also likely in part due to the more limited selection of weapons found in the game. There’s also no pachinko or playable UFO crane games to be found like in previous entries. I’m not sure why they chose to remove some of the games that had already been created in previous entries, but I’m going to assume it has to do with the team making this game based off a new game engine and having to start all over from scratch if they wanted to include them.

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Honestly, I’m not upset with the game.  Far from it, I’m excited by it. The controls were very accessible and the music fit all of the scenes very well (except for that annoying pop song they play on repeat in the mahjong rooms).  It’s a very good game and it’s clear that the developers poured a lot of love into it. If you’re worried about starting with later games in the series, don’t be, because the games typically have summaries for each previous entry.   If you’re new to the series, this is not a bad game to play, but I’d honestly direct you to try out 4 or 5 because they’ll be easier on the wallet and just as fun. But for those with prior experience, I highly recommend you try this one out because you will be amazed at some of the quality of life improvements they’ve built in.

Five Stars

Review copy of the game provided by SEGA.
Completed the game on normal with 65% of trophies obtained

Total Play Time: 35 hours



Categories: PS4, Reviews

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