No game series has ever really dragged me in as quickly as Yakuza has. From playing Yakuza Zero in 2016 and following it with the remake of the original Yakuza Kiwami, buying Yakuza 3 and the zombie spin-off Yakuza: Dead Souls, I have put a lot of time in catching up with the series, and I don’t think I have been waiting for a game as fervently as I have with The Song of Life.
And I may have overhyped the game for myself. The Song of Life feels a lot more like Kiwami than Zero. The engagement of a much more serious tone works well for the story, and keeps you locked in for the serious rollercoaster of a ride this game is. Beside this is the plethora of side missions and stories which remain as fun and strange as ever, as well as the new revamped look and style which still retains the Yakuza feel despite the rather large departure from its arcade roots.
The story follows straight on from 5. After recovering from the gunshot wounds sustained during the last bouts (the game once again provides summaries for each game) Kiryu is promptly arrested for the various crimes which took place and sentenced to 3 years in jail. At his release, he sets out to find Haruka, who over those 3 years has been on an adventure of her own.
The main difference you’ll see first is the graphical overhaul to the game. Sega has rebuilt the Dragon engine for the PS4 and by god it looks pretty. The realism is especially seen in the faces, with the help of facial capture to make the movements human. While some cutscenes still have the typical goldfish movement the overall aesthetic is stunning. The sacrifice in exchange is overall resolution. The game runs at 720P with only 30FPS, which seems a relatively fair trade for the level of graphical gain, although expect fluctuations in framerate in busy areas.
You will be jumping between two main locations. You naturally get Kamurocho, the standard game area which looks absolutely stunning under the new engine. This is particularly apparent at night, where the lighting engine makes every neon sign and puddle look beautiful. You also get Onomichi, a small fishing town in the Hiroshima region which offsets the busy city with a calm and traditional Japanese town. Each town has its own side missions to keep you busy, but part of me prefers Kamurocho, though that is probably nostalgia.
The next big change you will notice is the new style of fighting Kiryu has acquired. In an attempt to make the fighting flow better Kiryu’s trademark fighting style has been rebuilt to be more fluid and human, losing a lot of the arcade feel of previous games. While there are still absurd techniques in his arsenal, such as using chopsticks to defend blows or throwing enemies into the busoms of surrounding women your basic roster is more flowing, with less range and more simplified punch and kick combos. Heat powers are you fighting booster, turning Kiryu into a walking fist able to power through most enemies, including bosses, with relative ease. You boost Kiryu’s skills with EXP, gained for pretty much every action in the game. These can be put into base fighting stats, or rather specific boosters for the side missions available.
And fear not, side missions are aplenty. Once again Sega has a roster of hilarious misadventures for Kiryu to combat. One minute you are dealing with a vlogger trying to film real Yakuza, the next you are helping a child find a picture of her favourite idol. You have about 60 of these small story distractions, but once again there are fully fledged games wormed inside for you to sink into. You can take part in spear fishing, an on rails style shooter sequence trying to net as many fish as possible without running out of air. You can run a cat café, hunting down cats in the wild and feeding them food until they can be brought into the fold. You run a baseball league, a numbers game mostly with you winning games and boosting members to be better players. You even get your own gang, fighting through Hiroshima and Kamurocho in a Command & Conquer style points RTS. Most importantly, Pocket Circuit Fighter is back!
And if you don’t know who that is, shame on you, go play Zero and Kiwami.
I’m never disappointed by the amount of things to do that are always crammed into these games that are not even related to missions. You can go to arcades and play Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5. You can play darts, sing karaoke, get drunk, go to hostess clubs, play baseball, web chat with women, work out at the gym. This list is by no means complete, and each of these is fully fledged and each side mission or minigame is a joy to play.
If I had written this interview after the first few hours of the game then this is where the review would end, with nothing but outright praises. But I feel something has been lost a little with the trend towards graphical fidelity and flow. Despite being a very serious series Yakuza always managed an arcade-like level of disbelief, balancing that perfectly with its story. At the start that seems to have stayed, but as it continues on the ability to feel superhuman has been lost somewhat in the movement. Cutscenes do not always effortlessly flow into fights, although most traversal through missions do so. The more crazy characters including classics like Majima have been taken away for this story and there are no characters as crazy to take his place.
Overall, Yakuza 6 is a strong continuation of the series so far. Personally the arcade feel has be lessened, but the graphical enhancements, extreme amount of content, and stunning story mean that I’m still wholly in love with it. If you took my recommendation to play both Zero and Kiwami, then take my recommendation and play this one.