Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the latest installment in the popular Sega franchise. While most video games aim to be dark and gritty, the Yakuza games are often absurd, over-the-top, and occasionally hysterical. While Yakuza 6 has its fair share of dramatic moments, there is so much quirkiness that it’s tough to play the game without smiling.
Picking up three years after the events of Yakuza 5, protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is released from prison and heads to the Sunshine Orphanage, to continue taking care of the children he left there. Once he returns, Kiryu is told that his niece, Haruka went to Kamurocho for unknown reasons. Upon his arrival to Kamurocho, he learns that Haruka has been left in critical condition after falling victim to a hit and run driver. To make matters worse, Haruka recently gave birth, and no one knows who the father is. This leads Kiryu on a journey to not only find out who’s the father of Haruka’s son, but also who hit her with the car. It’s an interesting set-up that will lead players on a journey full of intrigue, twists, and plenty of standout moments. I lost track of how many times I became so engaged with where the plot started to go.
While the main quest-line is often shocking and dramatic, sub-stories include some extremely weird and comedic scenarios. One of my favorite sub-stories is about a girl who is convinced that she has travelled back in time, and attempts to save her parents’ marriage. There are also quests that involve ghosts, and even a mission where Kiryu must dress like a local mascot and fully commit to the role. I spent a lot of time laughing at that particular sub-story. Yakuza 6 is a game that often highlights silliness, and the overall experience is better for that.
Gameplay consists of Kiryu walking around the open world of Kamurocho, completing missions, fighting random thugs on the street, and destroying rival Yakuza that try to stop him in his tracks. Combat is the main gameplay element, and it feels more responsive than ever. Kiryu can punch, kick, grab, dodge, parry, and block attacks. If hand-to-hand combat isn’t your thing, you can pick up objects on the ground to use as weapons. After attacking enough enemies and landing combos, you’ll increase your heat meter. By doing so, you can press the R2 button to enter Extreme Heat mode. When using Extreme Heat, Kiryu’s senses become enhanced. He can dodge faster, pick up heavy items, and even unleash devastating combos that will take down even the strongest foes. Knowing when to use your heat meter can be the difference between life and death.
Yakuza 6 features plenty of fantastic ways to lose track of time. There are so many minigames that will make every player put the main questline on hold for a while. From singing in Karaoke, playing rounds of mahjong, conversing with hostesses at cabaret clubs, talking to women on the Internet, heading to the batting cages, throwing darts, or even going to the arcade to play some classic Sega games, there are a lot of side activities to do in Kamurocho. I spent a lot of time playing Puyo Puyo, Virtua Fighter 5, and OutRun as a way to unwind after many hours going through Yakuza 6’s 13 chapter storyline.
Another interesting side-activity is Kiryu Clan battles. At one point, you have the option to participate in clan battles. This activity changes things up and adopts a real-time strategy styled event. As the leader of the clan, Kiryu uses members of his crew to take down rival clans. While exploring the open-world, you can find people to fight, who will join your clan upon beating them. Adding them to your squad will allow you to update your clan’s roster and unlock new abilities. In clan battles, you take control of a marker that you can move around the battlefield. Every few seconds, you’ll gain a point. Every 7-8 points will let you send another troop into battle. For 20 points and 50 points, you can send in an enforcer, a stronger unit with unique abilities that can either attack enemy leaders or buff your clan members. It’s an interesting game-type that quickly becomes addicting.
Yakuza 6 rarely has any flaws. I didn’t notice any bugs or technical glitches. My biggest issue is the fact that some of the cutscenes are too long. While it’s not a usual occurrence, there were instances when it felt like I was watching longer than average videos. That’s a problem I was met with later in the game. I loved the story, but I felt like they wanted to show so many narrative beats at one time. Having cutscenes spread apart would have kept me more engaged. There was never a lull in the actual story; the presentation just had a few awkward moments.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is another fantastic installment in the popular franchise. Kiryu’s latest journey is full of intrigue, drama, suspense, shocking moments, but most importantly, it has a lot of heart. Besides the gripping narrative, the city of Kamurocho is brimming with life and plenty of side-activities to do. Whether you want to spend hours experiencing the main campaign or you rather playing rounds of Mahjong or iconic Sega arcades games, there’s something for everyone. Yakuza 6 is a massive game that will not only please fans of the series, but it’s also welcoming to newcomers thanks to a summary of every game in the main menu. Yakuza 6 is an early contender for Game of the Year. It’s a series that consistently gets better with each installment. I’ll definitely be thinking about Yakuza 6 for a long time.