Reviews// Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Posted 12 Apr 2018 14:46 by
Despite only recently engaging with the Yakuza series, I have to admit that I approached this sixth entry with trepidation. I was well aware that this game would see the end of Kiryu Kazama's story and having grown extremely attached to him over the two games I have played, I was not looking forward to this prospect.

Having now finished the game's main story I have extremely oppossing feelings. On the one hand, Yakuza 6: Yakuza 6 is certainly a weaker 'game' than previous entries in the series. The non-interactive elements of the franchise are taken to a new level in this final chapter and the number of side quests and mini games have been reduced considerably.

On the other hand, the game does manage to tell a compelling story and introduces complex characters that, by the end, became as important to me as series regulars. Although feedback about the game has generally bemoaned the lack of call-backs to earlier entries in the series, the decision by Sega to focus instead on a new 'family' for Kiryu makes sense, given the increased interest in Yakuza since the release of Zero and Kiwami last year. Yakuza 6 has been designed to be played and appreciated by as wide a range of people as possible, not just series diehards who have experienced every game and know every aspect of Kiryu's life. Sega has, I would argue, largely succeeded, with some important caveats.

Yakuza 6 opens with the familiar scene of Kiryu being released from prison following the events of the previous game. Players are provided the opportunity to take part in a dream sequence that provides further context to the game's world and Kiryu's relationships with other characters. Although this is welcome, it is rather overwhelming because of the sheer number of 'key' individuals that Kiryu has interacted with over the previous six games in the series.

Fortunately, the following cutscenes ease the player in a little more gently, focusing solely on aspects of importance to the player's immediate objectives. Kiryu returns to the orphanage he had set up in a previous game to meet with his adopted daughter Haruka, whom he has not seen for several years because of his imprisonment. Unfortunately, Haruka has long since left the orphanage and was last seen in Tokyo. Upon arrival back in his old stomping ground of Kamurocho Kiryu, now a civilian having left the Tojo Clan and his Yakuza identity behind, finds that she has not only been involved in a serious accident and is currently hospitalised, but also has a child by the name of Haruto. The 'Dragon of Dojima' is consequently dragged back into the underworld as he seeks to discover the reason for Haruka's accident and the identity of her child's father. This takes place against the usual backdrop of Yakuza scheming, political intrigue, revenge and murder.

Thematically, Yakuza 6 follows similar patterns to its predecessors with a focus on loyalty, family ties and generational conflict.

As Kiryu comes to the end of his story, questions of legacy and succession dominate as the narrative focuses on issues such as the difficulty of parenting, the desire for parental approval and the rejection of tradition and expectation. To achieve this, a whole new cast of characters from the city of Hiroshima is introduced. Consequently, the story moves significantly faster than in previous entries, with a great deal of attention paid to character set up and the building of relationships.

This new, more focussed approach, does mean that unfortunately world building is rather limited. Kamurocho is largely unchanged from earlier entries and is smaller with many sections cordoned off. Although the usual distractions exist such as the arcades, karaoke and Mahjong, there feels less incentive to take part because of the more focused nature of the game's main plot.

In addition, side missions feel a little less imaginative than in previous entries and wandering the map to find things to do turned up fewer options than I was expecting. In addition, the changes to the fighting system are not particularly well implemented. The flexible system introduced in Yakuza Zero has been abandoned for a simplified experience that allows for a less focused approach to customisation. Despite this change, combat is still extremely satisfying, particularly once the upper levels of the heat system have been unlocked.

When the action shifted to Hiroshima, I was relieved to visit a different environment. The sleepy fishing town of Onomichi does provide a nice change of pace from the rushed and crowded Kamurocho, however there is even less to do than in the city. This design choice did rather make it feel as if I was being pressured towards focusing on the main story, as there was little else to provide any major distraction.

The introduction of a new 'clan creator' mode, whereby you can build up your own gang of vigilantes to fight back against criminals in the town is welcome, although I have to confess that I did not find it to be terribly interesting. This minigame is very similar to the 'tower defence' missions added to Assassin's Creed Revelations and although I am sure some people will get enjoyment out of it, it just wasn't for me.

Despite the lack of distractions, the main plotline of Yakuza 6 kept me hooked throughout. The political machinations of the Yakuza are as fascinating as ever and the deeply personal nature of Kiryu's quest, combined with some truly well characterised and excellently acted allies and villains, left me hesitant to finish the final chapter. I simply didn't want to end my time with the game.

After more than six entries in the series, 'The Dragon of Dojima' has built up a storied and epic past. Crafting a satisfying conclusion was always going to be difficult. I feel that Sega has succeeded, although some elements of the plot towards the end are not entirely satisfactory, it doesn't taint the overall experience. The game is not without its flaws and the lack of content and changes to the battle system are unfortunate. However, I left the game with my feelings for the lead character strengthened. Kiryu Kazama is an exceptionally well developed and engaging character, one of
the best in the history of the medium. His story may now be over, but I certainly hope Sega will return to the world of Yakuza.

Pros:
+ Intricate and well-developed plot.
+ Engaging characters and atmosphere.
+ Visually impressive.

Cons:
- Rather less to do than in earlier entries.
- Fighting system is less engaging.
- The end of an era.

SPOnG Score: 8/10

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