Yakuza 6 The Song of Life Review – Tying it Up
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Sega, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
Release: 17th April 2018
Looking back at the time I still owned a PS3, to this day I regret to never have played the dozens of Japanese masterpieces that existed for it. One of them was the Yakuza series, which I finally got into with last year´s phenomenal Yakuza 0 as well as Kiwami. Sadly, it´s already time to wish Kiryu farewell with his final game, Yakuza 6 The Song of Life. Even though I couldn´t play all (except SEGA finally releases 3-5 on PS4 after Kiwami 2), this last entry can once again surpass my expectations.
2016, Kiryu desires only one thing after decades of endless fights for his family: Peace. Ready to serve one final time in prison to cleanse his conscience and past one last time. However, when he finally gets out, his hopes of living together with the kids in Morning Glory are soon shattered when he finds out about Haruka´s baby and accident. It´s time for him to embark one last time on a quest to protect his family.
As in the previous instalments, Yakuza 6´s story is once again fantastic. Circling around a classic mystery, which couldn´t sound more cliché, the game is able to create something truly beautiful again. Yet, this time the whole thing is a whole lot darker. Since it´s the last time we get to play as Kiryu, there aren´t fancy battle openings, a ton of silly jokes or anything to lighten up the mood in the main story. With mostly emotional music tracks, the narrative way more focused on the drama side of Yakuza, rather than throwing in funny minute long cutscenes. In contrast to Yakuza 0, the joke level is at a surprising low and I actually applaud this drastic turn, as it underlines the seriousness of the whole plot once again.
Naturally, the actual story can hold its own ground even without comedy. Divided into three big parts, the first focuses on a rather classic turn of events, mostly to introduce new characters and locations, like the peaceful Onomichi. Fortunately, the other two-thirds accelerate the pacing to an almost oblivious speed, where twists and turns come almost every chapter. The fact how Yakuza 6 is so well aware of the pure richness of its plot, easily able to fill 20 hours in a heartbeat, that it doesn´t even need to artificially lengthen its plot or tension curve through excessive teasing but reveals big secrets almost an hour after they´re introduced makes it an incredible captivating tale.
It´s a dark, honest story about a washed-up Yakuza legend, simply trying to live his own life, yet, is dragged deeper and deeper into the most complicated conflict told so far on the PS4 titles. I expected a masterfully crafted narrative between comedy and drama, what I got was one of the best gangster stories I´ve ever witnessed, even excelling its predecessors.
In exchange, the comedic side of Yakuza 6 can be found in the dozens of side stories, full of adorable, dumb ideas. From having to pose as the mascot of Onomichi, to a reference to “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” or even horror tales. The game is full of fresh, unseen ideas, that play with modern pop culture and our society. Who doesn´t want to explore the vast “Live Chat”, where real girls get nearly undressed (literally).
While the two open worlds, Kamurocho and Onomichi, can convey a realistic feeling of modern entertainment district or relaxed countryside, their activities remained mostly the same, except Live Chat of course. Yet, the almost always entertaining side events, which still surprise me by how normal they occur, excel at their task. Though it seemed like I encountered slightly less than in Yakuza 0 but more consistently great ones.
Who wants some meatier side activities is once again greeted with a 4-8 hours long side campaign. With the goal of defeating the street gang JUSTIS, Kiryu is put in charge of his own gang, full of unique leaders and a command board. Depending on the position and number of underlings, each leader gains new strength, so your favourite one can be even more powerful. All the action then happens in rather passive battles, where we can merely send our commanders and different unite types into battle against the enemy, like in real street fights.
From knife holding but easy to kill ones to giant, slow tankers. Combined with the number of different leaders and their abilities and the dependence on “points” that we gain every second, this side campaign offers a surprising amount of depth. Especially considering how it´s totally different to the main experience. It even has an own little story with twists and turns! And don´t forget how the main villains are based on real Japanese wrestlers, I mean, it´s Yakuza we´re talking about here.
On the other hand, the combat probably changed the most. Gone are the three different fighting styles, exchanged by one, all-encompassing mode. In Yakuza 6, the combat system can best be described as the Brawler stance enhanced by faster quicksteps. Additionally, the new Extreme Heat Mode is basically the Beast style on steroids. Once activated, Kiryu gains giant amounts of attack power, grabs objects automatically and triggers special QuickTime events when he finishes combos.
As a result, the whole fighting system feels more straightforward, streamlined. Instead of having to switch between the three, of which only the Brawler felt universally useable, fights become quicker. Jumping right into the action and remaining there until the end, without having to gain distance to change styles. The skill system also profits, as it´s only offering upgrades you can surely use and doesn´t force the player to skill pack each system full of special skills and quirks. By concentrating everything on one style, Yakuza 6 may seem like a less deep brawler, yet, gains a combat system so rich and big, that it outrivals anything the predecessors did. It kinda felt like the improvements Bayonetta 2 had compared to Bayonetta 1, a pretty damn big, unexpected step forward.
Last but not least, let´s speak of the Dragon Engine again, because of course, I have to. Besides its ability to render eyes so black I could lose myself in them, it´s still a pretty damn impressive piece of technology. The important in-game cutscenes look as breathtaking as always, featuring great facial animations and cinematic design, to really capture the feeling of a giant gangster movie. At the same time, both Kamurocho and Onomichi are so visually distinct, yet so gorgeously looking, full with distinct places and design, that I could pretty much differentiate the two from any other video game city. Honestly, it should be obvious how gorgeous the Yakuza series looks on PS4.
At the end of the road, Yakuza 6 The Song of Life could achieve nearly the unthinkable: Surpassing every entry on the PS4 so far. Given, it may not be as goofy as Yakuza 0 at times but the sheer complexity, drama and telling of its story is the perfect choice to end Kiryu´s tale. Combined with a more streamlined combat, able to deliver both faster-paced action and expanded versatility, the game can also feature some of the biggest improvements of the series. If you already loved Yakuza from the start or just discovered it recently, Yakuza 6 will make you love the series even more.
[A Review Code was provided by Koch Media]