Yakuza has always been one of the better unknown exclusives in the West. By combining open world mechanics with a strong story, it found a lot of success in Japan, leading to a recent push in the West. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is arguably the series biggest push and continues Kazuma Kiryu’s journey. With impressive visuals, the power of the PlayStation 4, new ideas and a story to tell, is Yakuza 6: The Song of Life a breath of life to the series or is it another solid title that doesn’t stand out?
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life takes place after the events of Yakuza 5 and finds Kiryu in a hospital. Looking to make a statement, Kiryu is arrested for previous crimes and sentenced to time in prison. Kiryu decides to accept his sentence and looks at it as a way to pay for his previous misdeeds and allow him to find happiness in the future. While Kiryu spends the next three years in prison, Haruka leaves Morning Glory to be closer to him, setting off a chain of events.
Upon his release, Kiryu learns Haruka left and is currently missing. He learns the children stopped hearing from her around a year ago and sets off on a quest to find her. This leads to a number of revelations, the largest explaining the opening segment, and makes for a compelling journey, one that easily exceeds the depth found elsewhere.
Even though the story is compelling, if only for the fact Kiryu is such a fascinating character, gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. Similar to previous titles, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life takes place in an open world where players can complete side quests and fight off troublemakers. This is something of a mixed bag, as the side stories are interesting, where as combat is not.
Many of the side stories deal with things typical of Japanese culture and commentary on the contemporary world. For instance, one girl is touched by her encounter with Haruka during her time as an idol, allowing Kiryu to both relate to and interact with, resulting in a brief quest to obtain an item for her. Another early quest deals with a smart assistant program that manipulates Kiryu, among others, into performing tasks that give the allusion of the programs value. This is a fairly short series of tasks, but still offers an interesting take on similar applications.
As for combat, even on the highest starting difficulty, it’s hollow and boring. Most enemies can be defeated by pushing the same button and/or using nearby items to steamroll foes. It might not be as mindless as a Dynasty Warriors-esque title but it’s nowhere near as deep as, say, Yakuza Kiwami.
For as much as a step backwards combat is, there are a number of streamlined processes. With the need to find phone booths removed in favor of auto saving and smart phone app, this is the easiest Yakuza title understand. In fact, the only negative with progression is the waypoint being destination based, instead of showing players the ideal or at least a way to get there. This usually won’t be a problem, though it can make traversing the area a little confusing, especially if you pull out the in-game map.
Despite the shortcomings, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is easily one of the best looking and most alive of the series. The world in general is vibrant, filled with small touches, bright colors and elaborate designs. It’s enough to make the small worlds feel a lot larger, with the ability to visit restaurants, eat food, interact with various vending machines and more adding to the overall experience.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life isn’t perfect in the grand scheme, at least outside of the story, with most of the value coming from the small touches. Side stories offer a lot of insight into the world, culture and scale that they’re a blast to do. From there, I didn’t encounter a line of dialogue, no matter how small, where it wasn’t voiced. Where most games would limit voice recording to major scenes or the main story, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is more than happy to help build the world. Give this to a story about Kiryu trying to find happiness, giving him a mission and another reason to look beyond his world and you have a fantastic experience. Maybe not a perfect one, as waypoints and combat still have some ways to go, but one where fans of stories or open world games will be, if nothing else, satisfied.
[Editor’s Note: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]