Yakuza 6: The Song of Life: Farewell, Kiryu-san, my old friend

My love of Sega’s Yakuza series has been well-documented on this site. If you haven’t read my last blog post on why I think the series is so great  (and, for goodness sake, why not?), you can find it here but the Yakuza games hold a special place in my heart.

First appearing on the PlayStation 2, the Yakuza games chronicle the life of former (but now disgraced) Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu. I’ve seen Kiryu grow as a character through the series and while in Yakuza 6, he might be a little older (younger foes constantly refer to him as old man before they inevitably get their arses handed to them on a plate), he might have a little more grey around the temples, but he still carries the presence of a Yakuza  (he was Fourth Chairman, after all), despite insisting to people he is just a civilian.

Yakuza 6 (PlayStation 4 only) focuses on Kiryu returning to Kamurocho after spending time in prison for past crimes, hoping to live out the rest of his days in peace in the orphanage he founded,  with Haruka, the young girl he fostered it’s kind of complicated). On his return, he finds that Haruka is missing and while searching for her in Kamurocho, learns she is in a coma after a hit and run – and she has a new born son. Kiryu return to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima to find out what happened to Haruka.

While it’s not crucial to have played previous Yakuza games before (there is a good video run down in the main menu that will get you up to date) and Yakuza 6 is probably the most accessible of the series, I feel for a series like this it’s always good to have played at least one other game as you’ll be aware of the backstory and have been introduced to keyl characters such as like Makoto Date, Kiryu’s arch-nemesis Goro Majima, and Kiryu’s once best friend Nishikiyama.

While previous Yakuza games tended to stick to the one location, Kamurocho, Yakuza 6 ventures forth to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima. Having a new location really adds depth to the game’s narrative, and there’s an interesting dynamic on display as a big city Yakuza gets to grips with how things are in the provinces. Like previous Yakuza games, the towns are jammed pack with restaurants, entertainment venues, convenience stores and bars. As is common throughout Japan, there are lots and lots of vending machines in Yakuza 6, too.

 

Combat has always been an important part of the Yakuza series. In earlier games, Kiryu could mix between four different styles, each one different to the other . Things are slightly different in Yakuza 6 (gone are the variety of fighting styles), but ultimately, combat centres around Kiryu building up his  “heat” meter, which he can then activate (with the R2 button) and unleash a variety of punches and kicks with delivers powerful finishing moves. I thought some of the finishes in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were over-the-top but in Yakuza 6 they take things to a whole new level.

New to Yakuza 6, is the clan battles, which has Kiryu ordering fighters he has recruited to help fight other street gangs. It’s view from the top-down perspective with Kiryu (you) ordering colleagues who to attack. It has a very strategy game feel to it, with different strength units.

Another thing the series has always been known for is its off-the-wall side missions and Yakuza 6 does not disappoint. To be honest,  they’re the type of quests that you’d only find in a Japanese game. Many of them are just head-scratchingly bonkers but they make you smile and don’t feel out-of-place.

One, for example, sees Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi Jingaicho’s  mascot Ono (which has a head of an orange with a bowl of ramen noodles as a hat) because the normal person who played the mascot just didn’t turn up. Another mission sees him having to stop and sing lullabies to Haruka’s baby son – who he is carrying around with him at times  – while he scours Onomichi Jingaicho after hours in search of baby formula. Speaking of babies, a nice touch is that when Kiryu encounters rivals on the street and it initiates a random fight, if he’s holding the baby, there’s a cut scene showing him handing the infant to a bystander before he launches into the fight. It’s those little details that are reasons why I just can’t get enough of Kazuma Kiryu and the Yakuza games.

There will be some who are put off by the off-the-wall side quests and the countless cut scenes with lines of dialogue that help move the story forward, but for me, that’s all part of what makes the series so great. Visually and technically, Yakuza 6 is  the best of the lot with amazing attention to detail when it comes to facial features of characters and the details of the environments. I also like the fat that (apart from the original Yakuza) the audio is Japanese with English subtitles: It just adds even more atmosphere to the game.

Yakuza 6 is said to be the last game of the series featuring Kazuma Kiryu, w hich will be a shame, but what is also a shame is that the Yakuza series isn’t as popular as it should be in the West: It’s a series that deserves more attention from gamers thanks to its deep narrative and strong character development. I can’t recommend the series highly enough but if you’re still on the fence, Sega has released a timed demo of Yakuza 6 that might whet your appetite.

Sayonara, Kiryu-san, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.

Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life which was redeemed via digital distribution. 

 

 

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