Review – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

I fell in love with the Yakuza series last year after the release of Yakuza 0, a game released right in the beginning of the year that managed to become my personal pick for 2017’s Game of the Year. The release of Yakuza Kiwami helped alleviate my addiction with the series while I was waiting for the eventual release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, one of my most anticipated games of 2018. Now that I have finally played it for way more than humanly recommended, I can safely say this is yet another excellent release for the PS4, but I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed with some aspects in this game.

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Despite being the 7th mainline game in the series (remember, Yakuza 0 is a thing), Yakuza 6 is the most newcomer-friendly game this franchise has to offer. You don’t need previous knowledge about the other games in order to play this one, even though it’s highly recommended. Sega made sure to add a nice written summary of all Yakuza games so far, as well as a very long flashback sequence at the beginning of the game, teaching newcomers everything they need to know about the franchise prior to the beginning of Yakuza 6. If you have only previously played 0 and Kiwami, like myself, that’s more than enough for you to enjoy the game, as most flashback nods and nostalgic moments are throwbacks to those games, Kiwami in particular.

Revisiting the red-light district of Kamurocho is like going out with an old friend after a few years. The neighborhood is nearly identical to the good old Kamurocho we all know and love, and yet so different. The already dense and explorable map has become even more explorable. There are no more transitions when you enter a building, everything is rendered in real time, making the world of Yakuza 6 even more realistic and believable. This is the best both Kamurocho and the Yakuza series has ever looked, but at a cost.

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That’s gotta hurt

The brand new graphical engine turned Yakuza 6 into a proper current-gen title, fixing its visuals and some previously annoying bits, such as the camera controls. While 0 and Kiwami were visually impressive games, they still retained last gen visual elements, as their engine was from the PS3 era of gaming. That comes at a price; while other Yakuza games ran at a smooth 60 frames per second, Yakuza 6 runs, at best, 30fps. There are still some framerate hiccups every now and then. The game demands a lot of the PS4’s already aging hardware with the nonsensical amount of colorful neon signs, Tokyo-esque amount of pedestrians and real-time rendered buildings, which results in a much slower experience than before. That also impacts one of the most important aspects of any Yakuza game: the combat.

First of all, let me praise one new aspect of the game’s combat system: there are no more battle transitions. Once you find a foe, you automatically change your stance in order to fight him, without the need of a RPG-esque screen transition. That makes the game a bit more fluid that before, but not as much as it should, given its slower pace. The main issue here, however, is the actual combat system. Remember when I said Yakuza 6 is newcomer-friendly? That also impacts the fighting system. Instead of a complex combat system featuring different fighting styles and an insane amount of flashy combos, there is only one fighting stance this time around. Kiryu’s new fighting style is slower, less flashy and features way less combos than before. It might be easier for newcomers to digest, but for anyone who has played Yakuza 0 and enjoyed its mentally deranged fighting mechanics, this new combat system feels too simplistic. Just like any other Yakuza game, you can purchase new moves with experience points, making the combat a bit more bearable.

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The Thrift Shop Power Rangers

You might think I hated Yakuza 6 because I couldn’t stop criticising it so far, but it’s still an excellent game. Let’s talk about the positives, which still outweigh its negatives. The main selling point of this is, without a doubt, its plot. Just like any other Yakuza game out there, it’s impeccably well-written, full of plot twists, betrayals, and so on, you know the drill. The Japanese cast does a tremendous job giving life to those polygonal characters, with special praise not only to Kiryu’s voice actor, but also to “Beat” Takeshi Kitano (you might know him as that guy from the Ghost in the Shell movie with Scarlett Johansson). The game has a lot more voice acting than its previous iterations, as every single sidequest and NPC is fully voiced this time around. The soundtrack, as usual, is also amazing.

Not only does the game feature the series staple Kamurocho, but it also features a small village near Hiroshima, a place that isn’t booming with side activities, being a more plot-oriented setting. The village is a nice change of pace given how slower life is in the countryside, even if the game slows down way more than it should when the focus is shifted from the insane lights and sound of Kamurocho. Speaking of side activities…

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The real reason we’re here

Not only is the story around 30 hours long, but Yakuza 6, being a Yakuza game, is filled to the bone with a downright insane amount of sidequests and additional minigames. Besides the literal hundreds of side missions you can tackle, you can also play baseball, mahjong, darts, lots of Sega arcades (classic titles like Fantasy Zone and newer titles like Virtua Fighter 5 with multiplayer support), engage in awkward dating minigames with cabaret hostesses, and of course, the iconic karaoke minigame. Blending in corny music videos with a simple PaRappa the Rapper-esque gameplay, this minigame is so absolutely dumb, so incredibly cheesy… I can’t help but love it. Seriously. Sega, if you ever decide to make a karaoke-focused spinoff, I’ll preorder it immediately.

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Seems like a fair fight

Yakuza 6 is definitely not the best Yakuza game released over the past few years, but it’s still an excellent game in its own right. Its fantastic story, beautiful visuals and nearly nonsensical amount of sidequests and minigames are more than enough to compensate its framerate issues and oversimplified combat system. This franchise is so good that even a slightly more disappointing entry is still considered an excellent title and a must-have for any PS4 owner. Make sure you get a copy of 0 and Kiwami as well.

Graphics: 8.0

The game looks a lot more detailed than ever before, but it also runs at half of the framerate it used to. It’s a double-edged sword.

Gameplay: 7.5

Some previous issues were fixed, such as the erratic camera and the combat screen transitions. The combat has been simplified for newcomers, to the point of becoming boring and uninspired for series veterans.

Sound: 10

Maintaining the same level of quality from previous Yakuza titles, the game features an awesome soundtrack coupled with magnificent voice acting.

Fun Factor: 8.0

It does suffer from some pacing issues, and its combat is nowhere as engaging as it used to be, but it’s still a Yakuza game: excellent story, an insane amount of side missions, and more minigames than your imagine can come up with.

Final Verdict: 8.0