Kiryu and co get a long-overdue overhaul in the most lavish Yakuza game in years
Heavens above, an autosave. Yakuza 6 may be the fourth game in Toshihiro Nagoshi’s intoxicating series to arrive on PS4, but it’s the first to truly feel like it’s been built for it. This series has often felt a little behind the times – it’s a vital part of its charm, and entirely in keeping with a game that plays on, and with, publisher Sega’s rich heritage. Yet the series’ continuing insistence that we could only save our progress between chapters, or at telephones out in the world, has pushed that concept to its extreme. Well, no longer. Here, every item we pick up or buy, every morsel we consume, every purchased upgrade or soundly battered group of enemies sees our game saved on the fly. What a world.
If that seems like something of a strange thing to be excited about, we assume you’re not a Yakuza fan. As such you’re unlikely to be particularly fussed about the countless other ways in which Yakuza Studio has brought its decade-old series belatedly up to speed. There are cars – cars! – driving along the streets of Kamurocho. Street fights start within a splitsecond of you encountering a group of ne’erdo-wells. Buildings are now part of the world – protagonist Kazuma Kiryu simply pushing open doors and walking through them, with no need for loading screens – and Kamurocho is more vertical than before: one building might house three or four different businesses or ways to pass the time.
The result is that Yakuza 6’ s Kamurocho, while still benefiting from the familiarity of a setting that stands the Yakuza series apart from other, itchy-footed open-world games, frequently feels like a whole new world. It’s busier, more believably detailed, and much better-looking, with new lighting and shader systems complementing the greatly improved character models and animation. A robust physics engine, meanwhile, sees scenery react to Kiryu’s actions: plastic curtains part around him as he walks into a restaurant, furniture is shunted away when he bumps into it, and a kick to a grounded opponent sends them skidding comically across the floor.
Combat, while retaining many of the series’ hallmarks, has also been overhauled. It’s a good deal harder, for a start: enemies are more intelligent, putting their guard up during gaps in combo strings, and attacking from behind when you’re whaling on one of their allies. Character upgrades are now bought using experience points, spread across multiple categories, that are earned as you win fights, complete quests and explore the world.
This is a game of many technical steps forward, then – but after the origin story of
Yakuza 0, which shed the series’ narrative baggage by winding the clock back to the late ’80s, Yakuza 6’ s return to the present day means a return for some of that old bloat. The language barrier presented by our Japanese code plays a part, but this is slow to get going, and it doesn’t help that you’re spirited away from that beautiful new Kamurocho to the new secondary city of Hiroshima early on. Even worse, you’ll spend much of it strolling along with an infant in your arms; Haruka Sawamura, Kiryu’s unofficially adopted daughter, disappears, comes to term on a pregnancy she’d kept secret, then is put in a coma by a hit-and-run car accident, and Kiryu is left holding the baby. A ripping yarn it is not, at least early on. Legendary Japanese actor Beat Takeshi, performance-captured in the role of an ageing Hiroshima yakuza captain, seems a little wasted in the context of a game where you spend 20 minutes walking the streets of Hiroshima late at night, looking for a store that’s still open to sell you milk.
No doubt that will change; Yakuza games have often been slow burners, and much of the charm is lost in the absence of translation. In one Kamurocho building we find a cat café with only one feline in attendance, offer our assistance and leave with a selection of cat food in our inventory. We meet a man on the street arguing with his girlfriend, and later help him woo a cam girl on his laptop. Eventually, when the Deep Silver-published localisation arrives next year, we’ll get to fill in the blanks. In the meantime we’re happy bumbling around in the greatest incarnation yet of one of our favourite videogame lands.
Every item we pick up or buy, every morsel we consume sees our game saved on the fly
Series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu sets out on a new adventure in the first Yakuza game to take advantage of PS4’s power. Japan cinema legend Beat Takeshi (far left) plays a grizzled Hiroshima yakuza