Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Yakuza Stu­dio Pub­lisher Sega For­mat PS4 Re­lease April 17

PS4

They have a say­ing down in Ok­i­nawa, the sleepy south­ern­most pre­fec­ture of Ja­pan where, back in Yakuza 3, Kazuma Kiryu ran an or­phan­age for a spell. ‘Hara hachi bu’ is an old Con­fu­cian teach­ing that roughly trans­lates as ‘eat un­til you’re 80 per cent full’. Kiryu may not spend much time at Sun­shine Or­phan­age in Yakuza 6 – it quickly be­comes ap­par­ent that he’s needed else­where – but he cer­tainly has need of that les­son on his lat­est, and fi­nal, jour­ney.

The se­ries’ time­worn health sys­tem has fi­nally been over­hauled, with the culi­nary wares on of­fer at lo­cal busi­nesses now fill­ing our hero’s stom­ach, as well as his health bar. Meals also give XP in mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories, to be spent on new moves, stat up­grades and per­for­mance buffs in Yakuza 6’ s var­i­ous minigames and dis­trac­tions. XP, then, is the game’s most valu­able cur­rency. Should Kiryu’s belly be full, he’ll still re­cover health, though at a far less gen­er­ous rate than he did in pre­vi­ous games. Cru­cially, how­ever, a full stom­ach means no more XP from food un­til you work off some calo­ries.

There’s your me­chan­i­cal rea­son for watch­ing your weight; hand­ily, there’s a nar­ra­tive one too. Thanks to their ha­bit­u­ally calo­rie-con­trolled diet, Ok­i­nawans have sub-av­er­age BMI scores, and a world-beat­ing pro­por­tion of cit­i­zens over 100 years old. Kiryu isn’t that old – nei­ther the chides of “gramps” from street thugs, nor his fre­quent ref­er­ences to him­self as a “washed-up old yakuza”, ring en­tirely true – but he’s cer­tainly knock­ing on a bit. Early on, fresh out of a prison sen­tence im­posed for his mis­ad­ven­tures in Yakuza 5, he cer­tainly seems to be feel­ing his age: he’s un­able to sprint for much more than 100 yards be­fore stop­ping, bent dou­ble. A few up­grades later, he’s back at his best, the only re­minder of his ad­vanc­ing years be­ing his wrin­kles, the dark rings around his eyes, and the con­stant ref­er­ences to his age, the de­vel­op­ers miss­ing no op­por­tu­nity to re­mind you this is Kazuma Kiryu’s swan song.

Those un­flat­ter­ing fea­tures are pow­ered by a new en­gine, mean­ing Kiryu’s fi­nal game is the first to be built on tech­nol­ogy de­signed for PS4. That it is hardly a tech­ni­cal show­case should be no sur­prise when put in the con­text of its se­ries, but it’s clearly a step up. Ac­ces­si­ble build­ings can now be en­tered with­out a load­ing pause. New fab­ric and skin shaders, com­bined with much im­proved light­ing and an­i­ma­tion sys­tems, make a world we’ve come to know by heart, and the peo­ple that move within it, feel more alive than ever.

Un­for­tu­nately it comes at quite a cost. The first is a fram­er­ate that peaks at 30fps and, on the base­model PS4, fre­quently plum­mets be­low its lowly tar­get. If that alone doesn’t have those com­ing from the 60fps-en­abled Yakuza 0 or Ki­wami pin­ing for the good old days, then a world that has markedly less to do cer­tainly will. The north­ern edge of the city, home in pre­vi­ous games to a bathing spa, the ho­tel district, a park full of home­less peo­ple and at one point an en­tire un­der­ground city, is blocked off for the whole game be­cause of road­works. Many dis­trac­tions have been cut, too, and the new ad­di­tions – a gym, a cam-girl minigame, a cat cafe with no ac­tual cats that asks you to be­friend strays with food bought from con­ve­nience stores, be­cause this is Yakuza, re­mem­ber – don’t feel sub­stan­tial enough to make up the short­fall.

That’s es­pe­cially true in Onomichi, the Hiroshi­man town where Kiryu spends far too much of the game. While big­ger than it first ap­pears, it’s no Ka­muro­cho in size, and cer­tainly not in den­sity. It’s a rather naked at­tempt to push you into the town’s prin­ci­pal dis­trac­tion, a 100v100 RTS side-mode with street thugs for units that, while bonkers, is nowhere near as com­pelling as, say, Yakuza 0’ s real-es­tate and cabaret man­age­ment games. Ig­nore that, and Onomichi feels a lonely, empty place in­deed.

Com­bat, too, has lost a lit­tle of its lus­tre. While os­ten­si­bly a more in­volved, more se­ri­ous sys­tem, the loss of re­cent en­tries’ mul­ti­ple bat­tle styles is keenly felt, de­spite a com­mend­able at­tempt to com­bine el­e­ments of them all in one place. En­e­mies are quicker to put up their guard now, and thanks to the new en­gine, at­tack in greater num­bers. As such it’s rare that you’ll com­plete a combo with­out be­ing twonked in the back of the head by an enemy you couldn’t even see. In that con­text, the new Ex­treme Heat mode – which sees Kiryu en­ter a Devil Trig­ger-style pow­ered-up state for a spell – feels al­most like an apol­ogy. Dur­ing it, while you’ll still take dam­age from enemy at­tacks, only the heav­i­est will stag­ger you.

If all that sounds dis­ap­point­ing, rest as­sured that, to se­ries fans, ab­so­lutely none of it mat­ters. While it takes the cus­tom­ary age to get into its stride, and one twist in par­tic­u­lar isn’t so much sign­posted as al­most in­sult­ingly ob­vi­ous, Yakuza 6’ s nar­ra­tive builds to one of the finest cli­maxes in the se­ries – per­haps, in fact, the best of the lot. You might think the knowl­edge that this is Kiryu’s last ap­pear­ance would take the sting out of the story, but Yakuza Stu­dio han­dles it with grace, let­ting the real ques­tion – that of just how fi­nal Kiryu’s jour­ney is – dan­gle un­til the very last. The stakes, as such, seem that much higher, ev­ery play to your emo­tions hit­ting you like a sucker punch to the gut.

When the dust set­tles, the se­ries fan is given some­thing that no pre­vi­ous Yakuza game, bound as it has been to an in­evitable se­quel, has ever of­fered: clo­sure. The Yakuza se­ries will con­tinue but, with Kiryu out of the pic­ture, it will never be quite the same. Our de­part­ing hero might be best off eat­ing un­til he’s 80 per cent full. But fans will gorge on Yakuza 6. When you don’t know where your next meal is com­ing from, you won’t want to leave even a crumb.

Yakuza 6’s nar­ra­tive builds to one of the finest cli­maxes in the se­ries – per­haps, in fact, the best of the lot

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