Post Script

Bid­ding a fond farewell to one of gam­ing’s great pro­tag­o­nists

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We’ve writ­ten be­fore in these pages of the im­por­tance of Ka­muro­cho to the Yakuza games; of how much a fixed set­ting can lend to a long-run­ning se­ries in an era where so many open-world fran­chises put down new roots with each fresh in­stal­ment. But now, with Kazuma Kiryu grac­ing a Yakuza game’s box art for the fi­nal time, it’s time to give him his due. Ka­muro­cho, loosely mod­elled on Tokyo’s Kabu­ki­cho red­light district, may be Yakuza’s beat­ing heart. Kiryu, how­ever, has al­ways been its soul.

And heav­ens, he’s been through it over the years, bat­tered and bro­ken, cast out and im­pris­oned, and dou­ble-crossed so many times it’s a wonder he can still see straight. He’s been a toy-car racer, a real-es­tate dealer, an or­phan­age man­ager; he’s a bats­man, a bowler, a phone-sex god and a leg­endary host­ess-club flirt. Yakuza’s magic is in how it some­how man­ages to jux­ta­pose the se­ri­ous busi­ness of the high-stakes crim­i­nal un­der­world with the un­seemly daft­ness of a Ja­panese red-light district. Across seven main­line games and the zom­bie spin-off Dead Souls, Kazuma Kiryu has beaten up bad guys, beaten sport­ing ri­vals, and beaten him­self off. By see­ing this mad world through his eyes for hun­dreds of hours across more than a decade, we have come to know him more deeply – some­times a lit­tle too deeply, sure – than any videogame pro­tag­o­nist you can name.

Kiryu makes sense of Ka­muro­cho, a place of ab­surd, dan­ger­ous con­trast. Only rarely, when some­one has fool­ishly put those he loves in dan­ger, is he a will­ing par­tic­i­pant in the vi­o­lence; he doesn’t want to hurt peo­ple, just to teach them a les­son, to have them see the er­ror of their ways (many street thugs have, by his hand, promised to clean up their act). While he’s thrown peo­ple off rooftops and plunged blades into count­less bel­lies, the story in­sists he’s never ac­tu­ally killed. He is at once dis­tant from Ka­muro­cho, the only pure heart to be found in a land of blood and sin, and en­tirely, in­ex­tri­ca­bly part of it. When the story takes us away from Tokyo – to Osaka, Naha, or Onomichi – he grounds it all, the fa­mil­iar face in a for­eign land.

Need­less to say, we will miss him, and credit to Yakuza Stu­dio for han­dling his send­off with such grace. Even when Yakuza 6 isn’t specif­i­cally about Kiryu, it still is, in its way. Par­ent­ing is a re­cur­ring theme, the com­plex, tan­gled fam­ily lives of the mob­sters with whom he butts heads mir­ror­ing his own re­la­tion­ship with Haruka – who, de­spite be­ing watched over by Ja­pan’s big­gest-ever badass, has none­the­less been kid­napped, left co­matose and oth­er­wise con­stantly im­per­illed be­cause of her as­so­ci­a­tion with him. Kiryu’s age, mean­while, gives rise to a re­cur­ring sub­plot about tech­nol­ogy’s for­ward march, our wrin­kled hero strug­gling to make sense of a world that is chang­ing at pace in ways that of­ten make lit­tle sense, be that a view-hun­gry YouTu­ber or a smart­phone AI as­sis­tant that be­comes too smart for its own good.

That’s a theme that per­me­ates the en­tire game, with Kiryu’s age­ing form re­splen­dent in the new Yakuza en­gine, an­other odd con­trast in a game and a world that are full of them. A new pro­tag­o­nist, Kazuga Ichiban, was an­nounced last year, and could barely look more dif­fer­ent to his pre­de­ces­sor; mad-haired and wild-eyed, his cloth­ing is a Kiryu pal­ette swap, white shirt un­der red suit. So far, he’s only been con­firmed to star in one game. The forth­com­ing Yakuza On­line, in de­vel­op­ment for PC and mo­bile, will be free-to-play and sup­ported by cos­metic mi­cro­trans­ac­tions; we’ve walked the streets of the Tokyo red­light district in the dead of night hun­dreds of times, but that feels like a dan­ger­ous place in­deed for this most honourable of se­ries to be headed. Just as Kiryu spends his swan song strug­gling to ad­just to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, so must Sega – and the rest of us – come to terms with what Yakuza looks like when you take away its soul.

Yakuza Stu­dio’s pride in its new en­gine is clear in the way Yakuza 6 sets a new se­ries record for ex­treme Kiryu close-ups

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