Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life

One man and a baby

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The sev­enth main en­try in the Yakuza se­ries brings to a close the tale of Kazuma Kiryu, a char­ac­ter the fran­chise and its play­ers have been in­vested in for over a decade. For the leg­endary fourth chair­man’s swan­song, Sega has scaled back many of the se­ries’ ex­panded fea­tures, such as mul­ti­ple pro­tag­o­nists and sprawl­ing en­vi­ron­ments, in favour of an ad­ven­ture that’s more con­cen­trated, and con­se­quently packs a far greater emo­tional punch. This down­sized approach ef­fec­tively serves two pur­poses: for long-time fans, it pro­vides a fo­cused and fit­ting send-off for its pop­u­lar pro­tag­o­nist, and for new­com­ers, it’s a man­age­able sam­pling that acts as a suit­able in­tro­duc­tion to the long-run­ning se­ries. And Sega seems more than keen to use The Song of Life to swell the ranks of Yakuza fans; the game bends over back­wards to en­sure that the ini­ti­ated aren’t at a loss when it comes to its ex­ten­sive cast and com­plex past events. From the menu, play­ers can se­lect ‘Mem­o­ries’ for a de­tailed overview of the events of all past Yakuza ti­tles, swiftly get­ting up to speed on the main play­ers and po­lit­i­cal in­tri­ca­cies. There’s also a lengthy in­tro which, apart from a brawl out­side a bar with a drunken mis­cre­ant, doesn’t require any in­put from your dig­its what­so­ever in the open­ing hour, but con­sid­er­ing the events at the end of the last game play di­rectly into the open­ing of this one, it’s some­what nec­es­sary, if a tad long-winded. Like all games in the se­ries, there’s a huge em­pha­sis on story, and lengthy cutscenes are nu­mer­ous through­out. Adamant to live out his later years as a civil­ian, Kiryu spends time be­hind bars to atone for his crim­i­nal past, but upon be­ing re­leased finds that his adop­tive daugh­ter Haruka is miss­ing. Tak­ing Haruka’s son into his care, his search for her takes him to the streets of Ka­muro­cho and the coun­try town of Onomichi, Hiroshima. This tense and twist­ing nar­ra­tive rife with de­cep­tion and in­trigue sees Kiryu es­tab­lish frag­ile alliances and fend off dangerous ri­val or­gan­i­sa­tions. Familiar faces like Date and Akiyama re­turn, while some fas­ci­nat­ing new­com­ers are also in­tro­duced. At the core of this com­plex tale of vi­o­lence and war­ring fac­tions, how­ever, is an al­to­gether more touch­ing story that pro­fi­ciently ex­plores fam­ily val­ues, the bonds of friend­ship and the com­plex­i­ties of fa­ther­hood in this crime-rid­den world. When not en­gag­ing in lengthy di­a­logue, the main quests usu­ally in­volve beat­ing fifty shades of red out of op­po­nents us­ing a mix of fists and fast foot­work. Com­bat has con­sid­er­able depth, with a va­ri­ety of com­bos and con­text-sen­si­tive at­tacks. You’re fre­quently out­num­bered by large groups of op­po­nents and so crowd con­trol is nec­es­sary if you’re go­ing to come out on top. Grab­bing an en­emy and hurtling them around and into your op­po­nents is ex­tremely en­joy­able, and ev­ery­day ob­jects like street cones and bikes can be grabbed and used against en­e­mies for a sig­nif­i­cant da­m­age boost. In­flict­ing enough hurt al­lows you to en­ter Heat Mode, which cul­mi­nates in a vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar fist-fly­ing fi­nale. As won­der­fully chore­ographed and ex­e­cuted as the com­bat


moves are, the sheer num­ber of op­po­nents can make bat­tles feel quite clumsy. You can only lock on to one en­emy at a time, and the dodge me­chanic leaves a lot to be de­sired. A smaller num­ber of more pow­er­ful en­e­mies would have been wel­come, and lent it­self to bet­ter bat­tle tac­tics and more sat­is­fy­ing show­downs. Vic­tory in bat­tle is re­warded with ex­pe­ri­ence points, and there’s com­mend­able free­dom to the game’s up­grade sys­tem to al­low you build Kiryu what­ever way you like, whether that’s putting em­pha­sis on ba­sic at­tributes like at­tack power and de­fence, or learn­ing new skills to give you more choice in com­bat. While it may not be quite as sub­stan­tial as Yakuza Zero or 5 in terms of length, there’s still a plethora of side mis­sions and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties to en­gage in. Out­side of the se­ri­ous­ness of the nar­ra­tive the se­ries also re­tains its distinc­tive flair for the pe­cu­liar. There’s a body-swap­ping duo, a time trav­eller and an overly in­tru­sive phone app, to name but a few of the colour­ful char­ac­ters that Kiryu en­coun­ters on his jour­ney. Mini-games also make a come­back; Kiryu can kick back with a game of darts or baseball, or test his su­per­star qual­ity with some karaoke. There’s a lot of var­ied con­tent on of­fer and these prove an en­ter­tain­ing and care­free dis­trac­tion to the main event. Some can even be ben­e­fi­cial in gaining ex­tra EXP on the side, such as hit­ting the gym for a quick-time-event-based work­out. Eat­ing also re­wards you with ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing very lit­tle in the game ac­tu­ally feel like busy­work. There are also some less-than-savoury ac­tiv­i­ties that Kiryu can in­dulge in, such as Cabaret clubs. Al­though an au­then­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of adult en­ter­tain­ment, the sleazy di­a­logue op­tions avail­able in these chat-up sec­tions feel at odds with Kiryu’s char­ac­ter, who’s oth­er­wise por­trayed as a wholly hon­ourable in­di­vid­ual. There’s also a se­vere lack of any other no­table fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion, with women’s only other role out­side of an object of de­sire be­ing that of a babysit­ter. It’s hardly game ru­in­ing, but does make it feel rather out­dated when it comes to the fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion that other de­vel­op­ers are push­ing for. The Song Of Life may be smaller in scale, but it’s in no way lack­ing in what makes the se­ries great. Its fluid ac­tion and bustling open world full of char­ac­ter will draw you in, while the deeply en­gross­ing nar­ra­tive will keep you hooked un­til the emo­tion­ally fu­elled fi­nale.


a fond and fit­ting farewell to Kazuma Kiryu 7/10

details Pub­lisher sega De­vel­oper in-house PSN Price £49.99 Play­ers 1

Yakuza 6 de­buted in Ja­pan two years ago, but it more than holds up vis­ually to­day. Built from the ground up for PS4, play­ers are able to see ev­ery glis­ten­ing pore and pick up on ev­ery sub­tle fa­cial ex­pres­sion, thanks to the new Dragon en­gine.

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