Yakuza 6 The Song of Life is the epitome of storytelling in the video game medium – Yakuza 6 Review [PS4]
Story is often something you don’t notice unless it’s amazing or bad in gaming; even if it is bad, it is often forgettable as long as the gameplay and mechanics are done well. Games I’d put in this category are Borderlands 1 and most of the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Throw in most fighting games too. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Gaming isn’t necessarily about story, and often times doesn’t have to be. However, there are games where story is crucial, like RPGs, and a bad story actually hurts the game, Halo 5, Mass Effect Andromeda, and the entire Lineage series. There are some where the story drives the gameplay, like Telltale, and the gameplay drives the story, like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, Lastly, there are the few that find the perfect combination of both that create an experience people will not shut up about. Games like The Last of Us, GTA, Zelda, the Arkham Trilogy, and Gears of War. I would like to add Yakuza 6 The Song of Life in that last category.
I have only played Yakuza 0 in the Yakuza franchise, and I enjoyed it. However, the mechanics really got in the way of the story. I am thrilled to say they have fixed that problem in Yakuza 6! Originally, I was going to put Yakuza 6 in more of a story-driven game with good gameplay, but I found myself off far from the story at times because I was running down thugs to beat up, or finding ways to get the necessary experience to earn/buy a new move or increase a stat. I haven’t been absorbed into a game where I lose track of time like that since Breath of the Wild. Before I break everything down, I would like to point out that my take on the game is from someone who is essentially knowledgeless of the franchise greater lore, and mostly influenced by American values. So somethings might be culturally biased. Also, I haven’t beat the game yet because Sega put too much other fun stuff to do in the game.
Yakuza 6 The Song of Life continues the story of Kazuma Kiryu. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t start right at the beginning because there’s some pretty big news that was brilliantly delivered. Anyways, you get huge news of Kazuma, then flash back 4 years to the end of Yakuza 5. Haruka just announced she is retiring as an idol to run the orphanage with Kazuma, Kazuma wins but is horribly wounded, and the Tojo and Oujima families are calming down. Haruka finds Kazuma, and gets him to the hospital. While he is recovering, Kazuma is arrested as a public display to keep the peace and save face for the police force. Kazuma could fight the charges, but in order to make everything right and be honorable enough to deserve Haruka’s affection and the respect of the kids in his orphanage, he decides to serve his sentence. Haruka returns to the orphanage. 6 Months go by, and Haruka is featured in the tabloid as the “Yakuza Idol” just as one of her orphans is on track to get a baseball scholarship. This scholarship takes their recipients home lives into account, and this greatly disturbs Haruka as she thinks her reputation might affect the opportunities the children of the orphanage will get. She decides to run away. 3 Years later, Kazuma returns, with his conscious clean, only to find out Haruka is gone. The children thought she was with him, and are equally upset that she wasn’t. Kazuma tries to call his friend Akiyama, in hopes he would have information. However, Akiyama cannot be reached. Kazuma decides to go to Kamuro to bring Haruka back.
Once back in Kamuro, Kazuma runs into Date and learns of the crazy events that have happened while he was serving his sentence. There is a new leader of the Yakuza, and the Triads have been aggressively making a play, going so far as to burn down Little Asia in Karumo City. Karuma learns of Akiyama shutting down his business in order to stay safe from the Triads who have been going so far as to hurt and kill civilians to show their power. Despite doing his best to stay out of anything gang related, Kazuma is caught up in the gang war of the Yakuza and Siao Triads during his quest to bring Haruka back.
The story is something out of a gangster movie. It’s exciting, it’s gritty, and somehow it’s highly relatable. That might be my male machismo, but I honestly couldn’t get enough of it. The set up did run a bit long in the beginning, however, it wasn’t one of those weird long walks to get to the next part of the story deals like in Yakuza 0. It just played out as a cutscene, which I’m okay with. I rather be completely inactive and actively pay attention to something, that be passively active only to go back into being completely inactive. I don’t like the middle ground of playing a game and watching something. At least I don’t want it to be painfully obvious. In Yakuza 0 I basically had to walk like 10 minutes with a character just to continue the conversation, in a cutscene, from the previous cutscene. It was annoying. That has not come up in the hours of gaming I have put into Yakuza 6, and it has made a world of difference. Now instead of trying to find time to play, I am actually looking to make time to play.
What I have to really tip my hat off too is the localization. This is some of the best localization I have ever experienced. They hardly use any translation tropes, they land colloquialisms, and I can’t think of a forced use of “I won’t just let you do what you want.” I’m giving Story a perfect score in my Yakuza 6 review just because of it, although to be honest, I would have given it a perfect score because I’m a huge fan of gangster stories. Then the meta-commentary all through-out the game- mostly through substories- that takes a crack at just about everything. There’s no way I could give this story less than perfect.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much from Yakuza 0, not that it needed to. It is still fast-paced, brutal, and a whole lot of fun. I do wish it had a more intuitive/simple counter system, but then it would likely be too much like Arkham if it had that, and it would make the game way easier. The challenge and completion of the challenges are highly gratifying. IThe RPG system of the game is also incredibly fun. It doesn’t feel like leveling up, it feels a lot like a natural progression. You go to the gym and lift weights and do cardio, you increase strength and agility (evasion), and can also increase your health. You do more strategic things, you get smarter, which increases the number of techniques you know. You talk to people, you get better at talking to people, like by learning jokes. It all makes sense and is logically, and subtly, tied together. The environment feels a lot more prominent in this game. It seems like you can either grab or use every item and surface during a fight. It makes for a lot of variation and really helps stave off the feeling of repetitiveness.
What really drives the gameplay, which I kind of began to touch, are all of the different leveling up and stat systems. I am particularly fond of the eating in this game. While there are no great food presentations when you buy and eat food, it brilliantly adds different types of experience points to your character. So you can eat a dish that gives you strength and life. Or something that will give you brain and heat experience. Essentially you get nutrients from your food which you turn into stats and skills. It is genius. And to make it even better, if you’re full you get 0 experience from the food. It’s the dream scenario, 0 negative side-effects of overeating.
Yakuza 6 also has a first person mode while you roam Kamuro. This mode allows players to see the amazing detail that has gone into the game. You get a lot of the finer details of the graphics in cutscenes, but the first person mode lets you see the entire scope of it. You do seem to move a lot clunky when in first person mode, but it’s still a really eye-opening experience that I believe deepens my appreciation of the game creators. Also, in first person mode, it really captures what it was like to be a larger than normal Asian in a tiny Asian street shop. If it was VR, I might have actually thought it was real life.
Then there’s the ridiculousness. This is meant in the most flattering way possible. What I mean by ridiculousness, is the crazy actions you can perform in game. First, you can stab someone in the stomach, then knee the blade in further. It is brutal, epic, and flat out awesome. As the game gives me a vibe similar to that of The Raid movies, this gets that much more awesome. Then there’s catching a punch with chopsticks. You not only neutralize your enemy, but you humiliate them. I don’t know why stopping people with chopsticks is so entertaining- maybe it’s the juxtaposition of large and small, or the irony of something that is almost always immediately broken used to cause immense damage and pain- but you can do that. Then my final example, though definitely not the only other example, of ridiculousness is throwing someone into a microwave. That crazy part, that’s not even the crazy part! You get the cashier to turn the microwave on while the bad guy’s head is in it! It’s effing incredible. This does greatly affect my Yakuza 6 review score positively, it’s a personal preference, but I feel it organic to the game’s world and not forcibly ridiculous for likes.
On top the great story, the fun gameplay, and the incredible RPG system and ridiculousness to keep you going, there are a bunch of mini-games and old SEGA games to play. These games provide an experience which makes you want to play them even more. It’s an incredible selection of games within a game, that is far too easy to lose a day too.
I worked hard to find negatives for my Yakuza 6 Review, and for the most part, I feel they might be subjective. The one thing about the story that bothers me, is the romantic overtone between a character and the character that raised her as his daughter. They’re not related, but it feels kind of creepy to me. I don’t want to drop character names, but you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a notable part of the game’s larger story. Gameplay, I don’t like that it’s not insanely easy to counter-attack. That’s probably more I’m not good at the game than anything. The one thing I can say is that the story does sometimes run a really long time. However, that’s just my impatience. It is thoroughly enjoyable, and honestly, it’s a story-driven game. Anything that I feel is wrong with it, is very subjective and probably because I’m comparing it to another game.
To be honest, Yakuza 6 is perfect. This is to not say this is the best game ever, although it is undoubtedly amazing and easily one of my favorites of late. I’d put it above Horizon Zero Dawn, and I love that game too. Yakuza 6 is perfectly designed and masterfully executed. Story is a gripping tale of an ex-gang member who has given more than everything he has to be a good person and help those from making his mistakes, only to have his past continue to pull him back in. Plus it is brilliantly localized. Gameplay continues to feel fresh deep, deep, into the game. And Yakuza 6 has an RPG system that itself is fun, which is something most RPGs cannot say. It’s the best RPG system since The Sims. Yakuza 6 is a dangerously entertaining and addicting game that kills it in every aspect. If you want your next big epic gaming adventure, Yakuza 6 and Karumo City is it. My Yakuza 6 review gets a 10/10.
Yakuza 6 The Song of Life releases on PlayStation 4 on April 17th, 2018
Standard Edtion: $59.99
Essence of Art Launch Edition: $59.99 (Should get this instead of the standard)
- FREE 24-page art book featuring art contributed by fans, all in a really cool case that is part of the art book.
After Hours Premium Edition: $89.99
- 50-page art book, featuring art contributed by fans and commissioned by SEGA, exclusive glasses for beverages, coasters and ice stones.
Where: Gallery Nucleus 210 East Main Street, Alhambra, CA 91801
When: Opening Reception 3:00PM – 7:00PM | Exhibit March 17 – April 1, 2018