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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4) Review

March 29, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4) Review  

In the past year, I’ve reviewed three Yakuza games for the site: Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and finally Yakuza 6. That’s how you want to review a game franchise, start with the opening and closing of it, and cut out the unnecessary 5 games in the middle. On the flip side, I’ll likely review Yakuza Kiwami 2, and if they remake 3-5, those as well, so maybe the trend will continue. On the whole of it, Yakuza 6 is worlds better than Yakuza Kiwami, but isn’t quite as good as Yakuza 0, at least to me. Though, it’s only slightly not as good as Yakuza 0, and in some respects outdoes that game.

Yakuza 6 places you in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu once again. Fresh out of jail (once again), he is longing to retire to the orphanage he opened up with Haruka (the baby girl from Yakuza Kiwami), along with a litter of orphaned children. However, these plans are dashed when he comes home and finds out Haruka is long gone. He then begins a quest to find her, traveling once again to Kamurocho and then eventually to Hiroshima, as he follows her trail and finds out what she’s been up to in the years they’ve been apart.

The story is a bit of a mixed bag, but I don’t mean that entirely negatively. While you do run across the occasional familiar face like Makoto Date or Pocket Circuit Fighter (in a nice little substory), it is almost a completely new cast of characters that you meet. I think Goro Majima’s entire screen time in this game is about 2 minutes, give or take. The new cast you meet is mostly good but a few characters can fall flat.

One thing I’ll note is that the story really plays like a Japanese soap-opera in spots. It’s not quite as over the top as Yakuza 0, but there is some soap-opera things going on, that if everyone had been straight with each other in the beginning, it would have dramatically shortened the actual storyline of the game.

The fighting engine is simpler in Yakuza 6, but is probably better off for it. Yakuza 0/Kiwami had your characters with 4 fighting styles and the ability to hold a weapon in reserve, which was limited to durability (or ammo). In Yakuza 6, Kiryu only has one attack style but it is way more fluid and fast than anything he was doing before. He’s still not as agile or zany as Goro was in Yakuza 0, but for the first time in any Yakuza game I’ve played, fighting with Kiryu is no longer a chore to tolerate.

You still punch, dodge, pick up items or guys, all like in the past games. One fun new move now is to pick up a guy, and then you can spin him around you, dealing damage to everyone surrounding you. This will likely be your main area-clearing move, since the game really likes to throw dozens of guys at you at certain points, and this one move can take out 90% of any group, aside from the boss enemy. Also, Yakuza 6’s fighting engine is physics based, so if you throw a guy into a group of guys, everyone tends to go flying, which is funny.

Another change in Yakuza 6 is the heat meter/mode. You don’t really have a separate heat meter anymore, instead you basically have heat circles. Each pip lets you do a heat action, which is the cinematic/damaging action from past games. You only have a few circles to start out with, but you can expand them as you level up Kiryu. The bigger change though is you can basically activate “Ultimate Heat Mode”. In this state, Kiryu starts glowing, takes reduced damage and deals more damage to enemies. If you wail away at an enemy, eventually a quick time event will start, which lets you do some truly massive damage to an enemy. There is a timer with Ultimate Heat mode, if you only have one Heat circled filled, the timer will expire quickly, but if you have 5 circled filled, it will last a decently long time. You can also unlock skills to extend the duration and damage even further.

Ultimate Heat Mode has an added benefit of making the game stupid easy. I actively lost a lot of boss fights in Yakuza 0 because it was hard. And I got bored of the fighting in Yakuza Kiwami, so I tried to avoid it. In Yakuza 6, you can literally beat most enemies within seconds. If you ever do go up against a hard boss, then you can just bust out Ultimate Heat, and wail away. You may need to use the occasional health item, but you don’t get wrecked like you would in Yakuza 0.

In Yakuza 0 you used money to buy new skills/level up. In Yakuza Kiwami it was a straight experience system (used general points to unlock stuff in a ring). In Yakuza 6, there is a specialized experience system. There are five schools of experience: strength, agility, spirit, technique and charm. You earn points in each discipline differently, fighting will generally net you more strength, agility and spirit experience while doing side activities will get you more charm/technique. These are color coded as well, strength is red, agility = blue, spirit = orange, technique = green, and charm = pink.

This can kind of create an imbalance in how you level up. Almost all the skills you pick up require two (or more) of points in different disciplines. Say you want to get the Heat action to deflect guns, it might require points in strength, agility, and technique. The problem is, strength, agility and spirit accrue at a much faster than technique or charm. Charm/technique do go up, but not really from fighting the numerous random people you meet on the streets. They typically only go up after major boss battles, doing the mini-games, or eating food.

Yes, eating food can net you experience in the game. There’s a mechanic where Kiryu has a stomach full gauge. If you order food, you can fill the gauge and Kiryu can get different experience based on the dishes. If you go over the gauge, he will stop getting experience, but the meals still can be used to heal him. Certain order combinations will unlock hidden combo meals, which dish out more experience for you.

Substories (side quests) return in Yakuza 6, just like the prior ones. They are generally more subdued than in Yakuza 0, but there is the occasional one which goes crazy, which is always welcome.

There’s a new type of side-quest which is an app called “Troublr”. These side quests are basically timed missions where you have to either beat up random thugs terrorizing people, rescue someone, or else put out a burning fire. These are all really basic, but can net you some valuable experience.

Mini-games make a triumphant return to the series, since Yakuza Kiwami only had about 4 of them. There’s about a dozen mini-games, give or take, from a decently stocked arcade (Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5 Showdown headline the arcade), to an on-rails spear-hunting fishing game, to a Cheers-esque bar where you drink and talk to patrons, to perhaps the best mini-game ever, live chatting. Unlike the past Yakuza games having mild-adult videos, or awkward female wrestling, Yakuza 6 just has two real women doing FMV sequences “chatting” to you, as Kiryu types in his responses. It’s done up like a webcam chatroom, and the women portray that type of persona to a tee, while Kiryu and other chatroom users are portrayed as desperate guys. It is fantastic with how it is poking fun of the culture going on now, and while it’s not really titillating, it is hilarious and accurate at the same time.

Unquestionably the biggest new mini-game is the “Kiryu Clan” system. This is basically a reverse-tower defense mode where you set out different gang members (gunman, blade guy, heavy thug, grenadier, etc.) to attack units of another gang leader. You also have access to named units who are like hero units, who have more health, might be multi-class and have special abilities that you can activate. If regular units die, they’re out, but if a hero unit “dies”, you just have to wait for a timer to count down to heal them.

The story behind this mode is that a new gang called “JUSTIS” has come to its own in Kamurocho and bills itself as an anti-gang gang. They are sick of the various Yakuza and Triad gangs in the town and want to clean it up. Unfortunately, the JUSTIS gang gets corrupt themselves and starts shaking down people and beating people up. Kiryu and a guy named “Joe” team up to create the Kiryu Clan to stop JUSTIS and make the streets a tad safer.

This is the mode where a lot of the celebrity cameos appear, specifically Japanese wrestlers. JUSTIS is led by Kazuchika Okada, while his subordinates include Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito and Satoshi Kojima, among others. There are some other celebrity appearances in Yakuza 6, but the NJPW roster is probably the most exciting, to some people.

One quick tip: You can enter codes to unlock certain hero units. Notably, you can unlock Kiryu, Goro, Date, as well as all the NJPW guys to be in your clan. I recommend you do this, as these units are far better than the ones the game regularly has, and the codes are all online for them.

Honestly, there isn’t too much bad stuff to say about this game. There is some plot wonkiness, but that’s to be expected, honestly. I’d say my biggest criticism is that Hiroshima, the new town you go to, really sucks to get around. It has some extremely confusing paths to get around and isn’t that much fun to explore.

Also, a few mini-games could be told about better. I had literally beat the game the night other reviews broke and saw mention of the bar drinking/talking mini-game. I never stumbled upon it in my 25+ hours of playing the game, and I had to have another reviewer literally tell me to go to a location I never noticed before, to do it. The game might have been better had it at least pointed that out to me. Also, the Haruto mini-game is terrible, you’ll know it when you come to it. Most of the other issues are pretty minor and don’t get in the way of the game, all that often.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Yakuza 6 doesn’t match the great heights that Yakuza 0 did, but it also doesn’t match the lows that Yakuza Kiwami achieved as well. It’s a pretty good game, overall. The fighting system is the best it’s been in a Yakuza game, there is a fair amount of side stuff for you to do, and the world of Kamurocho is still interesting to see, even if it has been 20 years since when Yakuza 0 started. I’m not a huge fan of the overall general plot of Yakuza 6, but there are enough individual moments to the game to make it worthwhile and it is a somewhat fitting end to the Kazuma Kiryu storyline.