There aren’t many games that can offer the same experience as the Yakuza series. It started all the way back on the PS2 in 2005 and it wasn’t until the release of PS3 that the series started to slowly gain popularity. At this point, the game transitioned to a semi-open world which might have helped it stand out among the crowd. However, the popularity of Yakuza was mainly restricted to Japan due to its cultural significance in that region and its appeal was limited, even though the games themselves offered amazing stories, well developed characters and presented a unique open world brawler.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the first current generation game that was developed from the ground up for the PlayStation 4 unlike its predecessors, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 0. The game itself has evolved in many ways with the open world now being completely seamless without any load times. The transition to a new game engine not only has resulted in a jump for the visuals – load times have been removed altogether when you explore the open world. The combat has also received a much needed overhaul now with more dynamic scenarios in each battle leading to the end of repetition that was the norm for most Yakuza games.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life continues the story of Kazuma Kiryu, who remains one of the most impressively developed character in a video game. If you are a fan of the series, you will know the journey of Kiryu from the start, so there is also an emotional attachment to his character after having played his games throughout the years. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the final chapter of Kiryu’s story. It is a well-deserved finale to his saga and gracefully sets up the potential for others to take his mantle going forward.
One of the lingering question that fans – who have only played the PS4 releases so far – have is regarding the story, and how it connects to the past games. I think it is safe to say that Yakuza 6 is playable standalone, even if you have never played the previous games. If you really want to know what happens with Kiryu in the past, the game makes it easier to get all the information by giving a short summary of the stories from Yakuza 1 to Yakuza 5. The key characters are also given a small introduction so the newcomers can get to know them well. More importantly, it is also one of the most accessible Yakuza game so far, so it should serve as a good introduction to someone who wants to get into the series.
Getting the basic information out of the way, one thing that immediately stands out as you boot the game are the visuals. Since the game utilizes a new engine now, the city of Kamurocho has never looked as good. The streets feel alive bursting with NPCs and the seamless experience now results in hassle free exploration of the map. You can just step into a shop to purchase goods instead of looking at a loading screen and the same applies to the cutscenes which transition seamlessly into gameplay. This happens in such a way that at times you will be fully immersed into the experience and fail to realize that the game is now offering you control of the character.
As it is the staple for a Yakuza game, the opening is incredibly slow paced. The action doesn’t properly start until you have played for a couple of hours, which is something that Yakuza fans will be used to now. Once the game properly kicks off, it is a never ending ride that should keep you at the edge of your seat. When you are not doing the story missions, you will be exploring around the city, doing substories or playing the mini games. This time, you can play some of the SEGA classics like Outrun and Virtua Fighter 5. Yes, the game has a full version of Virtua Fighter 5 playable in either single player or offline multiplayer. It truly feels like a revolutionary experience when you head into an Arcade to play Virtua Fighter 5 and it ends up being the full game in playable form.
Yakuza series has always had a decent combat system to help you power through fights and it has now improved a lot with the addition of new physics and smooth animations that go well with the moves performed by Kiryu. You will smash, grab and fight your way through the various gangs in the street of Kamurocho. The punches pack far more weight now and since Kiryu has received some experience with his time spent as a Yakuza, he has also learned some brutal moves that can make short work of his enemies. The boss fights are a definite step up from the previous iterations by giving Kiryu an equal foot against them. It was always easy to get killed by a boss who kept spamming cheap moves but this has changed now, and the encounters are much more dynamic adding a sense of thrill and accomplishment to these fights.
Naturally when a game transitions to a new engine, the developers have to start from scratch. This seems to be the case for Yakuza 6 and its effects can be felt with the content offered here. Unlike Yakuza 0, this release feels like a step down in term of content where the world map has been reduced in scope. There are less substories to tackle here even though the main story portion will still take a significant chunk of your time. One of the best part of a Yakuza game for me were the hilarious sidequests and while the humor seems to be retained, the quantity has been reduced significantly. There are other areas like the mini games where the game appears to be a little lacking compared to its predecessors but it also helps in giving a bigger focus to the story, which is fitting considering we are looking at the end of Kiryu’s saga.
Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is an action-adventure video game developed and published by Sega for PlayStation 4. The game is the seventh main entry in the Yakuza series of action-adventure games, and was released in Japan on December 8, 2016.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a good example of how to handle a series with multiple sequels. It builds on its strength to offer a satisfying conclusion to the story of Kazuma Kiryu.