Early on in Yakuza 6, Kiryu asks himself “How do I keep ending up in this place?” when referring to Kamurocho. While there’s no clear-cut answer to resolve his intertwined fate, we find ourselves increasingly glad that he does.
Whole new world
Yakuza 6 isn’t the biggest living, breathing world in games, but where it excels compared to others is that every street corner offers something new. You could bump into a group of drunken yobbos looking for a fight, or a young girl who wants some merchandise from her favourite pop star. There’s the shops which give you a wonderful insight into modern day Japan if you’ve never been, or a karaoke bar where you can be part of the cheesiest pop videos in history while taking a load off.
To give you some idea of the length and breadth of Yakuza 6, in the very first chapter of the game I could easily spend at least twenty hours doing something completely unrelated to the story in a map not even half the size of GTA 5. Like diving in on fully-ported and excellently recreated SEGA classics such as Puyo Puyo Tetris and Virtua Fighter 5, I can, solving side quests, exploring chat rooms, betting on Mahjong, and eating burgers the size of Kiryu’s head. And you know what, I would still be completely content and fulfilled.
I was absolutely blown away by, not just the range of activities, but the quality of them. Like, I get a bit bored touring the streets of GTA and am always keen to get back into the story. But SEGA have made sure that you’re satisfied whatever you decide to do in Yakuza 6 and that even extends to the combat which sees you throw people through shop windows and smack them upside the head with bicycles.
You’ve probably watched a few Yakuza videos and thought to yourself the games don’t take themselves seriously. That’s somewhat true, but also undervaluing the end product because there is a really gripping, compelling, emotionally charged story underpinning the entire game. Not to mention that Kiryu is an extremely complex, but kind man who has more layers than Shrek and all of his bloody onions. This is a man who was part of the most feared and dangerous Yakuza group in all of Japan, who is recognised as a fierce fighter, the Dragon of Dojima, from a large tattoo across his back, but has also opened up an orphanage for children out of broken homes and walks the streets at night trying to find a bottle of milk for a newborn. In Kiryu’s case, not all heroes wear capes, but apparently, they wear really outdated suits.
Do I need to have played the rest?
I’m not going to lie and say that you can come into Yakuza 6 completely fresh. You’re going to miss a lot of context and certainly some of the major references. Though before you boot up there’s a history of every Yakuza title to date to get you to up to speed. Alternatively, there’s the Yakuza Experience website which tells the events through comic books and even gives away codes for Yakuza 6. Neat, eh?
Having said all of that, Yakuza 6 is smartly designed in that it does serve as something of a reboot. Kiryu has had a troubled life and he’s got a lot of history with Kamurocho, but after a spell in prison he’s trying to turn his life around and be a better person. So, of course, he’s trying to stay away from the fighting life and keep out of trouble. The problem is, trouble seems drawn to the man wherever he goes even though he also seems capable of making friends to balance that out. Like I said, a complex guy.
But unlike a GTA where it often feels like you’re just moving from one samey mission to the next, Yakuza does a better job of pacing everything, introducing new things all the time, keeping the action fresh, and always keeping alternative options in plain sight. The narrative feels like it drives the action at all times and with characters old and new throughout, there truly is something for diehards and fresh bloods.
The long and short of it, though, is you could go in totally blind and play Yakuza 6. The question is, with over a month left to launch, why would you want to when there’s Yakuza 0 and Kiwami to wet your appetite?
Will this breakthrough in the West?
Yes, it’s time. Not that the Yakuza games haven’t been selling well recently, but if there’s ever a time to get onboard with this franchise it’s most definitely now. Because this has been polished like a diamond. This is an absolute labour of love and it not only ticks all the right boxes, it creates new boxes for itself just for show. The combat, for instance, has been refined using the brand new Dragon Engine. Where this shines above previous Yakuza titles, first of all, the striking. Punches really feel like they carry more weight, shown off using slow-mo cams to really capture the connection and moment of impact with eyes rolling up inside the enemies head and cheeks rippling in response. Same with kicks, enabling you to punt enemies while they’re down or even sail through the air with a head of steam to leave them crumpled in a heap.
And a lot of that is also shown in the character models. They carry more injuries like cuts, bruises and welts. The camera also gets up close so you can look at the texture of their skin and the reactions in their eyes. Everything is so much more defined and well-honed. Even down to the way characters move. Like, Kiryu will often look behind him when he’s turning a corner or slowing down from a run. He’ll press himself up against a wall if he’s about to bang into it and can even trip and fall over by colliding with other characters if he’s in a hurry. There’s this real authenticity about it that actually makes the ragdoll nature of a GTA a bit laughable.
The fighting is also more diverse, enabling you to upgrade combinations, individual attacks, and equipment which can provide you with buffs. But unlike talent trees and character paths in other games, this stuff really translates onto the screen. Kiryu feels like he can take more shots but also dishes out more punishment. The flurries he can pull off, the finishing moves to keep an enemy down, even the way the environment falls apart around you.
It’s just so much fun. It feels fresh. It encourages experimentation and there is nothing like it in any other game on the market right now. But even though it toys with the absurd, like letting you swing sledgehammers around or smack a traffic cone upside someone’s head, somehow Yakuza 6 has this amazing way of making it all feel believable.
How does it all work?
Pretty much how all things work these days — with a smartphone. Which for Yakuza veterans will actually come as a bit of a joke. Let’s just say our beloved Kiryu is a bit of a technophobe. Previous Yakuza games have been set in the 80s and early 90s, whereas Yakuza 6 is an open and honest take of modern Japan.
Kiryu’s smartphone lets him receive messages from his friends and enemies, send stickers, track his location on the map, help out people in distress through an online app called Troublr, upgrade his abilities. You can even take selfies and post them online. But one of the neatest features about the smartphone is the little beeps the DS4 makes as you access it, as well as the ability to scroll using the touch pad. It’s just so user-friendly and cool and as good of a UI as I’ve seen in any game.
And you’ll find yourself reliant on it because there’s just so much to take in and explore, from playing darts to pumping iron, and even creating your own clan to take down rival gang, JUSTUS made up of New Japan Pro Wrestlers, including Okada and Tanahashi. They’ve even got some sick moves like samoan drops, piledrivers, DVDs, clotheslines and stunners.
That, to me, is the most special thing of all about Yakuza 6 is the ability and confidence to try new things. And it might even be the best feature in the game as you can run around town recruiting new characters, beating respect out of others and turning them into great warriors to fight by your side. You assign roles to them, such as footsoldiers and lieutenants and each time they fight they earn experience points and improve their competency on the battlefield. As you establish your hierarchy, so you can assign formations on the battlefield and can sit back and watch a Dynasty Warriors esque conflict unfold in front of your eyes. You can even teach your students new combat moves which go hand in hand with their unique characteristics.
You’ll eventually be able to take your clan online, tackle missions, fight other organisations, or even just have battles with other players. It’s easy to see how this mode can be expanded upon and developed with content updates in the months ahead.
That’s the beauty of Yakuza 6, there’s not just a story to power through and be done with it. To do that is to miss about 75% of the games’ content. This is one of the most generous, fulfilling, for-the-fan experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
In five minutes, I had more fun in Yakuza 6 than I’ve ever had playing GTA – or any other open world game for that matter – ever. This, and probably every other review you see today, just scratch the surface of the content on offer.
But it’s more than that. There’s also the presentation, the way the game is directed, how the narrative is paced, the effort in the design of each mini-game. Then you need to factor in the feel and flow of the fight, the beautiful landscapes, those hidden extras, a perfectly designed user interface, all the unexpected twists and turns, the laugh out loud moments, good-natured humour, as well as the tugging on your heartstrings.
The truth of it is, I cannot find a bad word to say about Yakuza 6. It is what open-world and narrative design should be and I find it very difficult to believe that anything will come close to, or match it this year or in many others to come. This will change the way the Western Open World game is designed. It has to because nothing else even comes close right now.
Without question, Yakuza 6 is one of the most enviable platform exclusive titles ever made because it just has everything you could ever wish for and more. A perfect send off for one of the greatest video game characters and gaming series of all time.
+ Wonderful story and superb direction
+ Stunning visuals and sound design
+ Fighting feels fantastic
+ The amount of mini-games and the quality of them is mind-blowing
+ Clan system excellently implemented and surprisingly in-depth
+ Well implemented user interface that can be navigated smoothly and succinctly.
+ How Open World Design should be.
– None. I really wasn’t kidding.
Yakuza 6 The Song of Life
10 out of 10
Tested on PlayStation 4