Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the most recent release in the Yakuza series to come to the West, is a Japanese mobster/life simulator/holy shit there’s too much to do game. Unofficially referred to as “What would Shenmue be if they kept making Shenmue games”, the Yakuza series has captured the hearts of many. What does the latest game have to offer? Could it be a contender for Game of the Decade? Lets find out.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life actually is what you get when you take the beat-em ups of old like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage and so on, give it a slightly bonkers Japanese Mafia story (obviously, seeing as the series is fucking called Yakuza), sprinkle some interesting and compelling characters, and then smashed open the Chemical X that is open world shenanigans.
Story-wise, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a fairly bad place to jump into the series. I’ve only played Yakuza 4 before this and although I knew who most of the characters were, I was still a little lost in places. You can get away with hopping in at this point, but with five games of actually interesting and deep story you’d be doing yourself a disservice to actually start with this game. Very early on, you get given a overview of some of the major characters which helps with new players and also acts as a refresher for series veterans.
You play as the series staple, the legendary Yakuza, turned “civilian”, Kiryu Kazama. As the fourth chairman of the Tojo clan, it’s safe to say that Kiryu is well known amongst all members from seedy mob life of Japan. Kiryu has turned his back on the Yakuza lifestyle and opened an Orphanage that he runs with the daughter of the only women he ever loved, Haruka. Though he doesn’t actively participate in any Yakuza dealings any more, there’s always a catalyst for Kiryu to be hit with the old “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.
The game begins with you beating the piss out of a random Yakuza, before declaring you’ve wasted enough time with him. before returning to a bar just in time to feed a random baby. As the game flashes back, you eventually discover that it’s Harukas baby and she’s been severely injured in a hit and run. Thus Kiryu finds his impetus for diving back into the seedy underbelly of Japan.
Though fairly simple in concept, it wouldn’t be a Yakuza game without some fairly left field twists and turns, as well as the introduction of weirdly motivated characters. I found most of them to be very compelling, but I imagine to someone coming into the series completely fresh would have more than their fair share of “What the living fuck is happening” moments, especially when it comes to Nagumo.
From a gameplay standpoint, the game is a literal smorgasbord of extra activities. If you’re looking for a lifestyle simulator, you’re in for a treat with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. After an hour of playing the game, I had visited the gym a couple of times, had my meals judged by a personal trainer, played and won a few games of darts and chatted it up with some lovely woman on an internet chat site. Honestly I wish I’d have done MOST of this in my actual life, instead of in a game, but it goes to show the depth of the stuff you can actually engage in while playing the game.
Fancy cracking open a cold one with the lads down at a bar? The game has you covered. Fancy busting out some arcade classics down at Club Sega? The game can provide you this excellent experience. I actually found myself messing with the auxiliary content in the game a fair bit, so it’s safe to say it’s easy to get distracted from the main story thread. If escapism is what you’re looking for in gaming, then look no further than Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, because you’ll find it in abundance.
Not content with just providing you a shed load of random activities, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life‘s side stories are, for the most part, incredibly well written and fleshed out. Though most of them boil down to kicking the piss out of someone for one reason or another, there’s time travel storylines, dressing up and playing as a mascot to entertain kids or just sitting down with a potential Idol superstar and helping her through her issues, to name a few. These side stories really help to flesh at Kiryu as not just another Yakuza bellend and helps to display that he has a compassionate side and is willing to help anyone with an issue.
The downside to the side story side of things, that’s a lot of side, is when the Troublr mechanic is revealed. Introduced to you as a public created way to “clean up the mean streets”, you’ll get random text alerts as you navigate Kamurocho and Hiroshima. Unfortunately these missions only really seem to be in the game to give you a different way to grind your stats up, though there was one interesting bomb threat mission I received, which revolved around how well the player knows Kamurocho.
You’re sent an image of a bomb and Kiryu is tasked with finding and defusing it. Honestly, I have no idea what happens if you don’t complete this mission, but due to the way every other Troublr mission fails, like not grabbing toilet paper for a guy taking a shit in a public bathroom, I imagine it’s inconsequential. I’d probably do a few of these if you’re having a little knob about with the game, but I wouldn’t try and do everyone that gets sent your way, as having to grab a random person a Toughness Z for the 8th time is just kind of bland.
This is all before you get thrown in to the strange gang warfare content, with it’s pseudo RTS-esque gameplay. Honestly I found this stuff to be a strange addition to the game. There’s story content here, based around a Gang called JUSTIS, which is led by Kazuchika Okada… Yeah, the fucking Rainmaker from NJPW, I told you these games are weird. Kiryu is tasked with building up a gang and engaging in these missions where the Kiryu Clan engages in large scale battles. There’s no real strategy, apart from using your hero units abilities to heal or clear out an area and for the most part, you don’t actually have control of what your units do. I imagine most of this can be ignored and it feels like it was added late to the game.
Graphically the game is pretty stellar considering the game originally launched in 2016. It’s no God Of War, but the real beauty of the game come from the juxtaposition of the hustle and bustle from Kamurocho and the sleepy fishing village in Hiroshima. Just the shift from the sheer amount of people and the ambient noise of Kamurocho, to the relatively serene fishing village in Hiroshima makes the game feel alive. You definitely feel like you have actually travelled somewhere completely different when you’re not being blinded by the vibrant neon signs, or being crowded out by the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s 100% not a graphical powerhouse, but there’s no denying a sense of realism and beauty.
I honestly think that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is one of the best games I’ve played all year. Escapism is rife and the amount of meaningful content is a breath of fresh air, considering the current gaming landscape of “Games as service, fuck you for wanting content”. Though the initial start of the game could be confusing to new comers, the game does it’s best to flesh out who is important, without rehashing old story that could’ve potentially driven series veterans away. I highly recommend you bite the bullet and hop in to the Yakuza series, because how else are you doing to beat people up with a giant traffic cone?