Our Yakuza 6 review originally published back on March 15, 2018. In honor of today's release of the game, we're republishing it. Enjoy!
The story of Kazuma Kiryu, the yakuza with a heart of gold and fists of iron, is finally over. Through seven mainline entries and three spin-offs, Kiryu (or someone who looks a lot like him) has punched a whole lot of people, forged several strong relationships, raised some orphans, and played every mini-game under the sun. Now it's time for him to retire, but not before he leaves his signature stamp on Japan.
There are a number of ways you can finish a long-running series or franchise. One way is the grand finale, bringing back all of the characters fans have come to know and love over the course of the series in one giant victory lap. All of your favorites get a shout-out. This type of ending is a collection of signposts pointing fans towards where the characters' lives will go after things wrap up.
Other endings are thematic in nature. These types of endings aren't really concerned with fanservice; they're about wrapping up the central idea of the franchise. If a series is about the corrupting influence of power (insert your theme here), the finale will double down on that idea. The theme may override the supporting cast to focus wholly on the protagonist and their relation to that theme.
Yakuza 6 is the type of ending I'm not sure Yakuza fans will likely prefer.
A Dragon of a Tale
Yakuza 6 starts directly from the ending of Yakuza 5, with Kiryu collapsing after his final battle and his adopted daughter Haruka announcing to her idol fans that she's quitting the business to be with her family. This should be a happy ending (and it was at the end of Yakuza 5), but then cops come to take Kiryu away on past charges. Kiryu goes to prison for a few years and Haruka goes back to the orphanage in Okinawa, because there was really no one there taking care of the kids but the kids themselves.
Fast forward three years and Kiryu is free only to find out the Haruka bailed on the orphanage a week in because the local newspapers had nothing to report on except for the famous idol who left the business because her dad was a yakuza. When Kiryu finally tracks Haruka down, she's in a coma after a hit-and-run and Kiryu is left as the baby granddaddy to a Haruka's previously-unknown son. The rest of the game's plot is all the nonsense Kiryu gets into trying to find out who the father is and why Haruka was attacked.
Yakuza 6 is a thematic ending for the Yakuza franchise. Kiryu has firmly resolved to leave the yakuza life behind him at this point and Yakuza 6 feels like an entire game showing Kiryu that he made the right choice. Various parts of the story are set up to show that organized crime is no longer the honorable warriors of Kiryu's heyday. Whether that's the new potential leader of the Tojo Clan (played by Shun Oguri) who leaves behind the tattoos to put a respectable face on the enterprise, upstart organizations from China and Korea, or the old guard sticking to deceit and backdoor business deals to resolve their differences, everything screams at the stalwart Kiryu to leave this world behind. It's not his place any longer.
The supporting cast of the previous Yakuza games don't really get much in the way of screentime. Fan-favorite ruffian Goro Majima is almost completely gone from the game after being Majima Everywhere in Yakuza Kiwami and a lead character in Yakuza 0. Shun Akiyama features early on in the game, while Taiga Saejima and Daigo Dojima are likewise missing for most of the game. Detective Makoto Date gets the most screentime of the veteran cast, helping Kiryu find out what happened to Haruka. But most of the game is Kiryu and his new cast.
Which is not to say it's not a good cast. Yakuza 6 is also about family: the one you build around yourself, not necessarily the one you're born with. A smaller gang in Onomichi's yakuza finds themselves forming around "Kiryu-aniki". The highlight is Tsuyoshi Nagumo (played by Hiroyuki Miyasako), who butts heads with Kiryu, but ultimately comes to see the older yakuza as something of a hero. His subordinates, Yuta, Naoto, and Takaaki, also come to form a close-knit crew around Kiryu. They're lovable dumbasses and by the end, I loved all of them.
It's a question of expectations though and I want to set yours correctly. If you're looking to see all your fan-favorites for a grand finale, this is not that game. This is the end of Kiryu's story—and it's a definitive one at that—which doesn't necessarily include all the characters you loved in Yakuza games before.
Things To Do When You're Not Solving the Crime
I said "nonsense" earlier because most of the things that happen to Kiryu are things he'd rather not get involved in, but he does anyways. The "heart of gold" means he can't just let a situation go if he sees folks need help. In either of the game's neighborhoods, Kamurocho in Tokyo or Onomichi in Hiroshima, Kiryu has to listen to someone's plight, answer some questions, and likely punch some people into unconsciousness. This the core of Yakuza, the hyperreality that Kiryu inhabits and the weird folks he comes into contact with.
Whether that's an aspiring idol who needs that final push to reach for her dream, the marketing manager who needs someone to be Onomichi's local mascot, or a baseball team that needs a coach, Kiryu will gladly help. You could be an old man trying to save a friend from a cult (a callback to Yakuza 0) or a young couple who have switched bodies, it doesn't matter. Kiryu can fix it with his fists. Side missions are half of the bread-and-butter of Yakuza. Yakuza 6 is still full of excellent missions and the colorful cast of random characters that populate them. There's even one-off Trouble Missions you'll occasionally get on your cell phone that send you to places to stop an arson, find a child, or help a sick person.
The other half of Yakuza I mentioned earlier are the mini-games Kiryu can get into while he's avoiding the matter at hand (finding out who tried to kill his daughter). There are slightly less mini-games in total than Yakuza 0, but that's still a ton of damned mini-games with which to waste your time. You can go lift weights at the Rizap club, pet cats at a cat cafe, live chat with several ladies on the internet, or meet them in the "real world" at a hostess club.
There are a number of arcade games to enjoy, like Fantasy Zone, Puyo Puyo, Space Harrier, Hang-On, or Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (playable with two people from Yakuza 6's title menu). Throw darts, play Mahjong, swing the slugger in a batting cage, or even go spearfishing in Hiroshima. Karaoke returns, with a number of lovable in-game videos featuring Kiryu. And if you're a collector, there's the new Clan Creator mini-game, where you collect various yakuza, build a gang, and fight it out with other gangs in a real-time strategy experience. You'll never run out of something to do in Yakuza 6, even though you're supposed to be solving the attempted murder case involving your daughter.
Something New Under the Hood
Part of the reason there are fewer mini-games is because Yakuza 6 was built on the brand-new Dragon Engine. The Yakuza Team has to start over occasionally, and Yakuza 6 was chosen as that new start. A new engine meant having to port over all of the previous work, which means not everything made the transition. (Yakuza Kiwami 2 also uses the engine, but another year in development means more classic features made their way back in.)
The benefits of the new engine are easy to see: Yakuza 6 looks great. The lighting is more realistic, whether that's in the bright lights and grime of nights in Kamurocho, or the sleepy seaside dusk of Onomichi. In fact, the addition of Onomichi gives you an appreciation for how solid the new lighting engine really is, because both regions offer a very different feel, whether it's day or night. Particle effects and destructible items in the environment have also been improved, making fights seem even more action-packed as objects shatter when bodies hit them.
Yakuza 6 is more seamless than previous entries. You move in and out of buildings without any loading time and you're no longer trapped within a specific area for fights. Instead, you have the option to run away or find a more advantageous battlefield. Kiryu can also get slightly more vertical, leaping over short fences or jumping across the occasional rooftop. There's an overall speed and immediacy to Yakuza 6 that wasn't present in Yakuza 0 or 5.
You win some, you lose some though. I'd say combat feels better and more fluid, but the combat styles of previous entries are completely gone, leaving Kiryu with a single fighting style for the whole game. Weapons are no longer equippable, meaning you can only use what you find within a fight. The shift to a single fighting style provides focus to a system that had gotten a bit unwieldy, but having only the one style can feel repetitive. I'd at least have liked this current system augmented with the Beast or Rush styles of Yakuza 0 or Kiwami.You'll also find that with your limited options and no crowd-clearing Beast style, your best option for cleaning up enemies is simply to grab a sign or bicycle (Pro-Tip: THE ULTIMATE WEAPON!) and clean up the crowd.
The transition to Yakuza 6 also loses some regions of Kamurocho, which is a shame given that you only have two neighborhoods in this game. Champion's District is closed off for construction, as is most of the Hotel District. The Purgatory casino area is also completely missing this time around. Again, there's a feeling that the Yakuza team just didn't have time to bring over and improve the whole city, so cuts had to be made.
Yakuza 6 also loses in the frame rate department. Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were both running at 1080p and 60fps on PlayStation 4, but Yakuza 6 steps back to 30fps. It retains 1080p resolution on the PlayStation 4 Pro, but others have reported are the resolution on the classic PlayStation drops back to 900p. I'm not as phased by the drop back to 30fps, but if frame rate is a huge sticking point for you, you've been warned.
Temper Yourself and Your Expectations
It might sound as if I didn't enjoy my time with Yakuza 6. In fact, I enjoyed it immensely, but it's not as well-rounded and fully-featured as Yakuza 0. That game represented nearly a decade of development with the same engine, accruing a variety of features. Yakuza 6 is a first step, representing a building year for the franchise. Yakuza Kiwami 2 already improves upon this game in some ways, and the upcoming Shin Ryu Ga Gotoku (starring new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga) will likely build on that even further.
If you're coming to this game from Yakuza Kiwami, the transition feels a bit better than the one from Yakuza 0. Yakuza 0 is simply the better game overall, leaving Yakuza 6 as just a great game. Of course, a number of games aspire to be "great", so Yakuza hitting that benchmark even on an off year is a testament to the development team and the strength of the franchise. Yakuza 6 is well worth your time, but remember to manage your expectations.
For help with the game, check out our Yakuza 6 guide.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life might be the end of Kazuma Kiryu's story, but it represents a new step in the series. The game moved to a new engine, meaning the neighborhood of Kamurocho looks better than ever, but some cuts had to be made. The frame rate has been dropped to 30fps, parts of Kamurocho are closed for construction, and Kiryu is down to a single fighting style. It still has the same core players have come to love from the series, with a ton of mini-games and interesting side stories, but it's a step down from the excellent Yakuza 0.