Yakuza 5 didn’t exactly end on a high note for Kiryu. Not only did he nearly die from injuries, but his criminal ties wound up ending the idol career of Haruka. Yakuza 6 mainly takes place several years later after Kiryu returns from yet another prison term only to find Haruka missing from Sunshine Orphanage. This leads to the shocking discovery that she’s not only currently in a coma after being hit by a car, but she also recently birthed a child.
Besides those shocking revelations, the opening hours of Yakuza 6 are pretty chill. That’s not to say that there aren’t some fists exchanged between Japanese gangsters, but for the most part Kiryu is just attempting to take care of his grandson. It’s almost as if the game is a single father simulator for a bit, as players have to purchase baby food and make sure the child isn’t upset while walking around the city by using the DualShock 4 to rock the baby to sleep. Oh, and Kiryu starts playing baseball at the local field because that’s what a cool dad does.
Things eventually pick up to the usual Yakuza fare of gangsters, deaths (and boy there are a lot of deaths in this game!), and there’s a conspiracy with its own twists and turns to solve. That said, things for the most part don’t get too crazy. Unlike Yakuza 5, which had players fighting bears, breaking out of prison, and becoming an idol, the story here is a lot more grounded in reality. There are a few instances where players will go “what are the chances that would happen?” but it’s mostly a believable crime drama. The series has always known when to be serious, and I’m glad it treated Kiryu’s final chapter with that respect.
The biggest change that players will notice is Yakuza 6‘s much improved combat system. While I adored some of the past iterations, the fighting definitely felt clunky and stiff at times. That’s all gone now, as the new combat feels much more fluid and is much more dynamic. For example, players can crash into store fronts while fighting in the streets, and it no longer feels separated from the rest of the game.
While the combat is definitely improved, I found myself missing the multiple combat styles that made Yakuza 0 so interesting to play. No matter what enemy I was facing off against, my strategy was typically the same. I also found there to not be quite as many heat actions to pull off, which is fine as far as tone goes, but I did miss some of the funnier sequences where Kiryu would just unload on an overmatched bad guy.
The new engine is a definite highlight, and it has me really excited to play Yakuza Kiwami 2 and future titles in the series. Despite being Kiryu’s finale, this does feel like a new start for the series, and since a lot of effort went into crafting a new engine, the series’ signature amount of diversions has been lessened a bit. That’s not to say that there aren’t as many distractions (for example, the new clan builder is quite fleshed out), but I don’t see myself spending over 100 hours with Yakuza 6 like I did with Yakuza 0. So, while Song of Life might not be as fleshed out as 0 or 5, there’s still plenty to do and substories to see through.
Yakuza 6: Song of Life has been marketed as being the end of Kiryu’s story, and it wraps up quite well. He remains a man who cares more about those around him than his own needs, and this is shown off in the beginning as he once again serves time behind bars in order to redeem himself for his family. The focus is purely on Kiryu and a new cast of characters for the most part as Goro Majima, Daigo Dojima, and many other mainstays only appear during the opening and ending moments.
Thankfully, the new characters are all very likable, and the mystery of who fathered Haruka’s child is a fun one to figure out. Heck, it even comes with some life lessons to use protection! Much like how the story is more focused than previous entries, so are the locations. While Yakuza 5 had many new locations to explore, the entire game only takes place in the already explored grounds of Kamurocho and Hiroshima. Both areas are filled with quests and interesting things to do, though, so while it’s a slight step backwards in scale, not much is lost.
While it’s slightly disappointing to see so many members of Yakuza‘s great ensemble cast take a back seat in Yakuza 6: Song of Life, it ultimately works since this is Kiryu’s story. As such, the final chapters of his story are a much more focused and grounded story than ever before. That’s not to say that things don’t occasionally get ridiculous, but it reminds me more of Yakuza 3 in both its scope and heart. Overall, it’s a story of personal growth, and one that allows Kiryu to say his goodbyes.
Yakuza 6 import review copy purchased by reviewer. Version 1.06 reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.