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 startling discovery that she not only is currently in a coma after being hit by a car, but 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. Players will 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 even finds some time to play 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 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 the respect it deserved.
The biggest change that series veterans 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 the fighting 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 during combat, 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 possibly being Kiryu’s last starring role, this does feel like a new start for the series. Clearly a lot of effort went into crafting the new engine, and as such 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 0. So, while Song of Life might not be as fleshed out as its most recent predecessors, there’s still plenty to do and excellently written substories to see through.
Yakuza 6: Song of Life has the tough task of wrapping up Kiryu’s story, one that has spanned three console generations. SEGA manages to close his journey on a high note by staying true to the character’s core principles. 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 valuable 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, it ultimately works out for the best. Song of Life is Kiryu’s story and focusing on something larger would only be a disservice to one of gaming’s most fully realized characters. It’s only fitting that he bows out in Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s most mature and focused game.
Yakuza 6 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.