Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the final entry in Sega’s long-running gangster franchise to feature series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. And if Sega isn’t going to revisit the life and times of this grizzled hero, Yakuza 6 is a fine way to end it.
Before you ask, you don’t need to play the last five Yakuza games — six if you count Yakuza 0 - before checking out Yakuza 6. The game includes summaries of the previous titles, and has a lengthy flashback sequence at the beginning that pieces together events from the last game with this one, so you’re quickly up to speed.
In Yakuza 6, Kiryu discovers his adopted daughter Haruka is in a coma. What’s more, she also had a child called Haruto. Just released from prison, Kiryu has to track down Haruka, find Haruto’s father, and unearth a conspiracy that goes beyond those near and dear to him. The journey takes place in series staple Kamurocho and a new location in the Hiroshima province called Onomichi.
Along the way, you’ll meet a host of intriguing characters. The standouts include Beat Takeshi, the patriarch of one of Onomichi’s Yakuza families, along with his right hand man, Nagumo. They’re welcome additions to the cast and their antics along with series regulars like Makoto Date and Yakuza 5 mainstay Shun Akiyama liven up the proceedings.
It helps that the pacing of Yakuza 6’s story is near perfect. Sega has done a great job of introducing a steady amount of drama to keep the main plot line from dragging its heels with an ample number of mysteries to keep you pressing forward. You never feel overburdened with its intricacies and nuances, and for all its secrets, it’s a relatively straightforward affair packaged and presented well.
As you play through Yakuza 6’s 13 chapters spanning Kamurocho and Onomichi, you’ll beat up enemies galore. At first, controlling Kiryu can feel a bit sluggish, which makes sense considering that he’s around 50 years old, according to the game’s lore. But as you keep progressing, you’ll earn more than enough experience points to make him a whole lot more responsive, by unlocking a range of abilities. These include earning three times the experience in battle, to learning moves that can avoid enemy grapples, or our favourite — allowing Kiryu to carry enemies and then using them to beat up other goons.
Like past titles, Yakuza 6’s combat really shines is in its ridiculously over the top moves. Successfully launching a flurry of attacks grants you Heat. With a full bar of Heat you can trigger even more powerful punches and kicks. They’re a spectacle to behold as triggering such skills results in an almost cartoony display of carnage that never gets old.
This isn’t all. Thanks to this being Sega’s first Yakuza game that's exclusive to the PS4, there are no loading screens when you enter or exit combat. This results in a sense of seamlessness that just adds to the world’s liveliness. And what a world it is. Both Onomichi and Kamurocho have a well-worn feel to them, with citizens going about their routine, and shops and events galore. There’s a wealth of activities to partake in too. From creating your own army in the real-time strategy-inspired Clan Creator, to managing a cat cafe, you’ll find plenty to do in either locale.
Perform these mini-games well enough and you will be granted access to money and experience that allow you to further improve Kiryu’s stats to make the rest of the game easier. Though not once do you feel compelled to play them to get the resources you need to get through the main story - they’re purely optional. In fact, some of them - such as Clan Creator - are good enough to be standalone games in their own right. And once you’re done with Yakuza 6’s campaign, you can revisit and continue playing them thanks to the game’s Premium Adventure mode.
Another benefit of no longer supporting the PS3 is that Yakuza 6 looks better than any of the previous iterations of the series. Thanks to the improved visual fidelity, the environments looks sharper and crisper too. Kamurocho at night, in particular, is a spectacle to behold. Speaking of graphics, on the PS4 there were minor instances of screen tearing, which are completely absent on the PS4 Pro. It’s a minor yet noticeable difference to the proceedings along with slightly fewer jagged edges on Sony’s upgraded console. This aside, Yakuza 6 on the PS4 Pro and PS4 do suffer from a similar amount of shimmering.
Other concerns are minuscule but evident all the same. Certain classic locations in Kamurocho, such as Purgatory from past games, are nowhere to be found. However, thanks to the blistering pace of Yakuza 6’s plot, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to notice their absence, at least until towards the very end.
All in all, thanks to its fantastic story, memorable cast, and more than competent gameplay, Yakuza 6 is an apt send off for the hero of one of the more criminally underrated franchises.
Rating (out of 10): 9
Gadgets 360 played Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on PS4 and PS4 Pro. Yakuza 6 is out April 17 for PS4 and is priced at Rs. 2,999 ($60 in the US).