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Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

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The End of a Saga

It isn’t often that you see a comfortable, workmanlike series like Yakuza do a complete overhaul in game mechanics or engine. The last time a dramatic shift like this happened was after Yakuza 2 to the Japan-only Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan. While that game stuck the landing and managed to improve almost everything from its PlayStation 2 roots, Yakuza 6 finds itself in an odd space.

Small quality-of-life changes give way to strange concessions in content that undermine the great work that has been done with the main story. And despite being billed as protagonist Kiryu Kazuma’s final chapter, this entry feels positively quaint compared to what the series has evolved into.

Even if the game fails to live up to expectations, Yakuza 6 is still a damn fine game.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4 [Reviewed on PS4 Pro])
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: December 8, 2016 (JP), April 17, 2018 (US, EU)
MSRP: $59.99

The main plotline of Yakuza 6 is far more straightforward than any of the previous games. While the intro is loaded with exposition about the ending of Yakuza 5 (which this game takes place directly after), that soon gives way to a completely original plot focused on Kiryu trying to discover what happened to Haruka, his adoptive daughter, after a serious accident. Not only is she in a coma, but a child was found at the scene of the crime bearing her last name.

Turns out Haruka had been a little busy during Kiryu’s stint in jail following the events of Yakuza 5. Three years have passed and basically everything Kiryu knew about the city of Kamurocho and his friends has changed. The only clue he has to figuring out what happened to Haruka is a photo from her phone that pins her location to Hiroshima. Kiryu then sets off to find the father of Haruka’s child and the game, proper, begins.

What follows is a storyline that seems to be a retread of the first title mixed with a more serious Kiryu. This is a man on a mission to solve the mystery surrounding his daughter and he isn’t taking anyone’s garbage. This is actually beautifully represented in a lot of cutscenes where Kiryu will either walk away or tell people to hurry the hell up when they start to exposit a lot.

That isn’t to say the game isn’t loaded with dialogue, because for how simple the overall plot may be, this is probably the most verbose Yakuza ever made. There are entire cutscenes that seemingly bloat out twists and turns you may already see coming, but at least the acting from the voice cast is stellar.

The infamous Beat Takeshi has an interesting role as does Tatsuya Fujiwara (of Battle Royale fame), but even the lesser-known actors bring their A-game to their roles. This even spills over into the substories, which are all fully voiced this time around. It brings a level of consistency to the presentation that could sometimes be at odds with the seemingly endless text boxes mixed with recorded dialogue from previous entries.

The game is also completely rendered with a brand new graphical engine. No longer will you see low-polygon character models or loading screens in between stores and battles; everything in Yakuza 6 has a seamless flow thanks to the Dragon Engine. While the upside is a game with fewer interruptions, the downside is that the general gameplay feels far less refined than Yakuza 3 (a title that is nearing 10 years old).

Not many people are probably aware, but the Yakuza series has practically been a yearly installment over in Japan. Apart from the transition from PS2 to PS3, a new title has released every year and has pushed Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to refine its design process to churn out a new entry on time. Even with a slight delay in Japan, Yakuza 6 feels like the most rushed entry to date.

The biggest drawback is that combat is rather basic. I’m talking Yakuza 1 levels of basic, as Kiryu only has one style and barely any of the series’ signature “heat moves” at his disposal. While it is understandable from a programming perspective, it doesn’t excuse how decidedly last-generation this game feels. With how much polish Yakuza 0 had, to seemingly throw that all away is just bizarre.

The upgrade system is also rather simplistic, giving you the ability to unlock literally whatever you want in almost any order. I suppose it makes more sense for Kiryu as he isn’t training or coming of age, but there isn’t a real sense of progression to how you earn your moves. This is then compounded by the physics-based brawling, which can see Kiryu ragdoll from simple hits and makes throwing far more deadly thanks to enemies stumbling over each other.

Still, the general feel of punches and kicks is satisfying. Even with such basic combat, Kiryu hits like a truck and the sound design complements his deadly prowess well. Heat Moves are also absurdly violent and feel so gratifying thanks to the crazy physics. Stomping on an enemy's face and then putting another guy in a headlock is vicious, but throwing a dude onto a moving train looks absolutely ridiculous. I’m also particularly fond of shoving a guy’s head into a microwave, which is just the right amount of ludicrous for me.

As for the map design, Yakuza 6 takes some strides forward but an awful lot backward. I’m fine with certain districts being absent from past entries, but nothing has been placed in their absence. The areas that have been cut are blockaded by a barrier that makes no logical sense and has no story justification. You’ll find a Kamurocho that is smaller than any of the previous games, but at least you can parkour over railings and jump from rooftops all without loading screens, I guess.

The new town of Onomichi, Hiroshima is also pretty vacant. It looks gorgeous and accurately captures the feel of a small Japanese town, but it only includes three mini-games and about a grand total of 10 buildings you can enter. The side activities are also oddly pared down from the rest of the game.

You’ll still find Club Sega with a couple of arcade games and the outstanding karaoke, but nearly all of the gambling games are gone, bowling and fishing are out, the underground coliseum is missing, and darts and baseball have been simplified to the point of being dull. The newer games, which include a gym to train Kiryu, a "sexy" live chat service and an on-rails underwater shooter, are decent enough, but hardly stand up to the quality of past games.

The other main distractions come in the form of a baseball management sim and the Kiryu Clan, which is kind of like an RTS game. I have no idea what is going on with the baseball thing (despite reading all of the instructions) and Kiryu Clan feels like a half-baked idea that would work better as a mobile spin-off. I appreciate their inclusion having separate storylines attached to them, but they aren’t particularly enjoyable in their own right.

Even with how simplified the game is, though, I can’t say I didn’t have fun. The main story beats culminate in some incredible boss fights and the excellent soundtrack fits the game's mood perfectly. People may be disappointed that series regulars Majima Goro, Saejima Taiga, and Dojima Daigo are absent, but I applaud Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio for sticking with a new cast and fleshing them out instead of buckling to fan service.

The main cast is likeable and loaded with lots of poignant speeches about loyalty, honor, and fighting for what is right. This is exactly the kind of stuff I’d expect from a Yakuza title and I’m glad the writing didn’t suffer from the rushed development cycle. That being said, I’m sure plenty of people are going to be upset with the finale; I saw it as perfectly complementing the subtitle of the game (which this Western releases finally retains).

As for how the game performs, I cannot confirm what a standard PS4 runs like. I know it operates at 900p for regular users, but I actually upgraded to a PS4 Pro in anticipation of this game. At least on the Pro, Yakuza 6 renders at 1080p and a locked 30 FPS. That is a step back from 0 and Kiwami, but the game never drops frames or exhibits any screen tearing. Base PS4 users be warned, though, as I’ve heard some ugly things around the net with regards to framerates.

I could nit-pick a lot of problems I had with Yakuza 6 until I end up despising the game, but putting aside the shortcomings and just going along for the ride makes for some damn fine gaming. This may not be the series firing on all cylinders like Yakuza 0, but Yakuza 6 is a worthy conclusion to the legacy of Kiryu that wonderfully sets the stage for what is to come next.

Given more development time, this could have been the definitive entry in the series, but what we’re left with is good enough. Hopefully Kiwami 2 can make some necessary improvements, because the groundwork set by the Dragon Engine is just awesome.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life reviewed by Peter Glagowski

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Peter Glagowski
Peter GlagowskiNews/Reviews Contributor   gamer profile

Plucked right from the DToid community (formerly KingSigy), Peter is an aspiring writer with a passion for gaming and fitness. If you can't find him in front of a game, you'll most likely find hi... more + disclosures


 


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