Yakuza 6 was the best game at TGS 2016

Day in the life of the Yakuza: taking selfies, visiting snack bars

Yes, I can already hear you pounding away at your keyboard in an angry comment about why such and such game is amazing or will clearly be the best. It might very well be.

I can’t tell you that Yakuza 6 will end up being a better product than Final Fantasy XV or Nioh. All I can tell you is that this was the game that most impressed me. For the record, I am judging based only on what games I personally played at the show. I did not play every game including big hitters like Titanfall 2, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Mafia 3, or Persona 5. I also won’t cover every game I played since we have previews for games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and World of Final Fantasy already.

A close contender would be Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, but 0.2: Birth by Sleep–A Fragmentary Passage featuring Aqua is the only new gameplay and will only be a few hours long, serving more as a preview of how awesome Kingdom Hearts 3 will hopefully be, not to mention it was the same demo that was at E3. Horizon: Zero Dawn seems solid, but I just can’t shake the feeling of “been there, done that.” I know someone wants to quote this and say “I’ve played GTA and Shenmue before, and Yakuza looks the same as those,” but I just feel it is more than that, more than the sum of its parts, a truly distinctive work. I just didn’t feel way that towards Horizon (which, don’t get me wrong, is fantastic). You may disagree, and that’s OK. 

Also I must say up front that I’ve never personally played a Yakuza game up to this point, despite how much I want to sit down and play every entry. Therefore there will undoubtedly be some things I mention that have been in previous games but do not say as such. I did my best in researching prior entries for comparison, but if I made a mistake please do point it out to me.

The latest entry in a series often nicknamed things like “Grand Theft Auto: Japan” is not yet confirmed for a western release, but all other mainline games have made it over including 0, which will release worldwide in January, 2017. Even if by some weird chance Sega doesn’t localize Yakuza 6, you should absolutely import it. Call me a shill, I don’t care: this game rocks. You can view the demo I played at Tokyo Game Show from Dengeki Online’s stream. The demo time is 6:25:13 – 6:49:40.

While Kiryu was imprisoned, Haruka disappeared. He discovers that she is in Hiroshima and the victim of a car accident that may not have been an accident at all. She also had a child, Haruto. Kiryu takes Haruto and heads to Hiroshima to find out what happened to Haruka during her disappearance and also to find out who Haruto’s father is. Which is just how this demo begins.

You gain control with little Haruto in hand and are pretty much set free to do whatever you’d like in this open world, but are directed towards the next objective which is marked on your map like most open-world games. The main difference between this, or rather Yakuza games in general, and games like Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, or Sleeping Dogs is that you can not drive cars or beat up pedestrians. It is more like Shenmue in that you explore a smaller, but far more fleshed-out city with a focus on story. Even without the baby, you do not have the option to just punch whenever you like; you must be in battle mode, though even then your mightiest attacks will whiff when aimed at pedestrians. 

I started screwing around, bumping into people, trying to punch them, trying to get hit by the few cars that were driving on the streets, and exploring what kind of shops and actions are in the game until the booth representative suggested I go to the objective, given my time limit (to play the demo, not in-game). First things I took note of were the graphics and the physics. It looks and runs amazingly well. Walking in strange directions and zigzagging did in fact cause Kiryu to take unique steps reminiscent of the Euphoria engine, but it’s not quite as good. Bumping into people does cause them to stagger back, but in set animations rather than dynamic ones.

Getting used to the controls took a minute or two, with inverted vertical and horizontal camera movement. I’m sure that’ll be an easily changeable setting in the final product like it has been in the past, but just who the hell plays with horizontally inverted camera control in any game?

Kiryu has a camera equipped with various filters you can use to take photos at any time, including selfies, but be it a young schoolgirl or a cop, no one seems to mind you photographing them from any angle. On your Sony Xperia, you can view your inventory, money, to-do list, email, SNS chat, photo album, and access the game settings among other things. You can eat at restaurants, work out, chat with cam girls, play video games, and so on. I’d be here all day if I detailed all the features. 

What’s that? Sony Xperia? You heard me right. If you weren’t aware, the game creators try to recreate the areas you visit faithfully and that includes real-world companies. You can buy a Boss coffee (café au lait all the way, all day!) on your way to visit APA Hotel or the Club Sega arcade for example, the former of which in turn decked out its lobby in Yakuza 6 stuff.

Here’s a video courtesy of Yakuza Fan:

Anyway, there wasn’t a lot to do with a baby in hand so I found a taxi pulled over (they all appear to be, so no need to throw yourself in front of them or scream “yellow car!”), and selected the nearest location. You don’t seem to be able to pick any exact spot on the map, but rather predetermined points like choosing certain quadrants to warp to in Wind Waker. This is a good balance between having fast travel to get to somewhere without taking forever, and still having the player experience the world by walking to and from taxi stops, a problem I haven’t really given much thought to until now. 

Upon reaching the destination, a “Snack” bar (a pricey bar in Japan guys visit to talk with and, to a degree, get pampered by pretty girls, such as having your cigarettes lit, your drinks poured, or singing karaoke; they’re run by a “mama-san” and aren’t a place for sexual favors), you meet the “mama-san” who mistakes the child as Kiryu’s own child. Inside a rough gangster gets agitated with Kiryu.

The cutscenes have nice direction and don’t feel like they drag on like they do in a lot of games. The animation, including lip syncing, is outstanding to go along with the brilliant graphical quality I mentioned earlier. Despite having never played a Yakuza game before, I was engrossed in the conversations. I speak Japanese enough to understand what’s going on despite not being completely fluent, but I can tell the voice acting is superb. I’ve seen a number of games, anime, and even dubbed movies that just feel phony, but the three characters I saw in Yakuza 6 felt like real people. To respect the mama-san’s wishes of not fighting in the bar and with a baby around, the two bad boys relocate their kerfuffle to some back-alley lot.

As this is my first time playing a Yakuza game, the combat appears to be similar to the past games, but the creators have updated the battle system. I also was not an expert: I did not know all the moves and took time learning the system. Here is what I can tell you though: it’s really fun.

There are your standard kicks, punches, and combos, and you can pick up a variety of weapons to throw or swing at enemies, including cinder blocks, potted planets, and bicycles. Larger weapons can be used when you power up into “Ultimate Heat Mode” which also prevents enemies’ attacks from staggering you. There are even special moves operated by QTEs, and objects can fall over and be knocked around by the combatants. For random, non-story-related fights, you have the option to run away, which is a series first. 

Yakuza 6 releases December 8, 2016 on PlayStation 4, which is region-free in case you just can’t wait. Of all the games I played at TGS, I either finished the demo given to me or got a fair feel what what the game is. Only Yakuza 6 had me itching for more. Like the entries before it, it will be overflowing with content and, well what I am supposed to say? It’s awesome and I’ll definitely be picking this up at some point in the near future. Now, it’s time to start marathoning the series.

About The Author
Cory Arnold
Pretty cool dude in Japan. 6/9/68
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