I feel like the Yakuza games have often lingered on the periphery of gaming popularity on the West. They have an adoring fanbase here, but the titles have never quite reached the upper echelons of stardom – until Yakuza 0 and Kiwami came out last year on PS4 and surprised everyone with its breadth of scope and sincerely absurd comic nature. Suddenly, the world was clamoring for the next big title in the franchise, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. If my first 20 hours or so are any indication, SEGA has another hit on its hands.
For the uninitiated, Yakuza is a series revolving around the character Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Toro Clan, his life, his relationships, and the drama (and plenty of comedy) that ties them all together. I hesitate to call it an open world game because it doesn’t really play like one, though many of its larger maps and the freedom you have between core missions may make it seem like one. Instead, it’s probably best to call Yakuza an Action RPG with a strong bent towards the sort of drama you find in a soap opera or HBO series. It’s fully-voiced, but all in Japanese, so at least you won’t have to worry about bad dubbing.
— Bill @ Azeroth… again. (@TheBillMurphy) February 18, 2018
Kiryu can equip items to increase his stats, but his outfit is almost always his trademark gray suit and shoes with a burgundy silk shirt. The man just wears what works best for him, I guess. Your clothing is determined by the story, changing as needed to fit the scene. So don’t go into Yakuza 6 thinking it’s Diablo in terms of RPG. In this sense, it’s more like Shen Mue, with players earning XP across a wide variety of categories to increase their overall fighting prowess, learn new moves, and so forth.
Combat is a button-combo-mashing affair, but with plenty of nuances for those looking to learn the many new techniques that Kiryu can unlock as you play through the titles 13 or so chapters (dozens of hours). And indeed, if all you did was play the story in Yakuza 6, you’d have a great Action RPG tale of a time. But there’s so much more to Yakuza 6, as there always is. You’ll be able to manage and get rewards from running a Cat Cafe. There’s a whole story (quite tongue in cheek) about doing it. There are full arcade ports of Puyo Puyo and Virtua Figther 5, and while you can play them in the game, you can also select them and play 2-player from the main menu. Darts, Batting Cages, and the whole dating sim of the Hostess Club is here too.
Did I mention that the Club SEGA building has full versions of Space Harrier, Outrun, Super Hang-On, and Fantasy Zone? Mahjong is also there, for those old-school gamers, as is Karaoke as a rhythm game which is often so distracting from the main game that I wind up doing it for a whole night.
Perhaps the most addictive new feature is the Clan Creator. Yakuza 6’s Clan Creator plays like a top-down real-time strategy game (think Clash Royale). You build a deck of clansmen, and lay them down on the map as your energy fills up over time. They charge into battle against AI opponents, and later other players’ clans (asynchronously). Players can spend experience points to train their clan “leaders,” which include Yakuza favorites like Kiryu, Daigo, Akiyama, and Date. Even more surprising is the inclusion of famous names from the Japanese pro wrestling scene. Each leader has their own special skills too.
I mean, guys, there’s even a whole early section of the game where you’re caring for Haruka’s son and have to help him calm the eff down when he’s hungry. This game has it all. Or at least most of it. Ok, just lots of weirdly great stuff.
I’ve spent a couple dozen hours in Yakuza 6 so far, and I’m not at all ready to put it down. Like the rest of the series’ installments, it’s incredulous blend of brawler, RPG, and melodrama make for an engaging ride. But what makes it even more fun is the way the series always feels ready to let its hair down and just poke fun at itself and society. There’s a reason the Yakuza series is often called Japan’s GTA. You don’t drive cars in Yakuza, but the same sort of societal commentary and guffaw-making satire is ever-present. Yakuza 6 is just plain awesome, and I can’t wait for you all to play it next month. If you can’t wait, the demo version will arrive on PS4 on February 27th, and the save file carries over to the full version!