• Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4)

    How far would you go for family?
    For the past year now, the Yakuza series has been burning brightly on the PlayStation 4. We had the fantastic Yakuza 0 make its way to Western audiences early in 2017, followed up by the ever so slightly inferior but still amazing Yakuza Kiwami a few months later. Despite these games existing for more than a decade across three different console generations, these PS4 releases are the first time many of us have ever gotten to experience the amazing character of Kazuma Kiryu and his world. And now in early 2018 we have the release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the final chapter in old man Kiryu's tale. Cast any worries you have aside because Sega says farewell to Kazuma "The Dragon of Dojima" Kiryu in grand fashion.

    The biggest draw of the Yakuza games has been and will always continue to be the fantastic storylines; these include the storylines contained in the bite-sized sub-missions, the main story thread of each game, or even the overarching story elements that span the entire franchise. To avoid as many spoilers as possible here, Yakuza 6's story focuses on Kiryu's adopted daughter Haruka Sawamura after she is struck by a hit-and-run driver near the onset of the game. Though the incident put Haruka into a coma, her final actions leading up to the hit-and-run managed to save her child Haruto from any harm. It is now up to Kiryu to find out the child's true identity, who the child's father is, and why so many people are out to get the wee lad. I'm not sure how they do it, but the Yakuza writers never fail to impress me with how they manage to take what initially appears as a massive, tangled, sometimes incomprehensible web of plot points and characters and weave it into a main, coherent story thread that somehow makes sense once all is said and done.

    Was that vague? Absolutely. Again, one of the biggest draws of the Yakuza games is how the story unfolds over the course of the 20+ hours you will sink into each and every one of them. Those who are concerned about jumping into the final game of Kiryu's story shouldn't worry too much. The game does offer a fairly comprehensive feature, accessible from the main menu, which allows you to read through the "CliffsNotes" versions of the plots for each of the prior games. It also provides some additional character background information near the start of the game to serve as a nice refresher even for long-time fans.

    Though the story is a driving force behind most of Kiryu's actions, it is still up to you, the player, on how you want to tackle pretty much anything. The bright lights of Kamurocho pairs nicely with the more quiet streets of the seaside village of Onomichi. Both cities offer up a decent amount of activities to engage in be it joining and managing a baseball team, playing darts, singing karaoke, getting to know some bar patrons, going fishing with a spear gun, chatting up some lovely ladies both in online chatrooms and at hostess clubs, and the list goes on. Sega once again has a tremendous in-game presence with a number of fully playable arcade units set up at various locations. Want to play Puyo Puyo, Out Run, Space Harrier, or Fantasy Zone? They're all there. Maybe you want to try your hand at Virtual Fighter 5 or Super Hang-On instead? Go ahead. A couple of these even include a two-player mode.

    Interestingly enough, it's entirely possible to miss some of the more meaty diversions like the baseball team and fishing as they are only initiated when running through specific areas at specific times of the day. To that end, I never even saw the fishing activity until well after I beat the main storyline. Sadly, a few familiar activities like the crane games, billiards, and bowling all seem to be absent from this game. Even with those notable absences, I often found that I was losing significant parts of my play sessions just in doing some of the ever engaging sub-stories or activities that were included. Once again, these sub-stories range from being light hearted enough to make you laugh to those that are far more somber in tone.

    Perhaps the biggest optional content in the game is the ability to take on a variety of clan battles with your Kiryu Clan. This mode attempts to infuse some strategy elements into the game by making you spawn in leaders and subordinates into a gauntlet like stage. Think of it as a tower-defense type game mode, where the enemy leaders and their cronies are the towers. The mode is presented with an isometric top-down view of the action. Take out the opponents before time runs out and you win. While it seems as though it requires a fair bit of strategy, most of these fights can be won by simply throwing a lot of bodies at the enemy. Really, the most strategy contained in this mode is knowing when to pop off one of your leader's abilities to provide a buff to your side or a debuff to the opponent. This mode does offer up its own self-contained story and it's worth going through it at least once. Plus, these battles are a fairly quick and easy way to earn a fair bit of cash when you need it most. For those that really get into the clan battles, you can take the fight online to do battle against various defense teams that other players have set up and uploaded to the Yakuza 6 servers. You can level up your leaders as you progress, and changing your hierarchy of leaders could provide some significant increases to your clan's overall power. Some of the more hardcore players will go the distance of recruiting every leader that they can, including a couple dozen optional fighters that you can only get by inputting a number of codes while in game.

    Combat still feels satisfying, though I will say that it differs quite a bit from what players may be used to with Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami. In a lot of ways, the combat feels far more streamlined than in those two games. That's not saying that I dislike it, just saying that it's different. Kiryu can string together various combos with his fists, feet, and even the environment. Heat moves return and are once again dependent on the environment or if Kiryu is holding a weapon or not. Thanks to the fact that you no longer have to hit a loading screen when you enter or leave buildings, the combat that starts out on the street can continue into any number of buildings or into shops. Want to toss some bad guys around and destroy a convenience store? Well now you can. And unlike the previous games, you aren't artificially walled in while engaging in combat, meaning that you can run down the street to pick up an object to use as a weapon, or simply just run away from the fights in general. The enemies do give chase but will give up after a little while.

    Each fight and activity rewards Kiryu with various experience points that he can use to level up stats like health or defense. Abilities are unlocked in much the same way. You aren't tied to a grid-like unlock system in Yakuza 6. Meaning that if you see an ability you want, chances are you can unlock it once you have enough experience points to do so. You won't have to unlock a bunch of pre-requisite abilities beforehand to get the one you want. For those looking for some easy experience points, be sure to eat food as often as Kiryu is hungry. Not only will food replenish his health, but he earns experience for it every single time. This is a great way to level up and there's even some upgrade abilities that increase his hunger gauge and digestion rate. Don't worry though, you don't "need" to eat. Yakuza 6 didn't go survival game on you or anything.

    Yakuza 6 is the first game to be released on the new Dragon Engine. The upcoming Yakuza Kiwami 2 will be the second game to utilize it. Without a doubt, it's a great looking engine but it does come at a price. Some of the biggest changes you will notice compared to 0 and Kiwami comes from how much better the lighting looks in Yakuza 6. The neon lights of Kamurocho never looked better. The world and characters are reflected in wet puddles lingering on the pavement. Bursts of swirling particles explode into the picture as Kiryu lands devastating blows and finishers. The environments are just full of little details that may go completely unnoticed by some players. Others may take the time to enter into first-person mode to just walk around each town and soak in the sights for a little bit. The enemies now ragdoll after being knocked out instead of being confined to canned animations. This is especially great to witness when you kick a downed foe across the street into an obstacle. More importantly, the new engine seems to allow for far more characters and fighters to appear on screen at once, meaning that fights against a few dozen enemies in a decently sized area are not uncommon at all. In fact, part of the combat challenge comes from trying to mitigate attacks that come from every angle at once. There was no loading when entering or exiting buildings, which is a godsend when you need to quickly stop into a shop to buy a few items. Character models and animations, especially the faces, all look great. It's quite easy to recognize familiar faces, including famous Japanese actor, writer, and director Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royale), who plays Toru Hirose the patriarch of the Hirose Family.

    That said, there are certainly a few issues I encountered in Yakuza 6. The framerate will noticeably dip in some cases, especially when running down the busy streets of Kamurocho at night. Screen tearing is also very noticeable during these instances when turning a corner or rotating the camera around. Thankfully, I never seemed to notice any of these issues when an important fight was happening. During various cutscenes, I did notice a fair bit of aliasing and shimmering in the background environments even with a nice depth of field blur effect being implemented. It was enough that I became distracted by it on multiple occasions even if the foreground content looked very clean. Some cutscenes also cut away to simply showing nothing of great importance at all. The camera would cut away from a character that was speaking just to show me a wall, for instance. I don't believe this is a technical issue but it is an oddity nonetheless.

    Left: Odd cutscene camera | Right: Stuck in a light pole

    In addition to the above issues, I did run into an instance where the game simply failed to load the next area. I had to quit back to the PS4 dashboard and start the game again. Fortunately, the checkpoint system in Yakuza 6 is good enough that I didn't have to re-play much at all to get back to where I was. Another issue I had was being stuck in a hallway. The door I entered was locked and my waypoint said I needed to go to the other end to progress the story. I hit an invisible wall that prevented me from progressing. Fortunately, the game must have realized something was amiss because it eventually loaded the next story beat after I ran up and down the hall a few times wondering if I had missed something. Finally, the last major issue I had came when Kiryu decided to clip into a light pole during a Heat move. I was stuck there with no way out. I again had to load a checkpoint save from a few moments prior.

    I should note that this was all played on the base PlayStation 4 hardware. I do not know what improvements the PlayStation 4 Pro would offer to the game, but I would at least assume that a more stable framerate would be one of them. As I understand it, a lot of Yakuza 6's development schedule went into creating the Dragon Engine, and it may be possible that many of these issues are already fixed in Kiwami 2. It may also help to explain why some particulars of the numerous characters don't feel as fleshed out as in other Yakuza games, or why some activities are absent or simplified in Yakuza 6. Even in spite of these technical shortcomings, Yakuza 6 is a damn good time. The good far outweighs the bad here, by a mile.

    If, like me, the PS4 games are all you have to go on for comparison, I would say that Yakuza 6 sits nicely below Yakuza 0 but above Yakuza Kiwami in terms of both story and gameplay. Just some friendly advice here: Don't begin the final chapter if you don't have a lot of time to spare. You'll want to allocate a good couple of hours to the emotional rollercoaster that is the finale. You already probably spent well over 20 hours getting to this point, don't sell yourself short by rushing through the last bit of story. Also, don't be too surprised if you find that it started to rain inside your room at some point.

    Yakuza 6 offers a near perfect farewell to the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, complete with the roller coaster of emotions you have come to expect from this franchise. Whether you are a new fan of the franchise or a returning one, this is one swan song you won't want to miss.

    Now to get ready for Yakuza Kiwami 2 in August.


    Additional Information
    Yakuza 6 (Developed and published by Sega)
    Starting at $59.99 (USD) for PlayStation 4
    Rated M for Mature 17+ for blood, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, and use of alcohol
    This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

    Additional Screenshots
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4) started by Shawn Zipay View original post
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