The adventures of Kratos and son may be what the general populace is all talking about, but for myself and a small group of people, the week earlier a game came out that had another, similar dynamic – Yakuza 6. It was the final chapter of Kiryu’s story, finding himself as guardian of baby Haruto he is once again pulled into the Yakuza underworld.
With a new engine powering the game, so much of Yakuza 6 feels familiar but oh so different. Combat feels faster, load times are far more infrequent, yet there’s a familiarity with the city of Kamarucho. While the aesthetic changes with the times, it’s possible to go from game to game and still find your way around the city without following the map. The complete opposite of a game like GTA which redesigns the likes of Liberty City every time, Kamarucho feels far more real, as what in earlier games felt far more low-tech and simple, soon makes way to the fluorescent billboards and magnificent, towering structures. It might be my favourite video game world to explore.
Like the previous games, it may feel small in comparison to other open worlds, but the amount of content they pack into it is staggering. Walking down the street you’ll just stumble upon side missions, arcades to enjoy (now complete with Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter), karaoke, bars and even new gameplay modes. With the previous game Yakuza 0 they even had management modes where you got to run a hostess bar and buy real estate.
Yakuza 6 carries on the tradition for wonderful new time sinks in the form of baseball team management and a clan creator storyline. The latter filled with wrestlers from New Japan such as Okada and Suzuki, it’s a mode viewed from a top-down perspective as you send out members of your Kiryu Clan to battle opposing factions. Early on in the game, it’s what I spent most of my time playing, mainly thanks to the intriguing storyline that complements it. Oh, and there’s also a cat café. You can find stray cats, feed them, then collect them like Pokemon. It’s yet another part of the game you can lose hours too.
As previously mentioned, Yakuza 6 marks the first use of the Dragon Engine and going straight from 0/Kiwami to this showcases how much of a step forward it is. Everything feels faster and smoother with loading times being minimal. Loading only really comes into play during the lengthier cutscenes and when you initially start the game. Going into shops and restaurants is seamless, with no loading screens breaking up the action.
Like in previous games you come across people on the map who just want to fight. When this happens instead of older games where it would create an arena for you to fight in with an invisible barrier, this time you’re free to run around the environment. You can even run into stores and smash them up as you batter everyone who stands in your way. It’s got me very excited for Yakuza Kiwami 2, the remake of 2 that uses the same engine.
It’s weird then that despite the technical improvements and abundance of content, out of the three Yakuza games release over the past couple of years, this might be at the bottom. I think the main problem really comes down to the story. While Yakuza 0 was a surprisingly engaging story about real estate and Kiwami was about best friends coming to blows, 6 starts with an interesting mystery about what happened to Kiryu’s adopted daughter Haruka, but never really gets a good enough pay off, especially when this was said to be Kiryu’s final chapter. It could have turned things around with the ending, but following what felt like fourteen different post-credits scenes, the impact of that final scene was soon lost. It’s a shame.
Despite the shortcomings of the story, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (to give it its hilarious full title) is still a fantastic game. Rammed with content, funny and engaging side stories, great music as always and a new, brilliantly designed fight system, it’s a good end for Kiryu’s story. I look forward to what Sega do next with the series.