In the past year, I’ve reviewed three different Yakuza games: Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and now, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. That’s how you want to review a game franchise, start with the opening and closing of it, and cut out the unnecessary 5 games in the middle. On the flip side, I’ll likely review Yakuza Kiwami 2, so maybe the trend continues. On the whole of it, Yakuza 6 is worlds better than Yakuza Kiwami but isn’t quite as good as Yakuza 0. However, in some respects Yakuza 6 actually outdoes Yakuza 0 as well.
Review: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Yakuza 6 once again places you in the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu. Fresh out of jail (once again), he is longing to retire to the orphanage he opened up with Haruka (the baby girl from Yakuza Kiwami), along with a litter of orphaned children. However, these plans are dashed when he comes home and finds out Haruka is long gone. He then begins a quest to find her, traveling once again to Kamurocho and then eventually to Hiroshima. Following her trail and in search of what she’s been up to in the years they’ve been apart.
The story is a bit of a mixed bag. Although I don’t mean that entirely negatively. While you do run across the occasional familiar face like Makoto Date or Pocket Circuit Fighter (in a nice little substory), it is almost a completely new cast of characters that you meet. Just to drive that point even further, I think Goro Majima’s entire screen time in this game is about two minutes, give or take. The new cast you meet is mostly good but a few of the characters fall flat.
One thing I’ll note is that the story really plays like a Japanese soap-opera in spots. It’s not quite as over the top as Yakuza 0. But, there are some soap-opera things happening, which if everyone had been straight with each other in the beginning, would have dramatically shortened the actual storyline of the game.
The fighting engine is much simpler in Yakuza 6. Yakuza 0/Kiwami had your characters using up to four fighting styles. While also having the ability to hold a weapon in reserve, which was limited by durability (or ammo). In Yakuza 6, Kiryu only has one attack style but it is way more fluid and fast than anything he did previously. He’s still not as agile or zany as Goro was in Yakuza 0, but for the first time in any Yakuza game I’ve played, fighting with Kiryu is no longer a chore.
You still punch, dodge, pick up items or guys, all like in the past games. Except now there are different variations on these moves. One fun new move is to pick up a guy, and then you can spin him around you, dealing damage to everyone surrounding you. Honestly, you’ll probably use this move a lot as your main area-clearing move since the game really likes to throw dozens of guys at you at certain points. This move is especially helpful because it can take out 90% of groups, aside from the boss enemy. Also, Yakuza 6’s fighting engine is now more physics-based, so if you throw a guy into a large group, everyone tends to go flying, which is funny.
Heat Meter & Ultimate Heat Mode
Another change in Yakuza 6 is the heat meter. You don’t really have a separate heat meter anymore. Instead, you basically have heat circles. Each pip lets you do a heat action, which is the cinematic/damaging action from past games. You only have a few circles to start out with, but you can expand them as you level-up Kiryu. The bigger change to the system is that you can basically activate “Ultimate Heat Mode.” In this state, Kiryu starts glowing, allowing him to dish out more damage, while also taking reduced damage as well.
If you wail away at an enemy, eventually a quick time event begins, which lets you do some truly massive damage. However, there is a timer with Ultimate Heat mode. If you only have one Heat circled filled, the timer expires quickly. But, if you have five circles filled, it lasts a pretty decent amount of time. You can also unlock skills to extend the duration and damage even further.
Ultimate Heat Mode also has an added benefit of making the game stupid easy. I actively lost a lot of boss fights in Yakuza 0 because it was really hard. And I got bored of the fighting in Yakuza Kiwami pretty quickly, so I tried to avoid it. In Yakuza 6, you can literally beat most enemies within seconds. If you ever do go up against a hard boss, then you can just bust out Ultimate Heat, and wail away. You may need to use the occasional health item, but you won’t get wrecked like you would in Yakuza 0.
In Yakuza 0, you used money to buy new skills/level up. With Yakuza Kiwami it was a straight experience system (used general points to unlock stuff in a ring.) On the other hand, Yakuza 6 uses a specialized experience system. There are five types of experience: strength, agility, spirit, technique, and charm. And each discipline is leveled-up in a different way. Fighting generally nets you more strength, agility and spirit experience. While doing side activities gets you more charm/technique. The experience types are also color coded as well. strength is red, agility is blue, spirit is orange, technique is green, and charm is pink.
The system does have one drawback in that it can kind of create an imbalance in how you level-up. Almost all the skills you pick up require two (or more) points in different disciplines. Say you want to get the Heat action to deflect guns. Well, that might require points in strength, agility, and technique. The problem is, strength, agility, and spirit accrue at a much faster rate than technique or charm. Charm/technique do go up, but not really from fighting the numerous random people you meet on the streets. They typically only go up after major boss battles, doing the mini-games, or eating food.
Another change in Yakuza 6 is that eating food can now net you experience. There’s a mechanic where Kiryu has a stomach gauge. If you order food, you can fill the gauge and Kiryu can get a different experience based on what dish he eats. If you go over the gauge, he stops gaining experience. However, the meals can still be used to heal him. Also, certain order combinations unlock hidden combo meals, which dish out more experience for Kiryu.
Substories and Mini-Games
Substories (side quests) also return in Yakuza 6. Although, they are generally more subdued than in Yakuza 0. There is still the occasional one which gets crazy though, which is always welcome.
There’s also a new type of side-quest which is an app called “Troublr.” These side quests are basically timed missions where you have to either beat up random thugs terrorizing people, rescue someone, or put out a burning fire. These are all really basic but they can net you some valuable experience.
A large number of mini-games also make their triumphant return to the series. Especially since Yakuza Kiwami only had about four of them. There are about a dozen mini-games, from a decently stocked arcade (Puyo Puyo Tetris and Virtua Fighter 5: Showdown headline the arcade), to an on-rails spear-hunting fishing game, to a Cheers-esque bar where you drink and talk to patrons, to perhaps the best mini-game ever, live chatting.
Unlike the past Yakuza games that had mild-adult videos, or awkward female wrestling, Yakuza 6 just has two real women doing FMV sequences “chatting” with you, as Kiryu types in his responses. It’s done up like a webcam chatroom, and the women portray that type of persona to a tee. While Kiryu and other chatroom users are portrayed as desperate guys. This mode does a fantastic job at poking fun at a portion of modern culture, without being ridiculously titillating. It is hilarious and accurate at the same time.
The Clan Life
Unquestionably, the biggest new mini-game in Yakuza 6 is the Kiryu Clan system. This is basically a reverse-tower defense mode where you set out different gang members (gunman, blade guy, heavy thug, grenadier, etc.) to attack units of another gang leader. You also have access to named units which function like hero units, who have more health, might be multi-class, and have special abilities that you can activate as well. If regular units die, they’re out, but if a hero unit “dies”, you just have to wait for a timer to countdown and heal them.
The story behind this mode is that a new gang called JUSTIS has risen up in Kamurocho and bills itself as an anti-gang gang. They are sick of the various Yakuza and Triad gangs in the town and want to clean it up. Unfortunately, the JUSTIS gang gets corrupt themselves and starts shaking down people and beating them up. Kiryu and a guy named “Joe” team up to create the Kiryu Clan to stop JUSTIS and make the streets a tad safer.
Enter New Japan
This is the mode where a lot of the celebrity cameos appear. Specifically Japanese wrestlers. JUSTIS is led by Kazuchika Okada of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. While his subordinates include NJPW rivals such as: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, and Satoshi Kojima, among others. There are some other celebrity appearances in Yakuza 6, but the NJPW roster is probably the most exciting.
One quick tip: You can enter codes to unlock certain hero units. Notably, you can unlock Kiryu, Goro, Date, as well as all the NJPW guys to be in your clan. I recommend you do this, as these units are far better than the ones the game regularly has, and the codes are all online for them.
Honestly, there isn’t too much bad stuff to say about this game. There is some plot wonkiness, but that’s to be expected. I’d say my biggest criticism is that Hiroshima, the new town you go to, really sucks to get around. It has some extremely confusing paths to traverse and isn’t that much fun to explore either.
Also, a few mini-game locations could have been made much easier to find. I literally beat the game the night other reviews broke and saw mention of the bar drinking/talking mini-game. I never stumbled upon it in my 25+ hours of playing the game, and I had to have another reviewer literally tell me to go to a location I never even noticed before, to do it. The game could have done a much better job of at least pointing out the mini-game exists. Also, the Haruto mini-game is terrible, you’ll know it when you come to it. Most of the other issues are pretty minor and don’t get in the way of the game much at all.
- Combat is vastly improved and Kiryu is no longer a terrible fighter
- Some of the mini-games are fantastic, notably the webcam one
- The Kiryu Clan mini-game can earn you a lot of cash, if you use the NJPW characters that is
- The experience system leaves a lot to be desired, as there isn’t a great way to rank up in several of the disciplines
- Not quite as much side content as there was in Yakuza 0
- Hiroshima can be a real pain to navigate and doesn’t offer much
Overall Score: 8.0 Out of 10. Yakuza 6 doesn’t match the great heights that Yakuza 0 did, but it also doesn’t match the lows that Yakuza Kiwami achieved either. In the end, it’s a pretty good game. The fighting system is the best it’s been in a Yakuza game, there is a fair amount of side stuff for you to do, and the world of Kamurocho is still interesting to see, even if it has been 20 years since when Yakuza 0 started. I’m not a huge fan of the overall general plot of Yakuza 6, but there are enough individual moments in it, which make it worthwhile to play to the end. Yakuza 6 serves as a somewhat fitting end to the Kazuma Kiryu storyline, and if you enjoyed the other games in the series, you’ll probably enjoy this one too.
This game was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.