The rain-slicked streets of Onomichi Jingaicho glisten in the sporadic neon light. I’m walking down a dangerous looking alley, past some very dodgy customers, to get to my objective. They follow, muttering darkly to one another. It soon becomes clear they’re about to have a go at me. I politely ask a nearby pedestrian to hold my baby and then turn to face them. I’m ready to unleash a volley of kicks and punches on these mongrels that will leave them crawling along the bloody ground, sick with agony and regret. I crack my knuckles and get to work, taking care of the six strong crew swiftly and without mercy. After all, I have a hungry baby to feed.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the latest entry in the long running, critically lauded Yakuza series. The entire franchise is rather unique in the realm of video games. It tells complex, adult-orientated stories that are voice acted in the original Japanese and require subtitles, rather than the usual english language dubs. The stories told are often convoluted, dense and very slow burn, with few if any concessions given to short attention spans and yet it’s precisely because of this originality, this unique flavour, that makes the series so damn engaging.
Yakuza 6: Song of Life is the first entry made specifically for PS4 (as opposed to a PS3 remaster) and graphically the upgrade is immediately noticeable. From lifelike character animations, to sprawling brawls that run from one location to another, to landscapes that are vividly painted and feel alive – Yakuza has never been this pretty before. The story too focuses mainly on the mission of Kazuma Kiryu – rather than splitting the tale between multiple POV characters – and the result is a more disciplined, engaging tale. Certainly Yakuza 6 has many of the series’ bells and whistles: endless side quests, mini-games for days and mildly titillating optional pursuits – but the real star here is the story, which manages to be surprising and unexpectedly emotional at times, with some great twists.
Of course combat is frequent and here too the game excels, featuring meaty, satisfying fighting mechanics that are customisable and, on occasion, hilarious. There may come a time when knocking down half a dozen blokes with a well-swung bike gets old, but that time has not yet occured.
On the downside some of the side content can become a little wearying. Some of the side, and even main, missions get a little fetch questy at times and the new Clan Creator mode feels like an unnecessary complication in a game that’s already chockers with extra content.
Then again that’s another example of the series’ commitment to being its own entity. Is it a brawler, an RPG or a interactive movie? It’s kind of all of those things and more. It’s the type of game that rewards slow, meticulous play so don’t burn yourself out on it. Play for an hour or two a night, and drink in the atmosphere, the tension and the occasionally baffling moments of tonal whiplash.
Yakuza 6: Song of Life is a fascinating, original and engaging experience. Gleefully weird yet utterly compelling, it’s well worth a bash for those seeking something a little bit different and a great jumping on point for Yakuza newbies.