By David Fernandes / January 9th, 2017
|Title||Yakuza 6: The Song of Life / Ryu ga Gotoku 6: Inochi no Uta|
|Release Date||12/8/2016 – Japan|
|Age Rating||Cero D|
All good things must come to an end, or at least when it comes to Kiryu’s Saga as Nagoshi has stated. What is humorous to me about this is that Yakuza 5 was originally going to be the end of Kiryu’s story but they decided to back out and claim he’s the equivalent to Mario for the Mario franchise and can’t be replaced. Well, it’s here, the end for this protagonist who has been there since the first title back in 2005. He has finally dusted off his white overalls for one more adventure and this time as an exclusive PlayStation 4 title. Only this time, a complete revision of the combat system and all the perks of next generation hardware. So, does the new combat system deliver like its predecessors and is this latest mainline title the proper send off for Kiryu Kazama?
Yakuza 6 begins right after the events of Yakuza 5 with Kiryu now in a hospital recovering from his wounds against his fight with Aizawa. Before anyone can relax, the police arrive not only to return Saejima to prison but add Daigo and Kiryu to the mix. While Kiryu is serving his prison sentence, Haruka, who revealed to the world that she was under the care of an ex-yakuza, was now treated as an outcast and almost borderline harassed by the press. Not wanting to have the other orphans involved, she leaves. Three years later, Kiryu finishes his time and returns to the orphanage only to find out that Haruka has left and goes to Kamurocho to find any clues. What awaits him there are quite a few changes. A new up and coming patriarch in the Tojo clan is starting to act up in hopes to rise himself with a leaderless clan by burning Little Asia in Kamurocho to the ground. Even worse, Haruka had an accident which was to protect a baby — her baby. The last call she had before the accident was from someone in the city of Hiroshima where neither the influence of the Tojo clan or the Omi Alliance is felt. Kiryu heads off to Hiroshima with Haruka’s baby in hand in hopes of finding his father and stopping the Tojo clan transforming into a completely different beast entirely.
With the game being in Japanese, I, of course, won’t be able to expand on all the nuances the plot has to offer and will only really be sharing some thoughts on the characters (without spoilers), and the theme of the game. When the first trailer came out exposing the game’s plot, I was honestly surprised the dev team would go that far and have Haruka become a mother. With the reception of Yakuza 0’s story I was excited how they would handle such a matter. I mean, after all, we’ve seen our little Haruka grow from a child to a now young adult starting from the first game. However, the reveal of who the father is or how they met and Haruto being born was done so poorly I honestly feel they did this for shock value alone. Another disappointing factor was the reveal of the “Dark Secret” of Hiroshima, I don’t understand how this is supposed to be a dark secret. It’s so over the top, out of place, and feels too loose to the plot to be considered important but they treat it as a MacGuffin especially at the end and I couldn’t take it seriously. Made even worse was the long winded explanation of the reveal which took like 15 to 20 minutes–an endurance in absurdity.
A striking difference I noticed was that the game has no opening, you go straight to the start screen and main menu and the game’s theme song instead plays after the prologue to set the game’s tone. The subtitle for the game in Japan is Inochi no Uta, which translates into Song/Poetry of Life which I suppose stems from the baby’s importance and this being Kiryu’s last game. The bond between them was one aspect I felt was done right as they have plenty of screen time together for both lighthearted to very emotional scenes, plus Kiryu makes such a good uncle. It was odd to see them re-explore the Korean Mafia subplot as I felt it ended well in Yakuza 2. Not necessarily bad, as it did introduce another peculiar antagonist, just strange. As for the characters, I felt a bit miffed, and it’s not necessarily due to the new characters as most of them, especially on the protagonist side, were swell with a few exceptions overall, but more on the exclusion of older characters.
The two highlights for me ended up being Nagumo and Someya; the former being our comedic relief sidekick who starts off pretty unlikable but warms up to be endearing, charming and quite likable; the latter being a successfully well rounded antagonist who has questionable allegiance. He is both a foe and ally at times and it made him mysterious but interesting, and I feel it owes itself not only to good writing but great acting. Speaking of acting, one actor I’m sure most of you were excited about, as I was myself, was Beat Takashi showing up as a character. However, unlike most of the other actors, his was strangely sub par as he just murmured most of his lines and on top of that played a minor role so a lot of potential was lost. However, what frustrated me was that they showed old favorites like Majma and Saejima in trailers as important figures but they’re hardly in the game, in fact, many characters you’d expect to see for Kiryu’s last ride don’t appear at all, like Komaki and The Florist to name just a few. They do have a few cameos for some characters and while that’s nice and good, I feel they could have done more.
The meat of every Yakuza games is, of course, the battle system and Yakuza 6 comes bearing an entire overhaul of the original combat system that blended together crunchy cathartic beat ’em up and character action gameplay–now in a more simplistic form. The years behind bars haven’t been too kind to Kiryu so he came up with a new combat style with a few old moves. Why they chose Kiryu for this and not a new future protagonist I have no idea. The basics are all there, however, Square has the light punches and kicks with Triangle being the more strong winded attacks that you can combine into an assortment of combos available to you. Heat moves work as intended with a prompt appearing in context sensitive situations which allow you to use one orb on the bar for a move that does massive damage. This time there is a catch, a new heat mode which you activate with the R2 button which allows you to pull off specific heat moves along with being able to crowd control better with heavier attacks; in a way similar to the Destruction style in Yakuza 0.
I’m going to be frank, I’m not a fan of these changes for numerous reasons and I knew I wasn’t going to be going by the demo included in Yakuza Kiwami. While they did improve on many flaws found in the demo, the inherent issues I had are still present. First off, the lack of combos and heat moves you can acquire, there is simply too few and far between and the game starts to feel repetitive down the line. The AI in some ways improved but got worse in others, as they block more but have a penchant to attack less unless it’s a group of big mooks even on harder difficulties. The terrible imbalance with your own combos and weapons found around you; as in, why bother trying to combo an enemy with your weak punches when you can easily pick up a bicycle and utterly annihilate one or multiple enemies with a couple of hits due to the massive damage and hitbox it has. The moves feel sluggish and at times unresponsive due to a delay with the strong attacks, and even after all the upgrades and improvements I gave Kiryu it still felt slow.
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