Old dragon, few new tricks: a ‘Yakuza 6: The Song of Life’ review

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After over a decade of fighting off clans of gangsters, dodging bullets, and solving everyone else’s problems, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life marks the apparent end of longtime protagonist Kazuma Kiryu donning the gray suit and punching his way to victory. Originally planned for release in March but delayed until April 17, the game just got its demo back up and running on the Playstation Store for folks to enjoy.

Team attacks during combat are back and just as flashy.

The latest entry thankfully takes a different approach to the story than the previous games. Following the events of Yakuza 5, Kiryu’s adoptive daughter Haruka immediately retires from being an idol (yes, really), while the dragon of the Dojima himself serves out a short prison sentence for somewhat convoluted reasons.

Upon being freed, the ex-yakuza quickly finds that things are not as he left them. Haruka disappeared for the three years of his imprisonment, only to show up in a Kamurocho hospital with a baby named Haruto.

It’s nice to see Haruka, a character long used in the series as a means of getting Kiryu into even more dangerous situations or simply providing a few encouraging words, attempted to live a life outside of her adopted father’s influence. Indeed, many of Kazuma’s usual circle of yakuza friends and allies are missing in this entry. The few that do make an appearance are kept in short instances, which allows more of Haruka’s acquaintances to flourish in the plot.

As Kiryu works to find out just what happened to his daughter in the three years he’s been away, he takes on the role of a temporary guardian to Haruka’s infant son Haruto.

“Don’t ever talk to me or my grandson ever again.”

This lends itself to a rather refreshing view of Kazuma as a doting grandfather, rather than the rage-filled fighter he usually is. Unfortunately it doesn’t last, as the story begins to fall into the comfortable, convoluted web of yakuza families, codes, and secrets that have similarly hampered previous entries. Soon Kiryu is back to his old shtick, getting wrapped up in bigger issues that inevitable lead to several epic punch-ups.

Years in the slammer can never stop Kiryu from loving karaoke.

For anyone new or returning to the series, Yakuza 6 offers everything that has been expected of it after 10+ years of entries. When not tending to his infant grandson or unraveling longstanding conspiracies, Kiryu can gamble, pump iron, stop crimes, play baseball, recruit cats for a cafe, or even chat up cam girls.

The substories are another plus for the game, as many of them are a mixture of lighthearted and comedic. There is seemingly no end to the amount of things Yakuza 6 allows players to do outside of the main story, which is as fun as it is dizzying.

One of the more disappointing things the game boasts is a return to the older combat system, in which spamming Heat (super) moves proves to be an easy way to cheese fights. In the context of the story it makes sense (Kiryu is almost 50 at this point), but the quick style switching seen in Yakuza 0 is sorely missed.

The visuals however, are surprisingly smooth and make a lot of the cutscenes play out well. Kamurocho once again feels like a thrumming city full of action and even the smaller town of Onomichi boasts its beautiful landmarks.

When boiled down, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is another good chapter in the series, but falls a bit short in regards to being the last entry for Kiryu. Oddly enough, it shines in the time spent not beating up gangsters, but rather bonding with Haruto and searching for answers regarding Haruka.

While the story itself disappointingly fell into an almost routine run for the character, the few emotional beats it achieves are executed well. For everyone’s favorite yakuza with a heart of gold, we bid a fond farewell and thanks for all the minigames.

Final Score: 4/5

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life will be released on Playstation 4 in the U.S. on April 17.

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About the author

Christen Bejar

Christen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.