Words: Andre Rodrigues
‘Yazuka has always played with the heartstrings in unexpected ways, this marks his first steps into early grand fatherhood’
HARDBOILED JAPANESE GANGSTERS, OVER THE TOP DRAMA AND A GOOGLY-EYED BABY, MAKES FOR A VERY INTRIGUING YAKUZA 6: THE SONG OF LIFE
YAKUZA 6: THE SONG OF LIFE FOR PS4
RATING: 4.5/5, PRICE: Rs. 2,999
DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: SEGA
The Yakuza series is as Japanese as Sushi, Sakura, Samurai, those futuristic commodes with several different jet sprays, and Godzilla. It is a series that has defined itself over the years as being Japanese to the point of being snotty about it, churning out localized versions more than a year after the home version has been launched. So much so that by the time it reaches our beautiful shores, the game looks last gen, and the gaming world has moved on. With Yakuza 0 however, things slowly changed. Sega has seen how well the Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest series is doing in the rest of the world and wants a piece of that pie. Then they gave us one of the best Yakuza games ever, bringing a whole new legion of fans flocking to it, without losing any of its Japanese-ness. Hot on its heels, Sega has started remaking the Yakuza games from the very first one and branding it Kiwami, setting the stage for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. While the game launched in December 2016, it took its own sweet time getting here, but damn, we are so glad it’s here.
The brand new graphic engine actually makes the game look truly in line with the current generation of graphics. Fittingly called the ‘Dragon’ engine, named after the protagonist’s Yakuza nickname, The Dragon of Dojima. The game looks absolutely incredible. More on that later, for now, let’s introduce you to Kazuma Kiryu, the ever grumpy, stoic, anti-hero of the Yakuza series and Yakuza 6 marks the end to his Yakuza arcs. All the best crime stories start at the end, and that’s a fantastic point to start your Yakuza journey. Once you head down this rabbit hole, you will be hooked for life. We meet a battered and beaten Kazuma Kiryu, who hasn’t fared all that well from the previous game. Still recovering from the thrashing he took as well as the fact that he’s been thrown back in the clink, serving out three years, sees our hero finally making a decision. Now in his late forties, all he wants to do is chill with his family at the orphanage. When he gets out though, it’s a completely different story, with his daughter Haruka in a coma and is a teenage mother with a baby boy, Haruto.
So now Kiryu has no idea who the father is and is kicking ass while being on diaper duty. The man is on one last mission to find answers and make things right for his family. Yakuza has always played with the heartstrings in unexpected ways. Yakuza 1 had Kiryu protect a 10-year-old Haruka on the neon-drenched streets of sinful Kamurocho, a recreation of Kabukichō in Japan, famed for its hostess clubs and a playing ground for Yakuza. Haruto is a throwback to Yakuza 1, a sort of full circle for Kiryu as this marks his first steps into early grandfatherhood and adds a surprising tenderness to the game. The Song of Life’s narrative moves expertly through plot twists and turns as it takes you from Kamurocho to the more rural Hiroshima. Amid those twists, the story takes its time to get you invested as well as goes into zany unexpected forks into the ludicrous at times. Yakuza 6 has an incredible cast and the new Dragon engine really pushes the limits in terms of realism. Especially with the facial animation that convey an amazing level of emotion, which is perfect because legendary Japanese actor Beat Takeshi of Battle Royale fame plays a hardened hitman who lost his parents in the war.
In addition to some great performances from the entire cast, there’s also cameos from some familiar faces from the series; while this is certainly welcome, I wish they were along for a bit more of a ride, to make Kiryu’s goodbye a tad fonder. The Yakuza games are pretty good beat-emups, featuring competent brawlers that are filled with Sega like arcadey goodness. The feeling is satisfying, as you roam around the open world sandboxes of Kamurocho and Hiroshima beating up all sorts of thugs, after tucking Haruto in a safe spot with a helpful onlooker. The fighting is dirty and raw, and while the game does not have the multiple fighting styles of previous games, it does make up for it in combat simplicity. Of course, the new graphic engine helps a lot here too, allowing you to now enter shops without there being any loading screen, and also allowing shops to turn into battlegrounds when the situation arises. No Yakuza game is complete without minigames, and The Song of Life has its fair share. You can hang out at the cat cafe and feed the kittens or do a bit of fishing or hang out at the arcade and play several choice Sega games, including Virtua Fighter. The worst of the mini-games is the clan wars that lets you build a gang and go to war with other gangs like The Warriors.
Except, it’s really boring, totally at odds with Kiryu’s character, and one you should avoid at all costs. Yakuza 6 does also keep you entertained with a lot of sidequests as well as several brawls. The Song of Life, if you’re a Yakuza newcomer, will make you fall in love with the series and want to find out more about it. Setting you down a path which you should undoubtedly start at Yakuza 0, which is the best Yakuza game in the series, then onwards to the Kiwami remakes as they release with new improved graphics, with a lot of extra stories to tie in with 0. If you’re an old hand at Yakuza, then you will love Yakuza’s 6 farewell to its beloved central character. Of course, a goodbye to Kiryu does not spell the end for Yakuza, but a new beginning for a new Yakuza.