By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong
SINCE its inception in 2005, Sega’s Yakuza series has invariably churned out virtual masterpieces. While a bit all over the place at times, this part family drama, part mafia flick, and part martial arts and adventure franchise has always boasted of top-notch quality in terms of presentation and humor. In this regard, Yakuza 6 does not disappoint; it offers the same blend of action, comedy, and emotional heft via traditionally outstanding production values.
In Yakuza 6, players take on the role of Kazuma Kiryu, fresh off serving three years in prison. They see him return to Kamurocho in order to live peacefully, only to find Haruka, his adopted daughter, in a coma due to a vehicular accident. He then attempts to piece together what happened to her during his absence and, along the way, must fight the many lowlifes that populate the slums of his city, and of Hiroshima, and dig up clues regarding her disappearance.
At first glance, Yakuza 6’s premise might seem mundane. In truth, it is anything but; slated as the last chapter of Kiryu‘s story, it goes out of its way to bring the narrative to players, often in large barrages of cinematic cutscenes. Moreover, it provides summaries of the plots of previous installments; clearly, it moves to elicit as much sympathy for the principal character from newcomers to and veterans of the series alike. And the payoff is nothing short of spectacular; the denouement is moving and befitting of the series’ grand vision.
That said, Yakuza 6 keeps players busy with a myriad of side quests and side activities that prove to be as wild and wacky as ever; among them are a karaoke minigame and a baseball team simulator. Kiryu even gets to manage his own Yakuza clan. These mini-games may not be as fleshed out as those in previous titles, but they do fit in well with the latest release’s crazy and over-the-top theme. What other title provides value in having a selfie taken in the middle of the street?
Admittedly, the nice touches won’t exempt players from having to tackle the meat of Yakuza 6, and that’s where its superb gameplay kicks in. Part brawler and part spectacle fighter, it features combat mechanics that are simple but intuitive; Kiryu has at his disposal a heady mix of light and strong attacks as well as a variety of finishing moves and grapple counters. The style system that predecessor Yakuza Kiwami employed is gone. At the same time, there remains a sense of fulfillment in barreling through goons and thugs alike, the relative lack of variety of moves compared to previous releases notwithstanding.
Granted, Yakuza 6 loses some luster because of its simpler nature and scope. Part of it does feel lacking; there’s just something about it that seems to miss the intrinsic spark that made its siblings so special. On the other hand, it remains extremely enjoyable; for all its frailties, it continues to embody its source franchise’s sense and sensibilities quite well. And to its credit, it runs with nary a stutter in framerate or performance.
Visually, Yakuza 6 delivers; its art style, while nothing earthshaking, is done well and captures the feel of Japan’s shadier, seedier locations. Combat is extremely satisfying and rewarding, with the meaty thunks and solid thwacks Kiryu gives his opponents resounding nicely. All told, it’s a well-made game that players will find significant pleasure in negotiating.
Overall, Yakuza 6 manages to live up to promise. Longtime fans of the series will definitely take to it even if it plays shorter and appears less ambitious than its predecessors. Parenthetically, newcomers won’t take long to deem it worth their time (and perhaps be buoyed to play the previous titles as well). It captures the look and feel of the series; it engrosses as the last chapter of an epic, keeping its humor intact and injecting action in spades from its first to its 40th hour — and, due to its high replay value, well beyond.