Yakuza 6: The Song of Life promises to be the last chapter in the story of Yakuza legend Kazuma Kiryu. Fans who have followed him through six games have high expectations for the conclusion of our hero's story, and I previewed this game with some trepidation.
I got into the series with the release of Yakuza 0 and continued it with Yakuza Kiwami. Both of those games blew me away with their intense blend of dramatic storytelling, the incredible variety of side activities, and humorous asides. Yakuza hasn't always been the leader in visuals or smooth gameplay, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a line of games that pack so much quality content into one package.
It's going to be pretty much impossible to preview Yakuza 6 without some minor spoilers for the series. If you want to avoid those, then quit reading now.
Yakuza 6 Preview: Do You Need to Play the Other Games?
A big question players are going to have is, "Do I need to have played Yakuza 0-5 before I play Yakuza 6?" I'm almost through chapter 4, and from what I've seen so far, I'd say you could probably play this game having never played a Yakuza title before and not get too lost. Not only does Sega have a great site that guides you through the history of the series, but there are a few scenes at the beginning of the game that give you the cliff notes for the events from past games that are pertinent.
That being said, I recommend playing at least Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami before you play Yakuza 6. The game references events from those two games, especially Kiwami, that are better experienced by playing through them. Oddly enough, though, I haven't seen a lot of characters or events that draw from Yakuza 2-5. There's some plot concerning the Chinese Triad that mirrors Kiryu and the Tojo Clan's fight against the Korean Jingweon Mafia in Yakuza 2, and small things here or there, but so far it seems like Yakuza 6 could form a trilogy with Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami.
Yakuza 6 Preview: Beautiful, but a bit Smaller
Yakuza 6 is the first game in the franchise designed specifically for the PS4, and the first game using Sega's new Dragon Engine. I'm happy to say that the promise for smoother animations, tighter controls, and higher visual fidelity have mainly been delivered in Yakuza 6. Kiryu's trademark scowl has never been crisper, and Kamurocho has never been as vibrant. However, there may have been some concessions made in exchange for these new advantages.
Kamurocho has shrunk a bit in Yakuza 6. The Champion District, Purgatory, and some other peripheral areas are no longer accessible. Bowling, billiards, Shogi, casinos, and the crane game are all gone as well. There also is no longer a weapon system in the game. In Kiwami and Yakuza 0 you could buy weapons like knives and bats and keep them on your person to use in fights.
In Yakuza 6, though, the equipment system has been simplified to have only two slots to equip defensive items. However, there have been some things added that are definitely fun, like spearfishing and working out at the RIZAP fitness center which make up for the missing activities somewhat.
Onomichi is the other city you'll visit in your adventure through Yakuza 6. Although smaller than Kamurocho, there's a lot of charm to this small town, and it stands in stark contrast to the glitz and glamor of Kamurocho. This is also where the strength of the translation stands out. In a lot of subtitled works translated from Japanese, you get this flat tone where everyone just talks the same. In Onomichi though, the translation adds a rural inflection to the citizens of Onomichi. This does a lot to add to the character of the individuals you meet there and paints a picture of just how different the culture of Onomichi is in comparison to Kamurocho.
Yakuza 6 Preview: Sublime Substories
Substories are a big draw to the series. These mini-stories can be something as simple and amusing as dressing up as a mascot and taking part in an interview, or as serious as fighting the ghosts of long-dead pirates to put their souls to rest. Multiple substories can form arcs that have you spending quite a bit of time with one story, or they can be a quick five-minute romp.
Yakuza 6 has about half the substories of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami. With only 52 substories, fans are going to be upset about the comparative disparity between Yakuza 6 and past titles. However, so far I've found that the substories in Yakuza 6 tend to be on the whole pretty high quality.
I thought many of the substories in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami had way too much, "get item A to point B," scenarios going on, which Yakuza 6 largely eliminates. I do wish there were more substories in Yakuza 6, but the ones that are there are memorable and involved, and I've enjoyed the ones I have done so far thoroughly.
Yakuza 6 Preview: The Dragon of Dojima is Back
I haven't delved into any details of the story in this preview because I think Yakuza games are best played completely blind. Yakuza 6 has the same mix of excellent interpersonal drama and over-the-top operatic fights that previous entries in the series do. So far it's a leaner experience, with not as many side activities as past games, but the ones that are there are in-depth and a lot of fun.
I'm not sure how Kiryu's story is going to end, and the more I play Yakuza 6, the more I don't want to reach the end of it. I guess that's the sign of a good game. I'm driven to keep the story going, but at the same time, I want to soak up every square inch of what there is to do in Kamurocho and Onimichi before I reach the end. If you're a fan of Yakuza, or entirely new for the series, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is shaping up to be a great adventure you won't want to miss.