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‘Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life’ Review & Gameplay, Explained: What Makes The Game Worth Playing?

The “Yakuza” series has been around for quite some time at this point, and we have talked about the history of the series and how it evolved over the years, and what makes it special in the previous articles, so we won’t be getting into too much of that detail here. “Yakuza” is a third-person open-world Japanese crime drama developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios and published by SEGA. These games are known for their brilliant stories, exceptional characters, richly detailed and very alive feeling worlds, and crazy beat ’em up/ brawler style combat. We have reviews for “Yakuza Kiwami,” “Yakuza Kiwami 2,” and more recently, “Yakuza 0” here on our site, so feel free to check those out. We also have a tour of the open worlds of Yakuza if you are interested in those types of articles.

This marks the end of an era sort of moment for me, not just because the series and the tale of Kazuma Kiryu end with this game, but because I got into this series through “Yakuza Like A Dragon” and “Yakuza 6,” and this was my first Kazuma Kiryu game. Another reason this is a moment like that for me is that this will be the last time I’ll be talking about a “Yakuza” game, as I won’t be reviewing 3, 4, or 5 because they weren’t updated enough for my taste to give a fair take, and the next time we talk about “Yakuza,” it’ll either be in the form of “Judgment” or the rebranded “Like a Dragon” series. I will, however, get into these games once again to talk about the completion of these games with our newly introduced Should You 100% series, as I have 100 %ed every “Yakuza” game I have played. Enough of the unnecessary drama; let’s take a look at the game now!

“Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life” came out in 2016 and was the first game that used the full power of the PlayStation 4 and brought in massive changes to both visuals and gameplay, all thanks to the newly introduced Dragon Engine and a cast of new and never seen before characters. The game was later released on other platforms as well. Much later. This game was also the conclusion of the storyline of the main protagonist of the series, Kazuma Kiryu, a heartfelt goodbye that may not be a goodbye after all as he is returning for “Like A Dragon 8” and “Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.” As mentioned earlier, this was my first mainline “Yakuza” game, and I quickly and truly fell in love with the series, its characters, and its world, and now I am a baptized fan of it. The game features an emotional story, crazy combat, some of the best open-world exploration and activities to take part in that I have seen in all my years of gaming, and stunning visuals. Let’s jump deeper into the game and learn what makes this game worth playing. The opening act of the game will be completely spoiled here, and I’ll be assuming that you know the handful of familiar faces that you’ll come across during the opening chapter.

The Premise

“Yakuza 6” opens in a bar in an unknown city where we see Kiryu enjoying a smoke, and a moment of peace, which is interrupted by a man who seems to know Kiryu and is very fed up with him, so he challenges Kiryu to a fight outside. After Kiryu takes care of this man, he returns to the bar and prepares a bottle of milk with the help of the bar mama, and we see Kiryu is in possession of a baby.

The game then jumps back in time a little, immediately after the events of “Yakuza 5,” and we see Kiryu in a hospital, recovering from the injuries he suffered during the finale of the last game. Haruka, his adopted daughter, left her life as an idol to spend her life with her uncle Kaz and the kids of the Sunflower Orphanage, whom she calls her family. Haruka, Akiyama, Majima, and Saejima are waiting for Kiryu to wake up, and that’s when the cops show up and arrest Saejima, who cordially obliges and goes with them. The lead inspector walks in and informs Haruka and Akiyama that Kiryu is under arrest for all the chaos that was caused during the ending of the last game. A little while later, Kiryu wakes up and learns that he can fight this and win with a decent lawyer as there’s no case against him, but Kiryu decides that he will serve his time to clear his name and give the kids of the Sunflower Orphanage a fair chance, so the world doesn’t see them as kids raised by a Yakuza. Daigo and Kiryu have a conversation on the roof of the hospital about this situation, and Kiryu, being Kiryu, says his goodbye and prepares himself for the time he’ll be spending behind bars. Kiryu gets sentenced to 3 years in prison and leaves to serve his time. 

On the other side, somewhere in Kamurocho, we see four mysterious faces shrouded in darkness celebrating a new beginning as Little Asia gets burned to the ground. Date-san and the police department try to get the fire under control, and we see glimpses of Haruka’s life in Sunflower. She gets clicked by a paparazzi and gets featured in a tabloid article talking about being raised by a Yakuza. Out of fear for the safety and well-being of the future of the children of Sunflower, Haruka leaves them and the orphanage behind in the middle of the night. 

Three years pass and Kiryu arrives back at Sunflower and is happy to see all the kids grown up. He asks about Haruka, and one of the kids there who knew that Haruka has left breaks down and informs Kiryu that she left a few days after he got arrested, and she had stopped writing and calling them for about a year at this point. Kiryu learns that Haruka left for Kamurocho and tries calling Akiyama to learn if he knows anything, but to no avail. Kiryu decides to leave for Kamurocho to find Akiyama and meet him in person to learn more about the whereabouts of Haruka.

Kiryu arrives at the now iconic entrance of Kamurocho on Tenkaichi Street; we get a shot of the city and Kiryu standing below its famous archway as he says the now iconic line, “how do I always end up in this damn city?” as the game begins.

The story here in “Yakuza 6” is on a much more personal scale and avoids the grandeur and spectacle of the previous games. Don’t get me wrong, there are still tons of epic moments sprinkled throughout, but the tale here is more about family and the bonds they share than the Yakuza business the series is famous for. The story also features tons of twists and turns, including one of the biggest plot twists this franchise has ever seen, which, depending on your perspective, will either be the craziest thing you have ever seen or will fall flat on its face. I loved every second of this game’s story, and the last 30 or so minutes made me cry my eyes out despite not knowing the history of any of these characters, and that’s when I knew what an incredible plot I had uncovered and what a journey I had gone through. In the story department, “Yakuza 6” nails it if you ask me.

The World

We have covered the worlds of “Yakuza ” extensively, and Kamurocho returns here, obviously, and is better and more beautiful than ever, all thanks to the Dragon Engine. The version of Kamurocho that exists in this game is, in my opinion, the best and most stunning rendition or version of Kamurocho to explore, even to this day. You’ll be spending a ton of time in Kamurocho, but that’s not the reason this section exists. The reason this section exists here is not to talk about the new location introduced here that’ll you’ll be spending a lot of time in. The town of Onomichi, Hiroshima, is much different when compared to other locations the series has featured over the years and it is a quaint fishing town where all the shops close in the evening, and the people keep themselves occupied and don’t meddle in other people’s business. Onomichi is a medium-sized location that doesn’t have as much depth as the other locations RGG has created but, at the same time, is richly detailed, oozes with atmosphere, and has a ton of visual variety. You’ll be spending a lot of time in Onomichi throughout the story, and because of its simpler design, you’ll get used to the layout and routes of the city rather quickly. This may not be the best world RGG has created, and there isn’t a lot to see and do here, but it does its job right and is a memorable place in the world of the “Yakuza.”

The Gameplay

The beat ’em up/brawler style gameplay that the series was known for before its shift to turn-based combat returns here and is simplified but packs its flair all the same. This was my first beat ’em up “Yakuza” game, as I mentioned, so I definitely enjoyed it, but I still felt like it lacked something. After playing the other games, I can see now that the removal of fighting styles and the oversimplification of the combat systems were what was missing here, but I don’t mind that. When I played it, I felt like the game was fun despite feeling a little shallow. Light and heavy attacks are what you’ll be using to build up your heat gauge, which, once full, lets you trigger Extreme Heat Mode, where your attacks hit harder and unlock more context-sensitive heat moves, a lot of which are straight-up busted and melt health bars like nothing. The combat is also much more cinematic here, with heat moves switching to various close-up cinematic shots that definitely add to the brutality while also making it all look incredibly cool. There are also a ton of boss battles, which are once again oversimplified, with bosses having a singular health bar that you can wreck pretty fast despite the difficulty. I can’t complain much; it’s fine. Not the best, but definitely not bad either.

One of the biggest improvements and best features this game boasts is that you can seamlessly enter and exit shops and buildings and get in and out of fights, all thanks to the Dragon Engine. Since this was the first game that used it, it was incredible to see how much extra detail and depth RGG added to Kamurocho. A city that felt familiar to players somehow felt new all of a sudden while retaining all of its familiarity, beauty, density, and charm. The series’ iconic and beloved substories also return and are full of the charm and wit they are known for, and for the first time in the history of the series, all of them are properly voiced and animated. 

There is a massive skill tree here as well, the upgrade points for which you earn by eating meals. It’s the same system as it is in “Yakuza Kiwami 2,” with skills being divided into five different categories, each of which is needed to unlock certain skills. More health, more damage, more heat, more defense, special moves, new heat moves, more quick dodges, skills that increase your money gain, skills that increase your food ingestion and digestion capacity, and much more are what you’ll be unlocking through the tree, and I like this because each skill plays into the others in one way or another and also increases the number of skill points you gain, so the tree doesn’t feel useless.

The series’ signature minigames are all here, like batting, mahjong, karaoke, and more, and all of them have seen facelifts both visually and gameplay-wise. I spent a lot of time playing these as they are incredibly fun and addictive and add so much life, variety, and choice to the gameplay. There’s a new minigame here as well called Clan Creator, which is an RTS game where you recruit members and fight a rival gang using your grunts. Kiryu takes the role of the commander here and directs the fight. It has its own storyline that features a ton of Japanese wrestlers as antagonists, and while I didn’t enjoy or care for the game mode or the story it told, I must admit, getting to fight these wrestlers one on one and seeing them use their actual in-ring moves was a fun experience.

If you know “Yakuza” or have read any of our previous reviews, then you know what to expect here. The biggest change is the introduction of the Dragon Engine and the simplification of the systems and mechanics, but at the same time, it doesn’t affect the game that much, and I’d argue it fits the tone of the game and setting very well. I’d still say this is a solid gameplay experience. 

The Technical Stuff

Name me one “Yakuza” game that’s bad in general but especially bad in the technical department. Everything is near perfection here. Stunning visuals and seamless transitions. A depth-of-field effect that adds to the world alongside dense smoke effects. Beautiful sound designs across the board. The voice acting is nigh perfect here, and just like every other “Yakuza” game, this one doesn’t feature an English dub. That should never be the reason for you not to play these games, as the performances here are some of the best you’ll ever see, and Takaya Kuroda always steals the show as Kiryu. The music here is also fantastic, and the facial animations and character models are borderline photorealistic. The cutscene direction is also incredibly cinematic, but that is to be expected from these games. The minigames are also reworked and are better than ever. On consoles, the game’s framerate is locked to 1080p resolution at 30 fps, unfortunately, unless you are on Xbox Series X|S, where the game runs at 60 fps thanks to FPS boots, and that’s where I played it. Look, I can’t say anything bad about this game, and while it ain’t perfect, I ain’t one to nitpick either. It’s a solid package technically, and the rendering and detail work done by the Dragon Engine is a sight to behold.

The Verdict

“Yakuza” isn’t just a franchise that SEGA handles. “Yakuza” is SEGA. Not many companies can say that about one of their IPs, and if it weren’t for this franchise and Toshiro Nagoshi’s vision and passion, SEGA as we know it, may not have existed today. “Yakuza 6: The Song of Life” is a solid entry in this long-running and beloved series. It may not be everyone’s favorite. People may think they oversimplified it way too much or that the story and its biggest twist didn’t have much of an impact and fell flat. I’d happily sit here and disagree with all of that. This may be because I truly started the franchise, but since then, I have played every single “Yakuza” game and am eagerly waiting for “Like A Dragon Ishin!” so I can confidently say that “Yakuza 6” is one of the best “Yakuza” games ever made. Period. Everything from its story to its characters to its gameplay to its minigames and exploration and everything in between was fantastic. RGG is loved passionately by their fans, and rightfully so, these guys make magic and are simply some of the best developers in this industry. I think it goes without saying, but this game is a solid recommendation, and I’d ask anyone to go and play this in a heartbeat without thinking twice. The same applies to every “Yakuza” game, but “Yakuza 6: The Song of Life” does and will always hold a special place in my heart.

See more: ‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ Review & Gameplay, Explained: What Makes ‘Watch Dogs: Legion’ Worth Playing?

Kartik Sharma
Kartik Sharma
Kartik is sometimes a freelance content writer and an actor. He loves spending his time reading books, playing videogames, dabbling in music, exploring different cultures and languages, etc. loves everything that is art and loves to explore new horizons.