For the past month or so, I've been committing what some people would consider to be a video gaming sin. I started the story of Kazuma Kiryu back in 2017 with Yakuza 0 and ever since then, I have desperately wanted to see it through to its conclusion. Doing that presented some challenges, however. One of those was playing three of the franchise's entries via remasters of PlayStation 3 games, and I just couldn't hack it after a lacking follow-up in Yakuza: Kiwami and Yakuza: Kiwami 2 which felt like more of the same from a narrative standpoint. So, I jumped from the fourth Chairman's original outing straight to Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. I am so glad I did.
While I have always loved the Dragon of Dojima's character, the one thing that has continued to put me off the series is the sheer amount of real-life Yakuza knowledge you need to fully wrap your head around each and every one of the clan's featured families. This guy is the Captain of that family, but that dude is the Lieutenant of the entire alliance. I could recognise some faces, although that's about as far as it got. Ask me to explain the hierarchy of the Tojo Clan and you'd have me stumped.
Therefore, what I love so much about Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is that it does away with all of that -- to a point. The child Kiryu-san took under his wing back in 1995 grew up to become a Japanese pop star, but in order to let the world know of her mentor's past, Haruka knew she would have to take a step back from the worldwide stage. The fallout of Yakuza 5 subjects Kazuma to another stint in prison, and once he's let go, he learns of the girl's disappearance and a child left in her wake.
It's a narrative which feels much more akin to that of the recent Judgment rather than any other previous instalment. Yes, the likes of the Tojo Clan, Yomei Alliance, and Saoi Triad become heavily involved the more you progress, but the only two things pushing Kazuma Kiryu forward is Haruka and her son, Haruto. He's doing the job of Takayuki Yagami without the detective backing. The story of family resonates with me so, so much more than a Kamurocho turf war -- no matter how exciting and devious some of the twists and turns which come with it are.
I can quite easily call Yakuza 6: The Song of Life my favourite game in the series because of that. Kiryu-san is the star of the show as his plight to save those he holds dearest culminates in an incredible showdown, backed by a collection of fascinating chapters in the lead up to it. This makes for a very touching send-off that feels earned after a mammoth seven mainline entries. It puts the protagonist in a position where he can rest easy, watching over his friends and loved ones from a distance without interfering with their lives and bringing about danger all over again. He adores each and every one of them, but he knows that his presence alone is enough to invite trouble. After a hard life, let's hope Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio doesn't bother you too much in Yakuza: Like a Dragon -- you've earned a rest, Kazuma Kiryu.
Do you agree that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is one of the best send-offs in video games? Can you think of one better? Rest easy in the comments below.