Yakuza 6: The Song of Life looks and feels like the next-gen Yakuza that we've been waiting for. Taking the developer's Dragon Engine out for its first drive, this is the sixth (or seventh, if you count the fantastic Yakuza 0) mainline entry in SEGA's crime drama action role-playing game series, and it's bloody brilliant. The much needed lick of paint makes fictional red light district Kamurocho feel more real than ever before. The countless neon lights reflect in pavement puddles, and bustling crowds sweep across the streets looking for their next fix of adult entertainment. It's glorious.
Yakuza's never looked so good, but then the series has been stuck with passable PlayStation 3 era visuals for the last decade. It's not just the environments that are a real step up, though. The character models look great too, particularly during cutscenes – and Yakuza 6 has a lot of cutscenes. As we've come to expect of the property, this is an intensely story-driven experience – the game's never frightened of dropping huge amounts of dialogue when it's trying to get a point across.
And for that reason, some people may be put off before the plot even has a chance to get going. The opening few hours of Yakuza 6 are incredibly slow. The game really, really takes its time as it sets the stage, plopping series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu into a parade of mundane scenarios. It all moves at a glacial pace that's bound to be too much for some players, but the pay-off is ultimately worth it.
Once the story kicks into gear, it's impossible to look away. Like its predecessors, Yakuza 6 delivers an engrossing, superbly acted narrative – a story that puts the efforts of most games to shame. Bolstered by a cast of fantastic characters – both old and brand new – the plot twists, turns, and might as well do backflips. We did see a couple of the twists coming – and we'd hazard a guess that you will as well – but that wasn't enough to ruin such an enrapturing narrative.
The highs of the story are hard to top. As you may already know, Yakuza 6 has been billed as Kiryu's final chapter, and it does its best to pull out all the stops. The conclusion is breathless, with the entire last act setting the bar as far as pure drama goes. It's white-knuckle stuff, and as a whole, the game provides a fitting finale for one of gaming's most underappreciated heroes.
So, what about the gameplay? Well, franchise veterans will know what they're getting into here. You can expect city exploration intersected with street brawls and topped off with mental minigames. It's the standard Yakuza experience through and through, but as with the visuals, everything just feels that much more polished.
Take the combat, for example. At its core, this is still very much the same system that's been in place since day one. Kiryu will regularly have to go toe to toe with groups of thugs and other undesirables, dodging, blocking, and whacking his way to victory. Brutal heat moves still punctuate each encounter, with Kiryu dealing out massive damage via cinematic special attacks.
The difference this time around is that everything feels smoother. Animations have been improved across the board so that transitioning from one combo into the next feels more fluid. Attacks in general have a better weight to them, and that's helped by the fact that the game makes use of often over-the-top ragdoll physics. Kiryu's also been given access to a suite of moves that help deal with crowds, giving you more options when taking on whole gangs of delinquents.
For our money this is the most refined combat system in Yakuza's history, and that shows in the game's many boss fights. In past titles, some bosses could come perilously close to being cheap and frustrating, but here, it feels like Kiryu's on equal footing thanks to more effective evasive techniques and a parry mechanic that's a lot easier to utilise. Combat's not necessarily less difficult, but it is better balanced.
However, despite all of the improvements that the new engine brings to the table, it's hard to shake the feeling that Yakuza 6 had to be shrunk down at some stage during development – at least to an extent. For instance, Kamurocho itself is smaller in terms of scale. The top portion of the map that we've been exploring for years has been taped off, and mainstay activities like the fantastic underground fighting arena and bowling are nowhere to be seen. What's more, there aren't as many hilarious side-quests to undertake, and some other optional elements of the game seem stunted, like they had to be put to one side.
Having said that, it still took us a good 40 hours to see out the story and get through some but not all of the side activities. And, ultimately, we were able to forgive any shortcomings while playing purely because the plot had us absolutely glued to our screen.
But is the plot capable of gripping newcomers in the same way? Unfortunately, probably not. While Yakuza 6 does introduce a boatload of completely new characters, the emotional impact of Kiryu's last hurrah will be dampened if you're only just joining the party. The game does a fine job of telling its own separate story, but you'll need to have played at least one or two of the older games to get the most out of the experience. In other words, get Yakuza 0 played if you haven't already.
One other thing to note is that if you're coming straight off the back of Yakuza 0 or Yakuza: Kiwami, the shift to Yakuza 6 may be a tad jarring. This latest entry runs at 30 frames per second rather than a silky smooth 60, and that frame rate does dip now and then during more hectic gameplay moments, especially on a standard PlayStation 4. PS4 Pro users, meanwhile, get what seems to be a solid 30fps throughout, with only very minor dips to worry about.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life tells a truly gripping tale – a story that blows most games out of the water. Combine that with a refined combat system and a new engine capable of making the game's world feel more alive than ever, and you've got a stellar Yakuza title. Although the experience does feel a little stunted in places outside of the main plot, this is still a fitting final chapter. Yakuza 6 is a gloriously dramatic send off for one of the greatest characters in modern gaming.
Happy to answer any questions about the review or the game. Just @ me.
I guess I should try one of these games out. Never played any. Feel so lost coming in at 6....
What a early review isnt the release 17/4?
@ShogunRok i havent played 5 yet, is the baby introduced in 5? I feel like id be missing some context if it was lol also i heard majima only makes a few appearances. Is that true?
Still have a month time to finish yakuza 5 to be up to speed. But seeing how long the Saejima chapter in the mountains is, it'll still take a long time.
@shogunrok I've only played 0 and kiwami, loved both and really want to play this but want it to hit home - - have I got enough with those two or do I need to play more first?
first real goty contender
@Cpt_Price in the main menu there is some sort of recap for all the other games (dont use it for yakuza 2 tho, i would wait for kiwami 2).
tbh i would also play kiwami 2 before this if and when it releases
I am so excited for this. Been enamoured with the series since yakuza 3. It really captures the essence of being in Japan. Sad to see kiryu go, but a change to the formula might be a good thing at this stage.
For anyone asking whether they can jump in at this stage, i dont see why not. Every yakuza game always has a really in depth 'previously on yakuza' cinema mode in the main menu to catch people up
Thanks for the review. So excited for the game man seems like I ought to play Yakuza 0 first.
Great review! Yakuza 0 and kiwami running at 60fps is one of the series biggest strengths for an open world game. Why drop it to 30fps? Seems like a step backwards to me.
Also taping off the tramp district
i would say because its more graphically intense?
@suikoden Ive just read an article posted before the review with a video. It looks amazing to be fair with things blowing in the wind and all the shops and bars have no loading screens.
its going to be a long 4 weeks (2days) wait for me till its out!
I can't wait to play it, but in the meantime I might finish 5.
Now I'm even more hyped.
Cannot wait to play this. Just finished 0 which was my first Yakuza game, proper hyped.
@Danloaded Baby's only in 6. The story of 6 actually takes place right after the events of 5, but it really doesn't have too much to do with it. There are recurring characters but that's really about it.
And yes, don't expect to see much of Majima in this.
@Stupei Well the thing is, if you want to see everything you're going to have to go through 3, 4, and 5, which are all on PS3, so that's a hassle to begin with — not to mention that they all look really rough compared to 0 and Kiwami on PS4.
I'd say just go for it and jump into 6. You will miss out on some bits and pieces, and you won't recognise some characters, but it's perfectly possible to enjoy the game. It's not like you'll be missing out on chunks of story or anything — just a bit of context here and there.
Yakuza 6 does have a 'memories' mode on the main menu that basically breaks down the story of every past Yakuza game. It's obviously not as in-depth as actually playing the games, but it's enough to kind of get you up to speed.
@Cpt_Price You can, all Yakuza games have standalone stories — it's just that characters reappear and smaller details are repeated. I say just go for it, and yeah, the 'memories' mode at least has all the basic information on what happened during previous games.
@munkondi We have no idea why the review embargo is so early. If Yakuza 6 hadn't been delayed, it would make sense, but this is more than a full month ahead of the Western release.
It's weird, it's like the release date was pushed back but for whatever reason, the review embargo remained the same.
almost every reviews said great voice acting so is it only japanese voice language ? i am not japanese who understand the language when they speak in cutscenes. i hate read long english subtitle during cutscenes and gameplay
Nah first real GOTY contender was Monster Hunter: World
@ShogunRok I love 0 and Kiwami but by the end the combat felt stale and a bit repetitive, the only thing that went from amazing to perfect was the club administration thing.
So how does the combat (and everything else that matters) compare between 0/kiwami and 6?
@PS4fan Yeah, all the voice acting is in Japanese. That does mean a lot of subtitles, but honestly, doing a whole English dub would probably take the edge off the game's story. All of the faces are motion captured by the voice actors, so dubbing it would probably be a bit of a nightmare.
@Frank90 Combat's more refined here, and better balanced. It's still not the greatest action combat out there, but I think the fundamentals are better than they ever have been in Yakuza.
Unfortunately I don't think the side activities are quite as strong as in Yakuza 0. The two biggest optional minigames 6 adds are clan creator and baseball team management. Both are quite addictive but they're not on the same level as, say, the underground fighting arena. At least I don't think so.
In summary, compared to Yakuza 0, Yakuza 6 has better (more refined) combat, but worse overall side activities. When it comes to optional stuff I think Yakuza 0 is still king, so it's a good job that Yakuza 6 has an amazing story. Worth it to see that alone.
@ShogunRok yeah that suck for fans who don't like read long english subtitles during cutscenes and gameplay while playing
@ShogunRok Thanks for the review!
In an ideal world I'd have played all the games leading up to it, but alas it's not meant to be. Going in, having just played Zero & Kiwami.
Just preordered the After Hours Premium Edition- my first collectors edition. Had to go with GAME, because Amazon.uk are all sold out .
@Fight_Teza_Fight I'm sure you'll be fine if you enjoyed 0/Kiwami.
Quite the early review, but I'm not complaining.
Can't wait for release. Really enjoyed Yakuza 0. I do have Kiwami sitting on the shelf but, I'll get to it eventually. Here's to hoping we'll get Kiwami 2 over here sooner rather than later.
If the game is ready for review why the delay? Competing with GoW will seriously hurt the game
Wow great job on review and answering all the questions @ShogunRok. And no spoilers also!
@Kidfried Yeah you really don't want this one spoiled — it's fantastic.
And my unopened copy of Yakuza 0 continues to sit on my shelf, judging me.
"You could be playing me, but instead you're soon going to be wasting your precious time on a game where you shoot anime schoolgirls with pheromones."
Yes, critically acclaimed game which I'm still quite eager to play. Yes, that is how things will be going.
It's good to know that I can just jump into Y6 after finishing 0 and Kiwami, as I don't have a PS3, so I wouldn't be able to fully catch myself up anyway.
@ShogunRok is that goofy cat fight thing included in this one? The one where you bet which lady wins. It was kinda dumb but I did enjoy that. Lol. I don’t have time to read the review at the moment.
@shonenjump86 Nah, it's one of the side activities that didn't make it. Depending on your outlook, a bit of a shame.
Yakuza 6 looks awesome and it should be a GOTY contender, but you know the gaming media...
Yakuza 3 also had quite the slow start in Okinawa so this doesn't seem too bad
Looks awesome, cheers for the review @shogunRok
@Athrum It's actually a lot like Yakuza 3 in terms of pacing.
@ShogunRok On your scale from worst to best Yakuza games, where would this one rank?
@Oscarjpc Right near the top. I don't think I'd be able to choose between this and Yakuza 0.
I'd probably go...
Yakuza 6 = Yakuza 0 > Yakuza 3 > Yakuza 4 > Yakuza 5 > Yakuza: Kiwami
Excluding the original Yakuza and Yakuza 2 because it's been so long since I played them. Yakuza 4 and 5 are lower than 3 because I feel like having four playable characters really damaged those games overall. I don't think any of the Yakuza games are bad, but that's how I'd rank them if I was pushed.
@ShogunRok Thanks for the feedback, my friend. Very interesting read.
@ShogunRok I haven’t played one of these games. This is the first time I’ve read about this franchise. What I’ve taken away from this review is that it’s like a spiritual successor to Shenmue. Am I wrong?
Looking forward to it at some point still have zero and Kiwami on the shelf
@outsider83 It is and isn't. It's got that old classic SEGA-style feel to it and it's got the minigames and the balance between being serious and completely stupid, but it's not just Shenmue set in Tokyo.
Having said that, if you like Shenmue then I'd recommend giving Yakuza a shot. If you're still on the fence definitely go watch some gameplay and you'll likely see what I mean.
I actually want to play this one, since it apparently has Takeshi Kitano in it, but I haven't played any of the others.
Were we actually given a reason for its delay? because, like, all the youtubers have review copies too. It's insane.
@ShogunRok How does compare with 0 and Kiwami?
@Frank90 I like it about as much as 0 (maybe slightly more) and I think it's much better than Kiwami. Brilliant game.
Ill play it after God of War. So many amazing new games on PS4 - good times.
@ShogunRok I loved Kiwami for the story but the game itself seemed a bit stale! The minigames were the same as the Yakuza 0, the missions consist of 'GO HERE' 'defeat these guys' and after a while it was a bit boring! Also the last boss fight was infuriating for me xD but I still liked it!
Yakuza 0 was for superior!
@AFCC Yeah that's basically what I think. You can tell Kiwami is a remake of the first game because the storytelling is messy (compared to future entries), and the mission structure is really shoddy in places. 0 is definitely superior.
@ShogunRok yap it seemed really dated, like a True Crime or something xD but still enjoyable!
Do you know if the preload for Yakuza 6 is the demo?
Edit: nevermind, I had to do it through the computer for some odd reason! I never actually tried the demo so I feel like there's no point in downloading it now since they are 2 separate files for some dumb reason -.-
@RegularGameFan Remaster on the PS4. 😁
They need to make a set Yakuza 1-5. I need to learn the story because the games always interested me, I just never got into it early enough.
@b1ackjack_ps Relatively speaking, I suppose it is. That said, it has been on a good run recently. Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6 are two of the greatest entries in the series, if not the very best.
Yakuza 4 and 5 were still good games, but their stories felt really stretched and not all that convincing as a result of having four different protagonists. Again, wouldn't say they were bad games, just not as impressive as the series' high points.
@ShogunRok i grabbed this game on sale 2days ago and i have hardly been able to put it down. Thought i would jump on and see the push square review to see if you rate it as highly as me. This is my first entry into yakuza and i have to say im blown away, just wish i grabbed Yakuza 0 first. Will have to jump into that once im done with 6.
Your review summed this game up perfectly. Well worth it, even for a newcomer.
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