Yakuza 6 Review: A Fitting End for the Dragon of Dojima
There are few game series I hold in as high regard as Yakuza. Kazuma Kiryu and the red thread of fate that holds him to the Tojo Clan have compelled me to throw money at Sega since the original game released on the PlayStation 2. That same red thread has connected players to his story, too. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is where that thread is finally severed. This is the end for the Dragon of Dojima.
Yakuza 6 is two things. A first-run with the new Dragon Engine and Kazuma Kiryu's last time in the spotlight.
With those two things in mind, this is a very ambitious game. The graphics are better than they've ever been, slipping into side content is more organic (and accidental) than ever, it's filled to the brim with new minigames, and it packs a heavy punch in the Japanese celebrity department.
The Yakuza series finally picked up in popularity in North America last year with the release of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. It's bittersweet to see Kiryu exit the stage just as the games shake off the old and busted "Japanese GTA" preconception so many once held about this series.
Don't mind me.
Newer fans who just started with the Yakuza series last year and total newcomers can jump into the game without having to go through previous entries. As always, there are options to get caught up on the story. It's not the same, but it'll do.
Those who have struggled with Kiryu through all his trials and tribulations over the years won't be able to as comfortably slide into this entry as previous games due to the new Dragon Engine. It's sleeker, but it is different. Some old fogies such as myself may grumble as get used to the new Dragon Engine but it doesn't take long to adjust.
The new engine is going to get brought up a lot in this review because of the number of changes it brings and how it affected the final product. The differences between the previous engine and the one seen in Yakuza 6 are very obvious. They're not bad, but they certainly do make this return to Kamurocho a little different.
The Content's in the Sides
As with every previous entry in the series, Yakuza 6 is packed with main storyline and side quest content. Every inch of the game's explorable area is littered with tiny details that immerse you in the bustling Kamurocho and the sleepy Onomichi, and both areas have plenty for you to do.
Minigames are abound here, but longtime fans may feel underwhelmed. Along with the new (and obviously more flexible) Dragon Engine come new and more in-depth minigames -- however, at the cost of old staples. Shogi, bowling, and both casinos have been stripped from Kamurocho, much to my own personal dismay. Playing Koi-koi at the underground casino has always been my go-to.
The new minigames add some variety to the series, which has staunchly stuck to its own traditions. If that's for better or worse depends on whether you like the new minigames, but there is more than meets the eye (and far more than mentioned here).
Protip: Don't initiate the Live Chat minigame with people around. This was downright awkward with my husband in the room.
The new baseball minigame, in which Kiryu manages a local baseball team, is easily one of my least favorite minigames in the series. It's boring, the menu for it is ugly, and the related side stories tend to be drawn out and on the less interesting side of the spectrum. I kept pushing through, but I did not enjoy it one bit.
The Clan Creator minigame is much akin to certain mobile games in which you wait for your resource to build up, then deploy your units to push through to the final objective. This is easily the most complex of the new minigames as you must collect characters to join your clan, manage their hierarchy, manually deploy them, and manually trigger skills in battle. It's the most complex and even features online play, which is a definite plus if you find yourself getting really into this one.
My favorite new minigame, though, is pretty much a rail shooter... with fish. It's great! That's about all I'm saying about that one. It's great, I love it. I wish it were longer. (Sega, can we please get the new House of the Dead on PC or something? PLEASE?)
In addition, there is now the new "minigame" where you bond with bar patrons and make new friends. This is done via just talking to them most of the time, but sometimes you must actively participate in their conversations, sing karaoke, or play darts to get them to warm up to you. This is one I found particularly endearing, even if it wasn't the most exciting.
There are, of course, more minigames in Yakuza 6. Some absolutely unexpected, some par for the course. Usually, I do not highlight the minigames in my reviews for this series, but the removal of previous staples makes the new entries that much more important in this game. Yakuza isn't Yakuza without the side content. 6 has it in spades, but it's just different from before.
There are plenty of side stories here, but you'll find there are less than in previous games. That said, the game more fluidly segues into them. The side stories are as varied and bizarre as always, and this time around, they were probably my favorite part of the game.
Beat'em Up, Damnit!
Combat in Yakuza 6 is... well, it's simplified. Let's put it this way: I've been playing a lot of Dynasty Warriors lately, and moving onto Yakuza 6 wasn't all that different.
Basically, every combat improvement/aspect added with 0 and Kiwami has been removed this time around. There are not a ton of Heat Actions, there are no stances, and Kiryu has to rely on his Extreme Heat Mode to really get things done (like picking up motorcycles).
My entire time beating people into submission was constantly overshadowed by my wishes that the combat was more Kiwami and less Musou, if you get my drift. But this is one thing I am certain is caused by time constraints or the dev team learning to work with the new engine, and is not something I can legitimately complain about.
Combat in Yakuza 6 is more fluid than it's ever been and it shows a great framework for what combat in later Dragon Engine games, but it certainly does make everyone feel like a much bigger wimp than in Yakuza 5, 0, and Kiwami. It makes me miss the knuckle-busting boss fights from Kiwami for sure.
Dragon Engine Rises
Though it's certainly not perfect, Yakuza 6 fits in just fine with the rest of the series in terms of tone and content and is a fine entry for even new players to start with.
In some ways, it's fitting Kiryu takes his leave as Sega rings in their own new generation for the Yakuza series. And while some aspects of the series were lost in transition to the new Dragon Engine, they surely aren't to be gone for long.
I do not think this one is going to make it to the top of many Yakuza game tier lists because of the clear growing pains as they've migrated to the new engine, but that by no means equates to the game being bad. It may even be one of the best in the series from a quality standpoint, but it needs that extra oomph to really go the distance.
This is easily the most gorgeous and seamless game in the series yet. A must-play for fans to see the evolution of the series and end of Kazuma Kiryu's journey. A "you should probably play this" for those unfamiliar, Yakuza 6 is a fantastic game that will stick with you for a long time. I am sad to see Kiryu go, but we'll at least get to see him again in Kiwami 2 later this year.
You can buy Yakuza 6 on Amazon when it releases on April 17.
(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a press copy of the game from the publisher for this review.)