I envy Xbox players getting to play Yakuza 6 The Song of Life right now, especially if they started playing from Yakuza 0 going forward. My love for the franchise was rekindled when I played Yakuza Kiwami as a free PS Plus game back in November 2018 and then jumping to Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami 2. As the remastered collection didn’t release until 2019, I jumped the gun and played Yakuza 6: The Song of Life because I needed my Ryu ga Gotoku fix. Biggest mistake of my life.
As seen from my Yakuza Remastered Collection review, I did myself a disservice playing the order this way instead of just going through the motions and going through each title consecutively until I’ve earned playing the conclusion as it was designed to be played.
I still hold onto my opinion that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the next best title to Yakuza 0 in terms of playability, content, and finally a satisfying story to end my journey with Kazuma Kiryu’s life from when he was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit (Yakuza Kiwami), starting his journey as a lowly thug with potential (Yakuza 0), and his continued adventures being called back into Kamurocho (Yakuza 2,3,4,5).
A hero’s job is never finished
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life starts out at the ending of Yakuza 5, giving a satisfying conclusion to that title that seemed like it ended halfway through its story. Just as a warning to those starting this series, it’s probably best to start with either Yakuza 0 or even Yakuza Kiwami, because the game assumes you’ve played everything up until this point, and you get thrown into the middle of a Yakuza saga of pre-existing characters.
That said, your journey begins in Onomichi, Hiroshima where the aged Kazuma Kiryu is having a peaceful drink only to be challenged by a local ruffian. Once he sweeps the floor with said character, he walks out with a baby in tow. Who is that baby? What’s he doing in Hiroshima? When do we get to play the mini-games? More on that later!
As usual, Kiryu’s journey really starts off in Kamurocho, his local stomping grounds. His adopted daughter Haruka Sawamura is missing and his only clue is an abandoned infant, an angry Korean mafia, and a cryptic message leading him to Onomichi, Hiroshima.
The open world starts out quite sparse allowing you pick fights with some faceless gang members while taking in the sights, playing some tried mini-games, singing some karaoke, and eating in the same fast food joints before heading off to the country.
A short but sweet journey
Story-wise, it is the next best out of the Yakuza series, finishing off Kiryu’s adventure. Yakuza 0 probably has a better story because it draws you into the world without any other precursor leading you to that point. However, after going through three to four titles of disposable and forgettable villains (with the exception of Ryuji Goda in Yakuza 2), Yakuza 6 introduces you to some of the best cast of characters in the series.
While the characters that are introduced are completely new, they make up for the lost time of the previous series entries by being both charismatic and duplicitous in their characterizations. From the villainous Han Joon-gi, to the sniveling follower Nagumo Tsuyoshi, and even the laid-back Yakuza boss Hirose Toru (played to near perfection by legendary actor Beat Takeshi)– each new character feels like they’ve been there in the shared universe and they’ve been born to play a role in this epic tale.
I’m also heartened by the fact that past substory characters have been re-introduced into this game including Pocket City Fighter, who has totally shown his age from the original Yakuza Kiwami and the introduction of Onomichio-kun, that damned mascot who has infiltrated every game after this one. If there’s a substory to follow, follow the mascot substory–it’s hilarious.
Substories are just as well written as the mainline quests. I feel that the substories written for Onomichi are some of the best written ones in the game. Even the baseball side stories had me invested in trying to improve the team when you all know for a fact that it is my most hated mini-game in the series.
The developers really love baseball, and you really have to respect it with the amount of love the devs put into it. It involves building your baseball club from the different characters you encounter through the game and watching this club go from a sandlot gang to district champions is refreshing.
A bittersweet send off
I feel that this game has best ending of all the Yakuza titles, and that includes the bittersweet conclusion of Yakuza 0. While it is still explosive and heavily climactic, it does not go out of its way to be too unbelievable following Yakuza 2 to 5, where it just progressively got ridiculous. Once you complete the main story in 20-30 hours, there is so much more to discover including deep-sea fishing quests (a much better iteration of the hunting mini-game of Yakuza 5) and my favorite bar quest.
The bar quest involves building up friendships amongst the bar regulars where you chat about their lives and the current events that befall Onomichi. I feel like it’s almost a completely different story in itself and completing this quest will take around 5-10 hours including all the side missions that surround it. There are six bar regulars to befriend and just that story branch is enough to get your money’s worth. It’s so good that they made it a mainstay for Yakuza: Like A Dragon‘s way to improve your social links with your team.
This is the first time in the series where we encounter the “Dragon Engine” seen in Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment. The graphics have been highly improved and the characters have a sense of realism not seen in the previous games. I really like the improvements they’ve made with combat as it evolves from Yakuza 3 onwards to this iteration.
If you’ve played Yakuza Kiwami 2 previously and if you went through the series chronologically, this won’t be too jarring for you. In fact you’ll probably relieved after putting up with the anachronistic controls of Yakuza 3 to Yakuza 5, it’s going to be most likely a breath of fresh air.
Finally, there’s still much to do when you return to Kamurocho as you could take on a gym mini-games, play darts with Paul Lim, and date the Cabaret Club girls. Out of all the Yakuza games, I feel that the post-game content in this game is more accessible because the main questline and the side content feel autonomous of each other’s existence.
If you get sick of Onomichi, you can always go back to the city. If urban life is getting crowded for you, go back to the country. There is so much more content to get through once everything is over. Kiryu’s quest really doesn’t end after the credits roll.
What we liked:
- A fitting conclusion for a long-time hero.
- “Dragon Engine” an improved gameplay mechanic for fluid combat and visual overhaul.
- Shorter run time allowing for more time in the open world.
What we didn’t like:
- Not a great title to start the Yakuza saga.
- The devs really love baseball, meaning baseball will never leave this series.
- Kiryu’s appearance as the main protagonist ends in future versions.
Verdict: Buy It!
Coming from a Yakuza die-hard who has gone through the many adventures of Kiryu, you owe it to yourself to play this game. If you’ve been holding out after playing Yakuza 0 but don’t want to invest any more time to the series, this game respects your time out of the rest of the games in the series. The mainline quest is only 20-30 hours long, while you could dedicate as little or as much to the many other side content.
The story of Yakuza 6: The Song of LIfe is satisfying and doesn’t insult your intelligence as compared to the different titles of this series, and most especially Judgment, who pretends to know its lawyer reference but really doesn’t. Reaching the end of Kiryu’s journey in this series is both a satisfying conclusion as well as whetting your appetite for more, which the post-game content delivers to the best of its abilities.
While many of the content of this game has been recycled in Yakuza: Like A Dragon, I recommend playing this game just to see how they’ve progressed with Like A Dragon. At this point, the PS4 version of this game will be around the $19.99 price point, which is more than enough content to justify your purchase. It will even be less on a sale, and I highly recommend it if you need to purchase a Yakuza game after playing Yakuza 0 over the Yakuza Remastered Collection.