There are – currently – eight Yakuza games now on Xbox, with a ninth one on the way in the form of detective spin-off, Judgment. Having been released at some rate over the past 14 months, players have hardly had chance to breathe! Yakuza 6 though represents the ending to Kazuma Kiryu’s saga – a journey that started in Yakuza 0 and 1980s Japan. Whilst being one of the best games in the series, it is also one of Kiryu’s most personal.
Strap yourselves in with a hot drink for the first moments of Yakuza 6. The opening 45 minutes contain one moment of fighting and the rest is purely cutscenes. The intro jumps backwards and forwards through the Yakuza timeline in the opening moments but recaps the final moments of Yakuza 5. A spoiler warning for those yet to finish that game.
After spending three years in prison for his past crimes, Kiryu intends to live out the rest of his days looking after Haruka and the other children in Okinawa. However, he learns that Haruka has left the orphanage behind, and gone into hiding after her whereabouts were released in the gossip magazines. Kiryu’s only lead is that she was in Kamurocho, and so seeks out Shun Akiyama to help him find her.
To their shock and horror, they learn that Haruka is now a mother, having given birth to a baby boy called Haruto. To make matters worse, Haruka and Haruto have been involved in a hit and run accident, leaving Haruka in a coma. With the help of old police friend Date, Kiryu discovers that Haruka was in the city of Onomichi, Hiroshima. He travels out there to find out answers of who Haruto’s father is, and why anyone would want her dead.
It isn’t long though before Kiryu is antagonising the residents of Onomichi; particularly the local Yakuza clan. These early hours feel like Yakuza 3 and the whole beginning arc of Kiryu and Rikiya’s friendship, though obviously this time we are hoping for a better outcome.
Fans of the film Battle Royale may recognise a few faces in the Hirose family that ultimately befriend Kiryu.
Onomichi is a sleepy, ship-building town that is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Kamurocho, as Kiryu finds out in his first evening there searching for baby milk for Haruto. Shops close on an evening, the streets are empty, and there aren’t that many bars. It’s a world away from Kamurocho, but a delightful change of pace as well. There are no batting cages here for example, but there is a local baseball team you can sign up for. Likewise, there isn’t a SEGA arcade to play the likes of Virtua Fighter 5 or Puyo Puyo in full (with two player modes available from the main menu), but you can take a trip up the mountain to get some terrific views. Of course, there is still karaoke in Onomichi though.
Onomichi also holds a devastating secret that dates back to the Second World War; a secret that only a select few know and have been sworn to secrecy.
This new location also means that many of the overriding plot points from the series aren’t present here. Existing characters are a world away – or back in prison – so Yakuza 6 reverts back to only having Kiryu as a playable character. Series regulars may be disappointed to hear this, but newcomers can be reassured that Yakuza 6 is an excellent entry point to start.
Yakuza 6 is also the first and only game in the series to feature every single line voice acted. Aside from Kiryu’s inner musings – which are best left not said out loud anyways – every single line has been voiced in Japanese, regardless of how minor the character is. Even the poem stones in Onomichi – based on the real-life counterparts – have been fully translated. This is the first time this has ever happened and been documented down. It is a massive undertaking that proves that nothing is too much effort for RGG Studio.
Whilst it may be a much quieter town, there are still plenty of undesirables to ground and pound in Onomichi. Over the years though it would seem that Kiryu has forgotten many of the other fighting styles he adopted, and has instead focused on honing his skills in one fighting style. There are still plenty of Heat Actions and the even more powerful Extreme Heat mode, but that extra tactical edge of selecting the best style of fighting has been lost. As a result, Yakuza 6 might be a bit easier for those more familiar with the series.
Yakuza 6 runs on the Dragon Engine – the same engine used for Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Like a Dragon – so you should know how good the Yakuza games look when running on it. Running on an Xbox Series X, there is a long initial load to get into the game itself, but after that everything is almost instantaneous; no loading screens between walking in and out of shops and buildings and even fights on the street are seamlessly woven into the exploration phases of both cities.
Yakuza 6 also shares several more similarities with Kiwami 2. If you have been playing through them chronologically as they have appeared on Xbox Game Pass, you will recognise the return of Clan Creator. This version is a little bit more RTS and less tower defence than Kiwami 2, but the basic premise is still the same: Kiryu et al. must team up and take down the Six Lunatics of JUSTIS. The EXP system has also been copy and pasted from Kiwami 2 and if you can remember the backstory and setup to that entry, you may remember the Jingweon Mafia who pop up once again. Including a major character from Yakuza: Like a Dragon…
In Chapter 3, Kiryu hops over to Onomichi but later on in the story he can move between there and the far more livelier Kamurocho; whether this be for business or pleasure, as once again Yakuza 6 has plenty of sidequests and substories. As well as the aforementioned stuff, new activities include an internet café, rescuing stray cats, spearfishing, posing as a city mascot, and even making new friends at the pub and hitting the gym.
As a conclusion to Kiryu’s seven-game saga, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on Xbox provides a very fitting end that will not leave a dry eye in the house. It is an added bonus that it is one of the best Yakuza games, which might not mean much if you have read my other reviews of the series and know my love for the franchise; a standout title in a standout series. It ties the series up perfectly whilst still adding plenty of new ideas to keep things fresh.
Onomichi is yet another amazing city to explore; the Yakuza series does low-key virtual tourism perhaps better than any other series. You can immediately sense the atmosphere of this new location. Whereas other entries may have you longing to return to Kamurocho, it is a bit of a shame when the story sends you back there!