SEGA’s Yakuza series reminds me a lot of Nintendo’s Mario series. Sure, the themes are completely different, and were made with completely different audiences in mind, but Yakuza 6 in particular had me thinking a lot about Mario Galaxy. This is for very good reason, as both games successfully mash a host of different gameplay styles into one incredible package.
Yakuza 6 is the first Yakuza game I played with in-depth. Thankfully, the game comes with a summary of all the previous titles, so it keeps the player up to date with all the characters and events before the game is started. Once again, the protagonist is Kazuma Kiryu, and the game begins with Kiryu being recently released from prison, looking for a life beyond that of a yakuza. Upon reaching his orphanage, the children inform Kiryu that his adopted daughter, Haruka, has gone missing. Before he knows it, Kiryu is back in Kamurocho and finds himself in the middle of a large turf war between his old clan and the Chinese Triads.
As a tired, grisly veteran of the yakuza, Kiryu’s story in Yakuza 6 is an intriguing one. Whereas Kiryu seeks a life away from his criminal past, even taking the steps to do good in the community. The life Kiryu used to have begins to affect Haruka and the children of the orphanage as the media begin to tie the orphanage to Kiryu’s criminal past. As a result, Haruka leaves the orphanage while Kiryu remains in prison. It’s almost heart-breaking to see how Kiryu’s past haunts him and those who are close to him and the writers have done a tremendous job of humanising Kiryu as he desperately searches for his loved one and deals with many surprising twists along the way. The story is told in a multitude of cut scenes. The first hour of the game includes about 3 minutes of gameplay. I personally enjoyed watching the cut scenes and I felt like they did a really great job of setting the scene for each chapter in the game, though I feel like some people will get impatient over this.
The narrative is all wrapped up in an incredibly authentic Japanese world. The city of Kamurocho looks like it’s been ripped straight out of Tokyo. There are plenty of things to do in Kamurocho as well, and this is where the multiple gameplay styles come into play. Pretty early on in the game, I found myself working out at a gym, only for the trainer to give me a meal plan for me to follow. I then visited a bunch of different restaurants to look for the specific ingredients to finish my training plan. I then hit up a karaoke bar which turned into a rhythm game, using the face buttons of the DualShock, despite getting a near-perfect score, Kiryu is such a hilariously bad singer it just adds to his relatability as a person.Other ways to side-track yourselves include multiple Club SEGA arcades, complete with fully emulated titles such as Virtua Fighter 5, Super Hang On, Fantasy Zone and Puyo Puyo. Kiryu also gets introduced to an online chat service featuring two different women (real-life women, not 3D models) who strip down when Kiryu types the right things to them in the chat room. This particular mini-game made me feel rather uneasy at first, though it does serve as a reminder that the Yakuza series aim to be authentically Japanese, and the chat service used is actually a real online service in Japan. Kiryu also types with the old “find and peck” method which is hilarious.
With so many different gameplay styles it would be almost expected that most would be mediocre at best. I was surprised to find that just about every way to play had tight controls and was also very fun to play. Fighting multiple gangs in the streets shows off how much of a badass Kiryu can be, there are standard punches, kicks and grabs, but then parts of the environment can be used. Kiryu can even pick up motorbikes and start slapping people around with them. It’s way over the top and really cheesy in places but it somehow suits the overall aesthetic of the Yakuza world.Absolutely everything you do earns you experience. Every mini-game and fight earns Kiryu experience in different fields. Experience points can be used to upgrade Kiryu’s stats as well as additional skills and moves he can use in the open world. There’s even a helpful list of activities Kiryu can complete to earn extra experience points. A lot of these activities make a lot of sense such as earning a certain amount of money, while others are downright ludicrous on paper, such as eating every item on every menu in town. Pretty early on in the game, Kiryu can be an efficient killing machine if you find yourself distracted by all the side quests and mini-games. Kiryu can also buy cans and bottles of drink from vending machines which give him a temporary boost to anything from higher attack, earning more experience to even receiving more money.
Yakuza 6 is an incredible title. While in certain moments it remains so over the top it’s hard to take seriously, Kiryu’s story of evolving as a person despite his sordid history makes for a relatable protagonist. Knowing that a real member of the Yakuza has played a game in the series and found it to be more accurate than he anticipated just adds to the authenticity of Yakuza as a title. Every part of the game was a delightful surprise and I’ve found myself absolutely addicted to the game, even post-story. Every time I come back to Yakuza 6, I find something else absolutely charming about it.