Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life ((JP: Ryū ga Gotoku 6: Inochi no Uta (Like A Dragon 6: The Song of Life) (龍が如く6 命の詩)) – PS4, Xbox One, PC (2016)


This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series Yakuza / Like A Dragon

US Box Art

Japanese Box Art

Spoiler Warning: This review will bring up Yakuza 5 spoilers

Yakuza 6 is a lot. This is a bit of an ironic statement, since it’s one of the shorter entries, but trying to unpack the many, many ways in which the game went wrong is a challenge. Nearly every single choice made was the wrong one, and what ideas present that could have potentially worked were kneecapped by horrible execution. That’s not even getting into how this ended up being the critical point of the studio’s worst creative tendencies, the writing of the female cast and non-Japanese characters reaching a whole new low, with an absolutely confused and incoherent core to the story that is equal parts self-criticism of their own generation and a bunch of old men yelling at clouds, seemingly by accident because they didn’t know how to make the plot work or certain scenes function without a younger character doing something so stupid that it actually breaks disbelief.

Yakuza 6 is not a full on bad game – but it is not a good one, and definitely the worst Like A Dragon game. That’s an even bigger problem then usual because this was originally supposed to be Kiryu’s big send off. Sure didn’t stay that way!

A lot of the blame for this game being what it is tends to get pointed at Tsuyoshi Furuta. Up to this point, he had been the primary writer on Dead Souls and the PS3 team shooter Binary Domain, both of which have fun and effective stories, and would later go on to write the Judgment series and help with the main series entries (most recently in Gaiden and Infinite Wealth, but not as the lead writer). If you read the Judgment reviews or have played those games, though, you may have noticed the guy seems to have become kind of horrible at writing women, among other issues.

He’s most likely the main person to blame – but series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi and longtime writer and producer Masayoshi Yokoyama also seem to carry some blame for their additions and deciding on specific plot beats. The overall impression Yokoyama gives in this interview gives the vibe that Furuta ended up with the thankless task of having to effectively write a very questionable idea that was already forming from initial pitches after Yakuza 0‘s development, not helped by how Yokoyama’s fixation on how this concept will affect Kiryu’s character with little to no interest expressed on how it would affect Haruka – which might explain why they thought it was a good idea to put her in a coma for the entire game.

Yakuza 6 starts with a cold open and combat tutorial to show Kiryu in an unfamiliar bar, and now caring for a baby. Then, we go back to the ending of Yakuza 5 for a wrap up, showing Kiryu surviving his near fatal battle at the end, but having to do a few years in jail. Haruka also is dealing with the aftermath of her decision to reveal she was raised by a former yakuza at the Tokyo concert, ending her idol career and affecting the lives of the other orphanage kids. She ends up learning bad lessons from her stubborn adoptive dad and leaves to spare everyone, thinking this will somehow solve the problem and seemingly setting up the idea that Kiryu has to re-examine his impulses born from his guilt (remember this point to be extra angry at the ending!).

When Kiryu is out, he finds nobody knows where Haruka is, and when he does find her, she’s been hit by a car and left in a coma – alongside a baby that just so happens to be her. After taking the baby after threat of it being taken into the foster care system (despite Kiryu being Haruka’s legal guardian and thus being able to legally watch after the baby, which never comes up?), Kiryu ends up searching for the father, while also dealing with the threat of a criminal conspiracy, new leadership in the Tojo after Daigo and friends got pinched with jail time, and new factions snaking their way into Kamurocho.

So many decisions were made, and so many of them were bad. All of Kiryu’s supporting cast but Akiyama and Date are absent, ruining the point of a send-off by having most of the people in Kiryu’s life not there at all, though you do get Saejima’s fighting instructor fan because…reasons? Akiyama and Date are also wasted as Kiryu ends up in a completely new setting with a full on Yakuza 3 At Home cast who leave very little impression, outside special guest star Beat Takashi as the only good character in the main story. The idea seemed to be putting Kiryu in a new situation to see how he reacts and what it says about him – which is a bad idea for a send-off since Kiryu gets no last words with his many friends, all this made worse when the first few hours are setting up a completely different tone meant to reflect on legacy.

The plot often requires characters to do things so mind boggling moronic that it’s difficult to read them as human beings and ruins whatever pathos they had. The various villainous factions are also some of the poorest in the franchise, the Jingweon returning as members of the BTS army and have little to actually do in the main plot. The new triad faction is also treated like dirt, with a weird blood law plot device central to their decisions that feels like it was made up from a racist myth. The Yomei alliance, the yakuza villain faction, isn’t even particularly interesting, with one of the most forgettable Majima expys in a series rife with them. All they have going for them is a complete lack of morals, which adds a questionable layer to the story with its very confused generational divide theme.

Yakuza 6 is such a muddled mess of a story that trying to figure out what it’s trying to say is bizarrely difficult. It feels like at times that it is critical of how the generation of RGG Studio’s creative leads failed the new one, but also seems obsessed with treating anyone younger than Kiryu as a rube or thug with pointless ambitions. This is not helped by a xenophobic undercurrent towards the Chinese and Korean characters in how their violence is framed from scene to scene compared to the Japanese villains, the gory details and undignified corpse expressions on full display, while Japanese characters get more creative framing to hide that gruesomeness.

That’s not to mention the game being banned in South Korea shortly before its release for its content, which might be referring to the Jingweon’s awful betrayal and one particular speech from Han that seems to be stealth forgiving Japan for past war crimes (ie invading, taking over, and trying to aggressively outlaw Korean culture). The full context says otherwise, more Han trying to keep up appearances and hiding his more violent intentions…but the alternative reading is that Furuta kept trying to shove in an ongoing history motif but had no idea how to make it sound natural most of the time resulting in an accidental microaggression towards Korean audiences in this one instance.

The women don’t get much better. Haruka gets temporarily fridged so Kiryu can be properly angry for most the game, and when she does come out of it, she’s in a fictional can only say one or two words post-coma state, making her a complete non-presence in a plot that’s specifically supposed to be about her. The complete rake-stepping failure of their reunion scene does not help matters, as the game systematically fails at every single emotional beat in needs to hit, while also failing to really do much of any worth with the new characters.

That’s not even getting into bartender Kiyomi’s poor treatment or the baffling framing of her ex-husband Someya, a member of the Tojo clan. Shun Oguri is trying is damn best, but the script fails his character at every turn, making what is supposed to be a morally complicated antagonist with a layered true self that Oguri described as “the last yakuza hero” into an unlikable domestic abuser. The game, naturally also completely fails at resolving this tension in his character, or even introducing it in a way that doesn’t instantly kill any interest in his better side. Remember the dissonance problems 0 had with characters who did truly despicable things and expecting you to instantly empathize with them? We got go that ten fold with just this one rival character.

Substories aren’t much better, with a concerning number of them filled with cheating girlfriends or the tired My Bitch Wife trope. The fact there’s so many in this one game alone is really strange, especially the one substory where everyone in one girl’s life is gas-lighting her in an insane manipulation to motivate her. There’s also a lot focused on technology that sort of fall flat. They’re conceptually not terrible, but they feel very out of place in this particular entry. There’ still some good ones, of course (nobody can deny the Ono Michio stories), but it becomes a slog in a game that has less substories than usual.

Not helping is the horrible presentation of these substories, brought on the baffling decision to make every substory and scene in the game voiced. That seems like a fine idea at first, until you remember the insane production schedules RGG works under, and realizing something had to be cut as a result. That ended up being interesting cinematography, basic character animations, and basically the entire visual element that made these stories fun – and this problem is also in the main story as well! The new Dragon Engine has some fantastic tech for showing facial animations, which does get used at points, but far too many scenes in the main story is just two static character models moving their mouths or maybe just having to listen to an entire conversation in a single, near static screen! It’s baffling!

Speaking of that Dragon Engine, it ended up being a double edged sword that tarnished the rest of the experience. You can instantly tell something has gone wrong from just touching an object in the environment and watching it explode like it has just been informed it has met you before, or watching as fights devolve into clown car moshes. The game looks great when still, but the physics side of things is turned up to 11 and destroying whatever verisimilitude the new building layouts added. Worse yet, it seems to be intentional with fights with an upgrade option being increasing damage enemies take from being knocked into each other. Combat is also somehow too stiff to boot, thanks to a very long recovery animation for some attacks if they get blocked. This is a quirk in all Dragon Engine action games, but it’s at its absolute worst here, and ruins the flow of basic combos. Boss fights are at least fine enough, though that recovery animation will be obnoxious with as block happy as the AI can get. The weird camera angels and overuse of particle effects for heat doesn’t help.

Heat has also been modified into something Judgment fans might be familiar with, getting rid of the momentum bar system for slowly gaining heat and storing it away to use with heat actions. Kiryu also gets an extreme heat mode that’s mostly underwhelming, and would be better used in Gaiden. It’s a basic powered up mode, but also necessary to use a lot of heat actions, which are oddly locked away into said mode.

The leveling system is also quite bad, possibly the worst version conceptually. It brings back the choose what you what nature of 4’s soul orbs, but now divided into a bunch of different experience types relating to various actions – of which you will just earn from stuffing your face at restaurants, which is much easier with an added digestion meter. It is baffling how much experience eating gets you, and the game quickly runs out of interesting upgrades, expecting you to make your stats get bigger by upgrading those far, far too much for very small bonuses. It’s a bloated mess that would be simplified in Judgment as collective skill points.

The new side offerings also aren’t that great besides a nifty textboxing bar adventure where Kiryu has casual conversation with other old people. Everything else is basically a tech demo, showing off what the Dragon Engine can do, but the games made with it not being that fun to play. Clan creator is a very dead brained tower defense where you invade the tower, with little strategy to it, and the baseball management game is just very dull and numbers focused. The RIZAP gym game is also just a really, really gratuitous ad, with the bare bones minigames attached just being a very dull experience points delivery system.

At least we get to watch Kiryu stone faced live chat in cam shows, which is objectively hilarious. There is also some charm in the new map of Jingaicho, Onomichi in Hiroshima, with its own lived in feel and a sense of history missing in the gentrified Kamurocho, though that only goes so far. Several minigames also got much needed updates to make them more fun in general, and can be enjoyed through all the Dragon Engine releases.

The score is also a mixed bag, though at least a few boss themes do go quite hard. Qui garde un secret is a brilliant piece used for the one truly interesting boss fight in the game, equal parts sad, intimidating, and mystifying. Destiny is an excellent late game boss theme, sadly brought down by who you’re fighting, and the same goes for the final boss theme The Way of Life, an incredible piece paired up with the single lamest boss in the series history (and on purpose, an idea that did not pan out at all). Bug’s Warrior is also definitely one of the best Amon themes, extremely bombastic and exciting.

Yakuza 6, as a whole, does have some fun to be had, especially if you can get some laughs from the absurdly goofy fighting system, but it definitely has the least to offer of the entire franchise. The frankly rotten story does it no favors, equal parts confused and grotesquely bitter, with a worrying world view sprinkled around that goes against the ethos of the series at its core. There are moments here that feel like the antithesis of Yakuza 3 and its focus on emotional health and empathy, leaving a sour taste in the mouth. People have been divided on this one, in particular, for a long tome, and while RGG stuck to their guns for awhile, recent developments have shown that even they seem to be aware this wasn’t the best goodbye to their main character, that ending being genuinely insulting in how Kiryu gives into his worst instincts yet again in a truly horrid way. In the short term, maybe another remake can tighten down some of the issues shown here.

Series Navigation<< Yakuza 0Yakuza Kiwami 2 >>




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