Preview: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – Back to the Future

Yakuza 0 was my Game of the Year for 2017. I haven’t stopped gushing about it ever since I beat it in January last year. A franchise that had completely eluded me made one hell of a mark with Yakuza 0 for reasons I’ve mentioned in my preview and review of it. I still consider it one of the best games I’ve played. After playing Yakuza Kiwami, I knew I wanted a modern or new Yakuza game but there was a problem. 

Given how invested I got into the story, I was afraid of playing Yakuza 6 without experiencing 2,3,4, and 5. Playing them would not only require a massive time commitment but also waiting for Kiwami 2 to be localized which as of this writing has not been confirmed for an English release. SEGA has been putting out various media online to get fans up to speed for Yakuza 6 and there’s even a separate section on the game menu for a summary of the story of past games. I’ve been playing the full game over the past week and I’ve come away impressed with a minor concern.

If you aren’t aware, the Yakuza franchise (Ryu Ga Gotoku) in Japan is one of SEGA’s hidden to some extent gems. The series’ main entries have followed Kazuma Kiryu and how his life has changed over the last decades both in and out of the Yakuza. Yakuza 6 does a great job of explaining various terms and characters to you through loading screens that are peppered with flavour text always reminding you of things you might’ve forgotten or not known in the first place. I won’t go into story details here but I’m very impressed with how much effort has gone into making newcomers not just to Yakuza 6 but to the franchise in general feel comfortable with this entry.

One of the biggest draws for me in Yakuza 0 was the plethora of deep minigames. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s on offer here when it comes to the story as I’ve just been playing with the minigames and exploring a modern Kamurocho. I spent more than 10 hours playing the disco dancing and cabaret club management minigames in Yakuza 0 and outside of the lovely Karaoke that’s also present here, there’s also a live chat with a video of a real woman responding to not just you but also others in the chat room. You input text into the chat client on a PC through face button combinations and the only thing making you falter here will be you laughing so hard and losing focus. This is definitely one of those “I can’t believe they put this into a video game” moment. The SEGA arcade classics make a return and I actually spent a decent amount of time playing Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown here. I love how they’ve basically added a full PS3 game into Yakuza 6 as a minigame.

A big complaint from many people in Yakuza 0 was the lack of a save anywhere option. You had to save in phone booths only. They fixed that in Kiwami letting you save from the menu in addition to phone booths. Yakuza 6 goes on to finally add an auto save option in addition to save anywhere. The quality of life enhancements don’t just stop there. Now there isn’t a loading screen or delay to get into a restaurant or cafe or even get into a fight with the various thugs on the street who want a piece of you. Everything is more dynamic and reactive. Speaking of things being reactive, Kiryu has a Sony smart phone (This is a work of fiction after all) and he can take selfies. I got a trophy for trying to take a selfie and getting attacked in the process. There was also an instance where a woman walking behind me looked into the camera and made the peace sign as I was taking a photograph.

I still remember seeing the initial reveal for Ryu Ga Gotoku 6 (Yakuza 6) on YouTube and being blown away by how much had improved. Visually it definitely is more ambitious than both 0 and Kiwami on PS4. Kamurocho and the small lanes and restaurants all look better and feel more lively. The only place this really suffers is in some technical aspects. Things have improved a lot since the Asia demo I played on PSN but coming from Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, there’s a lot to be desired here. Voice acting is fantastic as expected as is the soundtrack so far including the karaoke music.

When it comes to progression and skills, you earn experience in various stats through combat and other activities. Combat is great because you can always see a few people asking for trouble on the minimap and they usually have red indicators above their heads while walking. You can literally run into them and start fighting immediately. You can even fight indoors now and environmental damage is a thing. Even the basic combat style feels amazing and the heat actions now give you a nice window of opportunity to take a screenshot. As you earn stats, you pull up your phone and can unlock various skills spread across categories and there are a few more parameters to keep track of this time. Eating at the right time will give you a nice experience boost depending on what is consumed so I’d recommend keeping an eye on your hunger level often.

After spending some time in Kamurocho over the last few days, it is definitely great to be back. I was initially afraid that I might have franchise fatigue since I’ve put in 150 hours across 2 games since January last year. I can’t wait to see where the story goes after the opening chapters. I only hope SEGA works on some of the technical issues that are a bit annoying in an otherwise fantastic modern game. I’ll have a full review of Yakuza 6 closer to launch when it releases in April on PlayStation 4 and unlike Yakuza Kiwami that never made it here officially, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is releasing here.

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