Yakuza 6 Is the Open-World Game I Never Knew I Wanted

Yakuza 6 Is the Open-World Game I Never Knew I Wanted
From IGN - February 6, 2018
By Max Scoville

Amidst all of 2017s monumental, landmark video game releases, Ill always remember it as the year I fell head over heels for the Yakuza series. In spite of all the new releases that pushed this console generations hardware to its limits, when it came down to picking my personal Game of the Year, I was torn between two PlayStation 3 games that got current-gen releases: Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami. Both are incredible games in their own right, but as remastered last-gen ports of a series thats never quite blown up in the West, a lot of people slept on them.

This year, were getting Yakuza 6: Song of Life. Its the first proper Yakuza game of this console generation, built from the ground up on a brand-new engine. After some hands-on time, I couldnt be more excited. If youre a fan of Yakuza already, youre probably rolling your eyes going, Well, duh, but if youre casually interested, read on, and allow me to explain why this is a game that should be on your radar.

About a year ago, my grasp of the Yakuza series is that it was kind of like a Japanese Grand Theft Auto, except you cant steal cars. That assessment is way off, as fervent commenters are probably already pointing out. The Yakuza and GTA franchises both strike an odd balance between mature storylines in criminal underworlds and wholesome family-friendly mini-games, but the similarities stop there.

The main storylines in Yakuza games are dense, mature, and operatic, with themes of revenge, atonement, betrayal, and family; exactly the sort of the thing the word Yakuza conjures up. But in the margins of these heavy story beats are dozens of substoriesbizarre sidequests that add much-needed levity and humor. The Yakuzas manage to strike a delicate balance between being genuinely badass and utterly ridiculous, and thats where their charm lies.

The series leans heavily on narrative, which can be incredibly daunting to newcomers. What the Hell is going on? Who is anyone? Well, the important thing to know is that you play as Kiryu Kazuma. Hes a former Yakuza who cant seem to stay out of trouble. Hes incredibly strong, with a reputation for kicking ass, but he has a softer side, too. Hes a tough guy with a heart of gold. Yes, that does sound corny, but it's hard not to like the guy.

Yakuza 6 picks up several years after the events of Yakuza 5 (which, full disclosure, I didnt play) and while itll give you a recap, this is the first proper Yakuza game on PS4, so its been developed with newcomers in mind. Im reminded a lot of jumping into The Witcher 3, feeling like I missed something in the first two games, but gradually learning not to get too hung up on it.

Tonally, Yakuza 6 feels more grounded than the most recent series entries. It's always been cinematic, but the new cutscenes have a mature weight to them that was mostly absent in Zero and Kiwami. Theres still no shortage of goofiness and over-the-top action, but when Yakuza 6 wants to be serious, it doesnt screw around.

The typical moment-to-moment gameplay of a Yakuza game is like this: you make your way to the next very serious story mission objective, but along the way, you encounter a stranger in some sort of distress, or trying to coax you into doing something decidedly silly-sounding. Before you know it, the incredibly urgent and very serious story mission has been back-burnered, and youre completely enthralled by this secondary objective. Along the way, you probably beat up like, 20 dudes, and duck into a restaurant to order everything on the menu. Yakuza is at its best when you take the scenic route, and let yourself get distracted. This also makes it a horrible game to preview under a time constraint.


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