Title: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: March 25, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Action Adventure
When Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was first released in 2016, it had a couple of barriers to overcome. This would be the first entry of the series on the PS4 using the Dragon Engine. This development tool from Ryu Gotoku Studio would be utilized for Yakuza Kiwami 2, Judgment, and eventually Like a Dragon.
The other is that it had to continue a narrative from the ending of Yakuza 5, which was contentious due to several characters’ actions not making much sense but having far-reaching consequences. So, the odds were kind of stacked up against Kazuma Kiryu in this new adventure. Yakuza 6 is ultimately a title that met some heavy expectations but fell short in others.
With this updated release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on PC, let me just begin by saying The Dragon Engine looks fantastic and still holds up well today, mainly if your PC is 4K-capable. On the PS4 version, Kamurocho had been almost entirely redone in as close to photorealism as the console could have mustered, and now the PC port has outdone that and finally unlocked the framerate for a smoother experience.
The city feels alive as you make your way to missions and take in the sights. However, it is clear that this title was explicitly designed to hit the target 30fps, so many of the cutscenes can look somewhat questionable in motion if rendered any higher than that due to the limitations of the engine at the time. Overall, my gameplay experience was smooth, but players should be aware of the technical hiccups that likely can’t be entirely fixed – Yakuza 6 was held together with duct tape and dreams on the PS4, and that aspect hasn’t completely changed.
The combat system has also seen a massive change in direction in this entry. Thankfully, this solves the persistent issue from the PS3 titles of the bosses constantly blocking or interrupting your combos out of nowhere to make the fights last longer.
The one-man-army conflicts that Yakuza is known for have also seen a welcome change towards truly being one-against-dozens. The game encourages you to cheese your crowd-control abilities to satisfyingly mow down many enemies at once. Every fight in this game feels like a fair one, and that difference makes it one of my favorites in the entire series from a gameplay perspective.
However, the gorgeous new engine also came with a reasonably significant tradeoff. Yakuza 6 is a dramatically scaled-down experience compared to 5, featuring only two cities, Kamurocho and Onomichi, and one playable character. While this makes some sense due to the story focusing much more heavily on Kiryu than those of 4 or 5, it’s relatively clear that this was more than just a narrative decision, as about a third of Kamurocho is roped off from the player for the entire game.
This even extends to the substory side quests that the series is famous for. You see, Yakuza 6 only has about fifty of them, compared to seventy-eight in 5 and one hundred in 0. While Judgment would rectify many of these issues later, there is something distinctly missing from The Song of Life coming from the games before it.
The primary issue with this title, however, is its story. As I mentioned before, the focus narrows towards Kiryu, to the point where the other recurring characters of the series mostly only make brief appearances. However, this has the unfortunate side effect of robbing most of them of satisfying resolutions, particularly because the next game in the franchise saw a complete cast refresh.
The new cast of Yakuza 6 is all very well-written and given a complete story arc that resolves in the end. One downside to this that sabotages the “finale” vibe of this title is that we see very, very little of important characters like Goro Majima, who was the deuteragonist of the previous game, Taiga Saejima, one of the playable characters from 4 and 5, and the children of the Morning Glory Orphanage, who have been a crucial part of Kiryu’s motivation since Yakuza 3. (Heck, Tatsuo Shinada, the new playable character from 5, doesn’t even appear in this title.) Previously important characters in Kiryu’s story mostly only get one or two scenes in this game (which do not resolve their storylines), or they don’t appear at all, with their plot threads left hanging.
The cast members who do receive more focus were essentially given somewhat controversial endings as well, and none of this is even mentioning the fate of Kiryu himself, which I’m not going to spoil here. Many characters in this narrative had to act out of the ordinary to reach a conclusion, and at several points, I will admit that I was holding my head in my hands out of confusion.
In a Yakuza title, at least a third of the playtime is going to be spent watching cutscenes that can occasionally be feature-length, so having a story that goes as far off the rails as The Song of Life’s does by the finale has the potential to be a prolonged exercise in frustration.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a must-play for long-time fans wanting to see how Kazuma Kiryu’s story ends. The game was released on more powerful hardware and brought the series up to a new generation’s standards. It does the same with this PC release, but sadly much of what held it back narratively before is still present today.
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