The Dragon of Dojima, otherwise known as Kazuma Kiryu, has been at the heart of the long-running Yakuza series ever since it began. The no-nonsense tough guy with a heart of gold, Kiryu is the lifeblood of Yakuza, and the glue that holds everyone together. For a franchise about criminal activity and the seedy world of the yakuza, Kiryu's tales have always been heartfelt yarns wrought with sensitive parables about what family means and how important loyalty can be. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life brings it all home one last time for a rousing sendoff to Kiryu himself, offering up a slick, stylish, deeply brutal and always heartfelt goodbye to the Dragon himself. This is Kiryu's swan song, and it's a beautiful one indeed.
It's difficult to relate the tale of Kiryu without spoiling things for anyone who hasn't played the last five games, so understand that you do need to, or at the very least pore over the helpful recaps available in-game before beginning to get up to speed. You'll miss out on a considerable amount of important material otherwise. The most important thing to keep in mind is that Kazuma Kiryu is a veritable badass, but after some events transpired in the previous game, he's chosen not to resist arrest from officers looking for him to take him in for older transgressions.
He chooses to go to jail for three years so that when he gets out, he can spend time with a group of children he's been acting as a foster parent to. Only when he gets out, the oldest foster child Haruka has gone missing. Kiryu returns home from jail and must search for Haruka to find out what's happened in his absence. There are some dark secrets surrounding Haruka's disappearance, but it appears she has a newborn son named Haruto. The intricacies of Yakuza 6's narrative are best left unraveled by the player, but that's the basic setup. Kiryu has been acting as a reliable father figure for some time now, and the kids love him. The juxtaposition between his instinct as a father to the foster children he works to raise and his status as a yakuza is an interesting thread to unravel, and makes for an even more sympathetic character arc.
Like a Dragon
Don't misunderstand, however. You shouldn't mistake Yakuza 6 for a tearjerker filled only with poignant moments and sadness. It's got those, several of them for sure, but first and foremost at its core it's still a Yakuza game. That means exploring the streets of the fictional Japanese city of Kamurocho, trolling the streets to fight off rival gangs, and maybe even helping a guy build up his cat cafe or two. You never know how many hungry kitties you're going to find across the city who need milk.
Yes, a cat cafe. Yes, Kiryu feeds them their favorite cat food and has the cat cafe owner pick them up and bring them to the cafe for safekeeping and care. What of it? Kiryu may be ready to throw a common thug off the edge of a building with several stories or pummel a bad guy until he bleeds, but he's got that softness to him that makes him an admirable and even relatable character, despite his criminal status.
Yakuza 6 is a whole new ballgame, with some big alterations brought by way of the new Dragon Engine, which makes some much-needed improvements to the formula. Gone are the days of having to find a phone booth to save your game or waiting for loading screens to come and go when you enter buildings. It's an impressive change that makes Yakuza 6 look and feel utterly superior to the rest of the series, especially the implementation of a smartphone to bring Kiryu into the modern age.
You'll explore both the big city lights of Kamurocho and the smaller town of Onomichi, which is a more condescend area meant to feel more intimate. While both are considerably smaller affairs than you may be used to, they aren't smaller by way of downsizing -- just condensed. There's still a ton of stuff to see and do, so much so that you can't possibly see it all if you decide to just play through the main story missions.
Most of your time will be spent splitting up your time between combat in terms of random fights you'll happen upon while wandering throughout the city or staged story battles. Fighting feels just as excellent as it ever has, though it's a lot different than you might be used to from the previous games or even Yakuza 0.
The battle system has been given a rework from the ground up, where you only have one battle style rather than multiple as seen in game likes Yakuza 0. Kiryu's core set of combat abilities requires you to make deliberate use of each punch and kick, and there are several Heat actions for you to use to really wreck your opponent's day. Extreme Heat Mode is an experience in itself, offering some pretty gnarly fight animations on Kiryu's part and grisly ends for those who decide to cross him. The flow of battle feels more cohesive and put together,
Though there aren't multiple fighting styles, you can still control Kiryu's growth as you please with the five different types of experience that you earn while completing mini games and activities.
Hitting the Gym, Then the Arcade, Then the Batting Cages
Yakuza has always been about giving players what they want aside from the visceral combat, and that's a ton of extra stuff to do. There are so many minigames it'll make your head spin, from bowling to karaoke to batting cages to darts and a fully-stocked arcade. You can even grab some stuffed toys from the crane game. If you're into collecting cats for the cat cafe as previously mentioned, you can do that too. And while there aren't as many minigames as some of the previous iterations of Yakuza, there are so many that it's seriously difficult sometimes to stay on task. There's a new possibility waiting around every corner, whether you're exploring Onomichi or Kamurocho, including fishing and real baseball outside of the batting cages.
One of the biggest additions to Yakuza 6 is the Clan Creator, which lets Kiryu team up with clan recruits in an RTS-styled segment to take out a street gang called JUSTIS. It's a surprisingly nuanced addition to the game that lets you summon various soldiers to command and attack enemy units (read: gang members) to rid the streets of trash – or other players online, when the game has launched.
If you prefer to stay on the road to the main narrative's end, you'll still contend with 51 (plus a bonus to make it 52) substories to complete with missions ranging from the frivolous to the poignant. In short, there's enough to keep you busy here for some time.
Play It Again, Kiryu
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is an action-packed sendoff to Kiryu and his legacy, and while this is supposedly his last hurrah, I wouldn't put it past Sega to bring him back in some form or fashion in the future. It's an adventure that's simultaneously violent, passionate, and emotional without being too hamfisted or over the top. It's a delicate mix of self-discovery for a character that's had a lot of time in the spotlight, and an excellent cap to a story that's been a long time in the making. If you're not already a Yakuza fan, you'll certainly be after this song has ended.