by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
The Yakuza franchise is one I fell in love with a little late in its creation. I didn’t find it until I did our review of Yakuza 4, and when I was doing my research, that’s when it happened. I have been waiting a year roughly on Yakuza 6, and the worry was high that we were not going to get it. A lot of my favorite franchises eventually stopped coming out in America. This game was truly something spectacular and I am grateful that Yakuza continues to come out in America. Yakuza 6 is definitely in the running for my personal “Game of the Year” stamp and we’re only in March. That’s how strong it is. Yakuza 6 continues the tale of Kiryu Kazuma, and while he is the playable character, the focus doesn’t really seem to be on him. It’s on Haruka and what is going on with her.
There will be no spoilers in this piece, at least, none that are important to the main plot so don’t fret. The main story is an incredibly powerful journey though, and you learn a lot about Kiryu. It’s gripping, powerful, and honestly, pretty dark. The biggest thing is, for those of you who have never played a Yakuza game, the game does a pretty solid job of catching you up in the prologue, as Kiryu starts the game off in a coma, and in his flashbacks, you’ll meet all the important characters, and learn why they’re important to Kiryu, why he will go to such great lengths to protect who is important to him. The story twists and turns and wraps you up in its tentacles, and I found myself unable to stop playing. I tried to stream it a few times, but by the time I got to the second stream, I had already gone past the “point of no return” in my Embargo. A very brief blurb on the story:
“Kiryu spent several years in prison. He is released only to find out his ward, Haruka is in a coma after being hit by a car. She also had a kid, Haruto, who is at risk of becoming a ward of the state. Kiryu must fight for and maintain custody of Haruto while investigating the strange mysteries surrounding Haruka’s accident. The stage is set as we initially enter Kamurocho once again, and after he begins his investigation, the trail leads to Onomichi, a seemingly peaceful town that is more than it seems.”
Much in the same vein as the other Yakuza games, you spend a lot of time in Kamurocho, and it’s the same city you remember from the other games. It’s the same streets, same layout, but modernized, as this game takes place in 2016. It’s always struck me as sort of funny because I normally hate open-world/sandbox games. I easily get overwhelmed by how much there is to do at once. The Yakuza franchise gives you the main story you can easily just move from, and if you only did the main story, it would still be an enjoyable experience. There is so much to do, from side missions, sub-games, the arcade, and all extra content. Yakuza gives me an open world, that while it is significantly smaller than other cities, there is no wasted space. Every character is voiced, and the quality of the game itself is truly spectacular. This story of secrets and familial bond will leave you wanting more, right up until the end. Though I can’t say much about it, Kamurocho is not the only locale you’ll be visiting. Kiryu does some traveling in this game, and both towns are accurately created from what inspired them originally.
There is always something to do, so many mini-games and adventures to undertake. Simply wandering this city unlocks a wealth of things to see and do, but I won’t lie, it is much harder to find side missions this time. This is the biggest weakness of the game for me. In previous games, I had a guide, or map, or an item, something to help me find them. In my NG+ run, it won’t be as big of a deal, because eventually someone will map it out, but I miss having access to the “Trouble Finder”, and it seems like a serious insight to not include one. If it is there, I could not find it, and trust me, I looked. But let’s talk about those other things though. I don’t think I can talk about all of the mini-games, or this article would easily double in size, so let’s go over some of the more interesting ones. Like the Cat Cafe. Yes, there’s a Cat Cafe, but the guy running it has only one cat! He’s not good at acquiring them. He wants stray cats that need a home, so Kiryu, who is conveniently good with animals, has to buy cat food, find strays, and then call him when they have a bond. A cat bond. Once you fill it with cats, it’s quite lovely. Then there’s the Baseball Sim. At one point in the story, you will help a baseball team out, and the game will play out like a traditional baseball simulator/sports sim game, and while I didn’t really get this, I enjoyed the challenge of it.
Then there’s the matter of the Clan Creator. Kiryu will wind up running his own clan or gang, thanks to the events that unfold around him. You don’t have to do any of it, but it’s probably your best source of money-making, and you will find people in the world to join your clan. The biggest, most important part of this to me, is that the rival gang, the reason this clan appeared at all, is the mysterious “JUSTIS”. This group is run by characters from New Japan Pro Wrestling. And not just anyone. This evil gang is run by Tetsuya Naito, Toru Yano, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and the Rainmaker himself, Kazuchika Okada. This absolutely blew my mind. The game features their theme songs, their special moves, and are perfect representations of wrestlers. Sure, I was disappointed it wasn’t a Bullet Club group (Kenny Omega, Guerillas of Destiny, Bad Luck Fale?) but seeing several face (good guy) wrestlers being corrupt and evil was just perfect. You recruit people to your clan and enter another type of RTS/simulator battle, where you command your forces in a tactical battle. This was crazy fun, but something I’m going to focus on in my second run-through.
You still have the Hostess mini-game, but now you have five girls to pick from, and each has their own distinct look, personality, likes, dislikes, and backstory. Now you have cards to draw, each with their own stat assigned to them (Sexy, cool, et cetera) and your job is to win them over. Not enough sexy girls, you say? Do you want more? Well, how about JAV (Adult Film Stars) in the game? Kiryu gets introduced to Live Chat, which is essentially, a Cam Girl system. They are both popular film stars, but the biggest one, if you will, is Anri Okita. Of course, I had to do my research and play through this mode, for science. It’s a button mini-game, where you have to hit the buttons within a certain amount of time or he fails his typing. They do undress more and more, so kids should definitely not be playing this. Then there are the various Arcades (with Darts, Virtua Fighter, Puyo Puyo, Space Harrier, Out Run and more), the Batting Cages, Karaoke, and the last really important one, the Gym! You can do a series of rhythm mini-games and dietary challenges, and it’s a seriously solid way to increase your stats. Eating also increases your stat exp, and now you have a hunger meter (which can be lowered and expedited to go down faster), so you can’t just stay in restaurants all day and rack up XP.
Combat’s a little stripped down in this one, compared to 0 and Kiwami though. In those games, Kiryu had several styles to choose from (including his own) that could be swapped between on the fly. Now he only uses his own “Dragon of Dojima” style, and you have two attack buttons like normal (Regular and Heavy), and you can attack up to four times in a row, and weave a Heavy attack between them. You can still grab your foes, but now if you hit throw again, he’ll spin them around in the air and hurl them at their buddies like a living weapon. Instead of a “Heat Gauge” you have Heat Orbs, that once they’re filled, you can hit R2 and enter a rage mode. This beefs your attacks up to 8 swings, and when you hit Heavy (triangle) you can mash it out as fast as you can to do incredible extra damage. Heat Attacks are still here and use a Heat Orb, and of course, there are absolutely insane new Heat Attacks for melee and for the various weapons you come across. Enemies don’t drop money anymore though, or at least, not every enemy. Money was very tight in the early going, so I found myself beating as many people as I could in hopes one of them would drop some Yen. The combat system is a lot easier to grasp this way, and I found myself warming up to it quickly. The transition between regular fights and being in the world is seamless, and now you can see nearby gangs of punchable targets on the mini-map.
Let’s talk about XP though. Instead of having combat-style exp, or just a regular exp pool, you have five pools of exp, each built around a different stat and associated with a particular color. You gain exp in these stats by completing tasks associated with them (combat, eating, talking with/helping people, et cetera). Most side-quests and major quest objectives will give all exp, but it’s important to run through the skills (because there are a lot of them) to figure out what is important to you. Whether you want more Heat Skills, or better skills when talking to the ladies, you can dump exp where you like. You also boost your physical stats this way, and each is bound to one or two stats. Personally, I focused on Health/Attack, because Evasion is for chumps. If you pummel them into a custard, you don’t need to stress getting out of the way. Not always the smartest choice, but I stood by it. It’s pretty easy to get exp if you’re diligent because almost everything you do gives it. By the end of the game, I had around 8,000 surplus Red (Strength) exp, because I had purchased everything I could with it, and was waiting on more Purple (Talking) EXP and Green (Study? Not very clear) EXP.
There’s one more important thing to note, and that’s your menu. It’s all localized on a smartphone, which has your tasks, items, your stats, a camera, and another new function, “Troublr”. The resemblance to “Tumblr” made me snort, I won’t lie. As you are running around in town, once you have unlocked Troublr, people will post on it when something is wrong in the town you’re in. From a fire, to someone being mugged, hanging from a building, or a bomb being placed. At first, this is great, because it’s a source of exp, and you’re helping your community (which is important). But by the end of the game, I began to grow insanely frustrated with it. If you fail to save someone or choose not to, most of the time a passive-aggressive message comes through to make you feel bad. Yup, it’s the Internet all right. But this is where you manage everything from your clan, to upgrading your stats and skills. Boy, Kiryu’s really catching up with the times.
One Night In Onomichi: 4/5
This is easily the best open-world game I have ever played. I hope that other open-world designers take note of the Yakuza franchise. You don’t need to have seven hundred square miles of open world because most of that is going to be desolate, empty, worthless crap. Take a look at what Yakuza does: It’s a small city (or towns), but every single square foot of it is packed with something to see, something to do, someone to meet. It has very few flaws, but I did start to get very frustrated with the story about half-way through. Not because it was poorly written, but I hate secrets! I need to know things! But the pay-off was worth it. There are not as many side-missions in this, which is something Yakuza is known for. But every one of them is incredible, some serious, some satirical nonsense (like a side-mission about Influencers/Social Media people who make dumb videos for clicks). I just wish it did not feel so impossible to find them in this game. The Kamurocho Shrine is gone too (where you would unlock extra traits and items, with Bob Utsonomiya) which made me very sad. This is a modern Kamurocho though, and it really takes you on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I laughed, I wept, I cheered, I felt such a mixture of emotions that I did not really know what to do with myself. The only thing it needed more of, was more Goro Majima. Plus you can play Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5 in local versus matches! And you can take selfies! Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a master-class in how to craft a world, and how to build an open-world game. Now, if only Sega would bring them to PC. . .