Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is an action-adventure game set in Japan. For the final time in the series, you play as Kiryu, the legendary yakuza known as the Dragon of Dojima who's out to protect his family from the crime world.
Pro Brutal and entertaining brawler combat
The beat 'em up fights in Yakuza 6 are brutal, with impressive up-close-and-personal cinematics that make the fights a lot of fun. Each punch and kick you throw out builds up a certain gauge for you to pull off special moves, and you can use items in your environment as weapons against your opponents in punishing ways.
You can hear your opponent's bones crushing as you smash your fist or foot into them, with successive hits building your heat gauge over time. Once your heat gauge is full, you can use a special move against an enemy with a nearby trash can, bike, crowbar, or anything else you can pick up, showing a neat cinematic straight out of an action movie as you smash your makeshift weapon into your attacker. Or you can choose to enter Extreme Heat Mode where your body glows with a cool blue aura as you throw out a flurry of swinging punches, culminating into a close-up where you can mash a button prompt as you break your fist through your enemy's jaw.
The combat here is intense, making you feel powerful while keeping your interest at the same time.
Pro Incredible English localization
Yakuza 6 is fully voiced in Japanese with an amazing English localization for Western audiences. The localization team did more than simply translate the game -- they made sure everything is relevant for a non-Japanese audience to understand and relate with. Since there's no option for English voices, the subtitles do a great job at bringing the game to life for those who don't know Japanese but still want to appreciate the culture and support the Yakuza series.
Pro Improved graphics from the previous games
The jump in graphics from Yakuza 5 on the PlayStation 3 to Yakuza 6 on the PlayStation 4 is astounding, giving characters and locations more vibrant details than they had before. Kiryu in particular looks great, with just enough wrinkles on his face to show his age, along with protruding muscles and veins running down his arms that make him true-to life. The game's two main districts are also incredibly detailed, with Kamurocho's neon lights and bustling city life, and Onomichi's romantic view of the sea and cloudless skies at night. It's a stark contrast to the bland environmental textures and less-detailed character models from the previous games. The Dragon Engine improves on the graphical fidelity, making everything look incredible for the current generation.
Pro Accessible for newcomers to the Yakuza series
With a cast of mostly brand new characters, a story that stands on its own, and helpful resources to help you get caught up on the previous games, Yakuza 6 is a fine entry for newcomers to the series.
Other than Kiryu and Haruka, a large majority of the cast are introduced in this game, making the story self-contained with no need to know what happened before Yakuza 6. You won't feel the full emotional impact surrounding Kiryu and Haruka, but the story is written in a way to help you still care about what happens between them. The main menu also has brief recaps of the events from the first five Yakuza games, meaning you won't have to search around online to find them. If you've just recently become a fan of the series, or you're thinking about jumping in, this is a good place to start.
Pro Nuanced and thought-provoking story about the bonds of family
Yakuza 6's subtitle, The Song of Life, is a clever thematic reference to the ways that the story explores the meaning of family in non-traditional ways. The main protagonist Kiryu doesn't have any living relatives, yet his father-daughter bond with the young woman named Haruka is a mainstay of the story and the series. In Yakuza 6, Haruka finds herself caught up in the middle of a yakuza war, and Kiryu is determined to protect her no matter the cost.
Kiryu also struggles to come to grips with the decisions Haruka makes and the circumstances she finds herself in, prompting the player to wonder how they might react if their own daughter were in a similar situation. He also forms strong familial bonds with his yakuza brothers who fight for him and for Haruka, showing that the underworld syndicate isn't just about crime and intrigue, but also about finding a family among other outcasts of society. Seeing the lengths Kiryu will go to protect his family is a moving experience that almost anyone can find strength in.
Pro Tons of high-quality side content
There's so much to do in between story missions in Yakuza 6, with plenty of quality and polish to keep you entertained for hours. All of the mini-games and side quests almost have a life of their own with plenty of variety and detail.
For the mini-games, you can play old SEGA arcade games like Fantasy Zone and Out Run, sing karaoke songs, have drinks and flirt with beautiful women at a hostess club, play full games of baseball, have a sexy video chat at an internet cafe, work out at a gym, and so much more. As one of the standout mini-games, working out at the gym pairs you with a personal trainer who guides you through workouts and a meal program. The video chats are pretty realistic too, with actual video footage of real-life women stripping for you and other people in chat who have hilarious X-rated usernames.
The side quests are wacky and unique, standing out from the more serious main story missions. While wandering around Onomichi's graveyard, you'll get attacked by ghosts that you have to fend off, branching off into more mini stories from there. If you explore Kamurocho's buildings, you'll find a niche cafe that the owner wants to populate with cats for customers to hang out with, so it's your job to find stray cats and feed them, and then get them over to the cafe. There's also an optional Clan Creator game with its own storyline, where Kiryu assembles a band of specialized fighters for his own clan, with detailed strategic play similar to a real-time strategy game.
With so much variety, it's hard to get bored with Yakuza 6's plethora side content that could take up an entirely separate game
Pro Dense and realistic open world set in Japan
Yakuza 6 takes place in two very different districts, Kamurocho and Onomichi, both of which are painstaking recreations of actual locations in Japan for you to explore. Neither of the locations are all that big, yet they're still packed with details that make the districts seem much larger than they actually are.
Gleaming with city lights and brimming with people, Kamurocho is the red light district of Tokyo, filled with all types of restaurants with various cuisines, stores for you to shop at, and places for entertainment and mini-games. By contrast, the sleepy seafaring town of Onomichi is set in Hiroshima, with activities like spearfishing and drawing fortunes at the temple, peaceful venues for sightseeing, and nice touches like statues scattered around town that are engraved with thoughtful poetry.
While the districts themselves aren't necessarily huge, they're so realistic that they make you feel like you're actually there.
Con Noticeable animation issues with faces and combat
Even though the Dragon Engine significantly improves the graphics, the stiff facial animations and wonky combat animations are signs that the engine is still a work-in-progress. When characters speak during normal conversations, their mouths and jaws often don't move enough, making them look lifeless and robotic. It's not like this during dedicated CGI cutscenes where characters are much more expressive, but the difference is pretty noticeable.
During combat, when you knock characters down or get knocked down yourself, there are a lot of weird ragdoll animations. Characters will crumple to the ground or flail about in ways that look lazy and unfinished. The Dragon Engine is beautiful for serious story moments and the open world, though it really needs some more work and polish in other areas.
Con Most of the beloved characters from the series are absent
Longtime Yakuza fans may be disappointed to find that most of the characters that they know and love are largely absent from the story. These characters are the backbone of the series that's been around since the mid-2000s, so it's bizarre to not see them feature for Kiryu's final game. If you're a newcomer to the series, this won't be much of a problem for you, and actually makes the story easier for you to follow since there are mostly brand-new characters here. However, dedicated Yakuza fans will more than likely miss seeing the old gang around, possibly souring their experience with the game.
Con Disappointing ending for Kiryu's final sendoff
Because this is Kiryu's final game in the series as the main protagonist, it's both disappointing and heart-breaking that he doesn't get the proper sendoff he deserves. All of the plot points are resolved by the end and wrapped up with finality, and yet this comes at the cost of Kiryu not getting proper closure. The writers should have gone a different route to give both Kiryu and Yakuza fans a more satisfying ending, because what's here is far too crippling to be an acceptable end to the Dragon of Dojima's saga.