'Yakuza 6' Review: 'The Song of Life' Offers Typical 'Yakuza' Drama With a Weak Ending

7.5/10 (Xbox)

Yakuza 6 is the final tale of Kazuma Kiryu, one of gaming's great leads. Kiryu's adventures have spanned decades (both in our time and in-game), even if most of it takes place in the same few tightly-packed city blocks. Now that we've reached the end of the road, does Kiryu's final story live up to what the character deserves? The answer, like Yakuza 6's plot, is complicated.

Yakuza 6 offers some great moments, but is held back from greatness by a weak story SEGA/Newsweek

Yakuza games are all about storytelling. Often you'll sit back for 20 to 30 minutes at a time as cutscenes roll by. Largely, this works for the series. The stories are well-paced, have just enough levity to compliment the serious drama of criminal organizations and, most importantly, are superbly performed by a number of different voice actors. Yakuza 6 continues this tradition, giving players another meaty, hours-long story to dive into.

Most of this is the quality Yakuza you'd hope for. Yakuza 6 begins with Kiryu fresh out of prison, having served three years for a crime he didn't commit. While he's in jail Haruka, his (basically) adopted daughter, gets pregnant and runs away. Almost as soon as Kiryu is a free man, he's rushed back to his old stomping grounds of Komorocho to discovery the identity of the child's father, and figure out who hit Haruka with a car, putting her in a coma.

Once Yakuza starts raising its stakes, the wheels on the story get looser. What starts as a mystery about a hit-and-run turns into a tale about secret children running powerful crime organizations and the lengths people have gone to while protecting a terrible, horrible secret that threatens a small town.

I don't want to spoil anything for you, but the secret of Onomichi gets a lot of hype throughout the entire game, then falls horribly flat once revealed in the final hours. And it's confusing. I never understood why it was such an important secret in the first place. The game attempts to explain it, at length, and maybe I'm missing some context from either past Yakuza games or Japanese culture or something, but it doesn't have a big impact. In fact, the secret is almost laughable. Who would care enough to kill over keeping this hidden from the world?

Kiryu's personal stake in the journey also feels like a rehash of previous games. Kiryu technically isn't a Yakuza, he's just a regular civilian at this point. However, he's constantly being brought in (or even volunteering) to meddle with Yakuza affairs. The only reason why Kiryu is a civilian instead of a full-fledged Yakuza member is simply because he says so. Many times.

And as an ending to Kiryu's story, Yakuza 6 leaves things far too open-ended and a little confusing, raising more questions than it answers. It's like being on a roller coaster that features a long, flat section after all the fun hills and loops. You thought the ride ended a while ago, are confused why you're still buckled in and just want to get off already.

On top of an inconsistent story, the combat in Yakuza 6 is arguably the worst in any Yakuza game I've played. Previous games have included multiple fighting styles: some are great for a single, strong opponent, while others work to clear out large groups of enemies. There is only one style to learn in Yakuza 6 , meaning you can't shift between fighting styles to better counter the opposition.

This also makes leveling up less exciting. Instead of learning new moves and combos, you'll unlock slightly better stats and a small ability here or there. There are some new finishing moves to unlock, but many can only be used in very specific situations (blocking an incoming attack from an enemy wielding a bat, for example). Ultimately, I found myself using the same strategies in every combat scenario, doing the same moves and combos over and over again.

Pacing is also problematic in Yakuza 6 . Many areas of the game don't become accessible until very late into the campaign. Some of these seem pretty important, like a tip on how to change the in-game time from morning to night. I got that tip about three quarters of the way through the game, and there's an entire minigame and group of characters my coworker didn't even know about until she had finished her playthrough. These are things that would have been helpful to know much earlier, and resulted in me cramming through all this side content in a rush before finishing the main missions.

Despite everything I just said, I liked Yakuza 6 . It is a fun game, filled with great storytelling and plenty of exciting moments. The side missions are especially great, with stories that range from serious and thought-provoking to incredibly goofy. I went from dealing with an evil AI installed on my phone, to providing toilet paper for someone stuck in a bathroom to dressing up in a mascot outfit and singing karaoke.

There are more minigames here than you'll know what to do with, many of which offer addictive, deep gameplay that you can easily lose hours in. You can become a master of mahjong, a karaoke star or the saintly benefactor of a cat cafe. Players will be able to pick and choose the activities they are most interested in without missing out too much on narratives found in other side games.

I also cannot stress enough how good the performances are. Yakuza 6 even brings in Japanese acting legend Beat Takeshi for a character, and he knocks it out of the park. Even if the story slips off the rails, the performers breathe enough life and energy into the lines that you'll still feel engaged through even the weirdest story turns.

Yakuza 6 is filled with amazing performances, fun but limited gameplay and two-thirds of a great story. There are some testosterone-fueled moments of pure action, incredibly touching emotional beats and plenty of light-hearted laughs along the way. There are also very confusing sequences, combat is lacking (especially compared to previous entries) and an ending that you wish made a little more sense than it does. Kiryu's gaming swan song is fun, but he deserves a better send-off.

A quick summary of our Yakuza 6 review Player.One/Newsweek