Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is Kazuma Kiryu's swan song, so it was hard not to scrutinize it more than previous entries in the series. It also had the honor of being the first title in the series designed solely around the PS4 hardware when it first debuted. With so many new fans meeting Kiryu for the first time at the beginning of his adventure with the smash hit release of Yakuza 0, it seemed almost too soon for Yakuza 6 to arrive when it did. After all, we were just getting to know him.
Yakuza has been a cult hit for years now, but it wasn't until Yakuza 0 that the series started to resonate in the west. Because of its blossoming popularity, much of the Western audience has a vastly different perspective on the franchise. New fans love Kiryu and Yakuza because, well, they're excellent games. However, many don't have the years of history with the franchise as longtime fans do.
As a result, Yakuza 6 ran the risk of alienating one of the two crowds especially since those who started the series with Yakuza 0 likely haven't had the time to play through each game yet. Thankfully, Yakuza 6 manages to strike a fantastic balance. It fills new players with the information they need from past titles without being so referential as to alienate those who have already played through previous Yakuza games. And now that the game is on PC, it opens the floor to more fans around the globe. It happens to be one of the best PC games around.
A fitting refrain
Yakuza 6 picks up a few years after Yakuza 5. Kiryu was the fall guy for the events in that game, and after a three-year jail sentence, returns to the Okinawa orphanage to live his life in peace. However, his young charge Haruka, who was supposed to be waiting for his return, has disappeared. She’s nowhere to be found.
With this newfound knowledge, Kiryu heads to his old stomping grounds of Kamurocho to track her down, but finds she's been in a terrible accident. Haruka is found comatose in a local hospital, and Kiryu also discovers she has a baby, something wholly unexpected, especially for those following the previous entry in the Yakuza series. Determining the father of the child, who caused her accident, and how it's all connected, is the central focus of the game.
With that, you set off on what feels like a reel of all the important people in Kiryu's life as you acclimate to life outside of prison once more, only to find that the world has changed significantly. Three years is a long time for Kiryu (though not nearly the longest stint a Yakuza hero has been incarcerated). But as you’ll see as the game carries on, you haven't missed out on a thing. The game is so welcoming and informative to newcomers that it’ll be like coming back to a familiar drama series a few episodes in with some great recaps thrown in for good measure.
Hitting the city
Although most of your time is spent with Kiryu completing the game’s main story, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to check out the rest of the areas around you as well, and that will take up a good part of your time in the game as a whole. It’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t like actual open-world games and needs to be reined in a bit since the city areas aren’t endless.
There are a wide variety of activities spread out between the main urban locales: Kamurocho and Onomichi. You're left to your own devices as Kiryu between lengthy story setpieces. These are some of the most rewarding aspects of the entire experience. Though the central story is always a thrill to play through when it comes to Yakuza games, part of the attraction is the immense amount of sub-stories you’ll unlock by simply exploring the city.
Yes, while Kiryu has his own mission to complete, that won’t stop him from helping others with theirs, too. That’s how he’s won over so many hearts across the length of the Yakuza series, after all. As you speak to various individuals in the city, you’ll find many of them have their own unique concerns and situations that they need help with. This can range from feeding cats throughout the city to helping out a cat cafe owner or fighting in a cemetery in the name of the local “god” Ono Michio. Kiryu might be a criminal in the black and white eyes of the law, but these sub-stories prove how great of a guy he actually is.
Sometimes, the main narrative and sub-stories go hand in hand. It’s intriguing to see both narrative streams come together, especially when you help out a particular individual only to see them come back later on and do something remarkable for the overarching game.
Streets of rage
This is one of the most fluid Yakuza titles yet, with a variety of moves Kiryu can pull off when he enters combat. Thanks to the game's new engine, you get faster, more graceful action when fights inevitably break out among Kiryu and his friends. Kiryu is equipped with a variety of moves and augments to make street brawls a memorable occasion, which means plenty of opportunities to bash others' skulls in. These fights are required if you enter one for a particular storyline, but you’ll run into others that do nothing but net you cash and additional experience.
Yakuza 6 carries on the institution of excellent minigames as well with a variety of arcade titles, baseball cages, substories, cabaret clubs, and more. However, some activities are missing, like bowling, billiards, and slot cars, but the new side quests, like baseball management, are meaty enough to make up for what's gone. You could spend days alone sifting through all the extra missions and side quests if you want to explore those further.
There are so many augments to the game that it might even feel a bit jarring. The most significant improvement that comes with Yakuza 6 is the new Dragon Engine. You can now enter and exit buildings and fights with no loading times. The graphics and animations are much more fluid as well. Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami were both amazing games, but they were made with the PS3 in mind. Yakuza 6 is genuinely a current-gen title, and Kiryu and Kamurocho have never looked better. This was true when it arrived on PS4, and it’s even more true now that it runs just as well as the rest of the series when played on PC.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life performance
I fired up Yakuza 6 on my custom desktop PC, which is running an AMD Ryzen 9 5900x CPU with 32GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 GPU. I played with all settings at maximum and never experienced issues with the game's visual fidelity, frame rate, or screen tearing. The game looks and feels fantastic, and runs silky smooth, showing off everything the Dragon Engine has to offer. I didn’t experience any slowdown or adverse issues when exploring the areas of Kamurocho, Tokyo, and Onomichi, even when there were dozens of characters on-screen.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life might be Kiryu's last (chronological) starring role in the Yakuza series, but there's no need to shed any tears. It's one of the most fitting send-offs a character like Kiryu could have experienced. It's a polished story with an excellent translation that's not only full of the franchise's traditional humor, weirdness, and heartfelt stories, but satisfying combat and a compelling narrative. Whether it's your first Yakuza, or you're a long-time fan, Yakuza 6 is sure to satisfy. Once you've played through it, you should absolutely follow it up with a playthrough of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, which kicks off a brand new chapter in the Yakuza continuity with a frontman who's every bit as worthy as Kiryu.