Games Hands On: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Takes the Fight to the Streets

In Yakuza 6, you can put a dude’s head into a microwave at a convenience store and have the store assistant fry him to death with the push of a button. Aside from being wildly impractical and likely causing lifelong trauma for all involved, the fatality underscores the inherent wildness and absurd humour of the game.

Editor’s Note: This preview was conducted the day before Sega announced Yakuza 6 would be delayed into April. While we doubt much will change with only two months left before release, we felt that’s information you should have.

The microwave power move, which can be performed during any street brawl, is one of a myriad of special attacks that can be used throughout the extraordinarily satisfying fight scenes of the game. Other notable fatalities include crunching a guy’s nuts into a lighting pole, giving him a makeshift curb stomp, smashing his head into a car, decking him with store signage, and several more that can be unlocked by building ability points.

To say that I had fun with the fighting system in Yakuza 6 is an understatement – there’s just something inherently satisfying about nutting some bad guys right in the junk. Before I get any further into my wonderful sign-wielding, microwave-using, bad-guy-nutting adventures, some context is needed.

Yakuza 6 begins with series protagonist and Yakuza member Kazuma Kiryu at a bar – and he’s not alone. With him is baby Haruto, the child of Haruka Sawamura, who we soon learn has fallen into a coma. Kazuma has just been released from jail after spending three years there, to atone for his life of crime and provide Haruka and his adopted children at Sunshine Orphanage with the chance at a better life.

During those three years, Haruka has disappeared mysteriously, and is only found after a car accident forces her into a coma. Having become the guardian for Haruka’s child and tasked with investigating her disappearance, Kazuma sets out into Kamurocho, Tokyo to find the truth, in what is a beautifully realised game backed by a brilliant setting.

For those new to the Yakuza franchise, this title is a great place to start. The opening cinematic of Yakuza 6 does a brilliant job of laying the groundwork and background of the franchise, providing players with enough context to make this title as accessible as the franchise has ever been.

As a newcomer to the franchise, I had no trouble understanding the characters, and getting to know the city of Kamurocho. Be wary though, the game is dialogue and cutscene heavy, and the groundwork for the first chapter is laid throughout a 45-minute long opening cutscene, with minimal player interaction. Yakuza 6 is as close to cinema as video games get, and with such deep lore and story, it’s hard not to get swept up in it.

Once the story gets going, the town of Kamurocho opens up, revealing a deep world with so much to do. In addition to follow the main story and subquests, players are presented with many opportunities to explore the streets and back alleys of Kamurocho, which contain everything from batting cages to a gym, to full-game emulations of Virtua Fighter 5, Puyo Puyo and more at the local arcades. As you wander, you may also come across stray cats, which you’re tasked with enticing back to the cat cafe in a delightful sidequest. While I didn’t manage to find any cats in my playthrough, it brightened up the process of exploring, and led me down several interesting alleys.

Many of these alleys were, of course, populated by rival gang members, and this is where the aforementioned fights come into play. Fighting in Yakuza 6 is so fluid and fun, allowing you to use a multitude of stylish and hard-hitting moves to put down the aggressive gangs that wander the city. The combat system is flawless and dynamic, resulting in battles that felt genuinely unique and interesting. A good thing, too, because everybody in the city seems to want a piece of Kazuma’s hide.

The opening chapter’s main story came to a head with a slick boss fight in the sewers against a Chinese triad leader. Through a mix of wild combat and quick-time sequences, Kazuma and Shun Akiyama, a long-time ally, put away the boss. This sequence was frenetic and wildly enjoyable, featuring a dangerous game of leapfrog, and some creative use of sewer pipes. The boss fights felt wholly different to regular combat, breaking up the drama and injecting a dose of freshness into the mix.

In order to gain a leg up in combat, Kazuma is able to level up and gain new skills through a variety of ways – many of them involving food consumption. By visiting restaurants and bars and ordering food, Kazuma gains experience points that can then be used to purchase power ups and special moves, or level up fighting, strength and stamina. As you progress through a variety of battles, the need for more food increases, allowing you to gain more stats and continue fighting more advanced enemies.

Between quests and battles, Kazuma is able to wander freely throughout Kamurocho, interacting with a range of people and places. As you wander, you come across a variety of weird and quirky characters. One particular interaction that stuck out to me was with a flamboyant, middle-aged gym junkie, who’s so excited to see Kazuma that he challenges him to a fight – a fight that lasts all of ten seconds, as the man goes down to a double punch, and waddles away in embarrassment. It’s a great moment, and one that underscores what a nuanced and interesting character Kazuma is. As a protagonist, he’s flawed and interesting, and the strength of his character that shined through in my playthrough.

While Yazuka 6 is filled with silly moments, at its core is a heartfelt and intriguingly told story of Kazuma’s struggles with responsibility, and the devastating effects of yakuza instability in Tokyo. The teaser that I played only covered the opening chapter of the game, but it was enough to hook me in and keep me interested. Since previewing the game, it has been delayed and while the change is disappointing, one thing is clear – it’ll be well worth the wait.

Yakuza 6 releases on April 17th on PlayStation 4, with a free trial available to all players on February 27th. For more information about the title, visit the Yakuza 6 hub.

The Iris would like to thank the lovely team at Five Star Games for allowing us to preview the title. For more news and information about upcoming games, follow us on Twitter or Facebook!