While I am still working my way through Yakuza 6, my first 11-or-so hours have proven really insightful. I’ll have a full review available before release on April 17th, possibly within the next week or less, but since the embargo is up today, I wanted to write a more “extensive preview” on how I feel jumping into this universe at title six.
First I’ll say that Yakuza 6 does a pretty great job of either catching you up on all of the happenings in its world, or just giving you a strong primer for this title in the series alone. There are recollections that act as simple slideshows, introducing and summarizing the stories of Yakuza 1 through 5, if you’d like it, but as the game primarily deals with the repercussions of Yakuza 5, most of the time spent in the actual game’s setup is devoted to the events at the end of that game. It takes a good amount of time familiarizing you with the characters from the franchise that are relevant to this title, which includes some familiar faces, but really it comes down to about four or five characters from previous games.
There are some repercussions to the story of Yakuza 5 that need to be dealt with, all of which are in the opening 40 minutes of Yakuza 6. Your character, Kazama Kiryu, has to spend some time in prison for a number of reasons, but gladly does so to essentially pay his dues and walk away at the end completely scot-free. It’s after these three and a half years behind bars where the story of Yakuza 6 begins.
You’re thrust into a mystery to find Haruka, a long-running character of the series who is one of the few important returning characters. This leads you all over the infamous Kamurocho, where things have changed over your absence, introducing new gangs past just the Yakuza. In fact, just about everything has been shuffled around and new power struggles plague all of the city.
I’ll say it took me a bit to get in the rhythm of things, but once I had a grasp on all of the major characters returning, the game introduces you to something new. You take a trip down to Hiroshima and spend some time with a new cast of characters there in a small town called Onomichi.
Here is where I think Yakuza 6 really shines, which the new cast introduced in this title. You meet a small clan of Yakuza members, and in trying to solve one of the central questions to Yakuza 6, you get tangled up in a series of new conflicts that play both like an intense crime drama of gang tensions, tests of loyalty, and tight-knit Yakuza houses that feel like families.
Here is where I think the tried and true aspects of Yakuza’s structure really shine through. Kiryu, as astoundingly intense as he and his glare always are, is a highly relatable character and known veteran of the Yakuza and their ways. You get a little bit of that “old guard vs. new” relations between him and his younger Yakuza counterparts. He also gets himself into tons of trouble, and while his reasoning isn’t always easy to understand, his earnestness in his desire to protect and help his friends and family is intoxicatingly believable. Everything about his character seeps into his actions, and he has plenty of unspoken wisdom that I think really elevates him above most other characters in the game. His interactions with new and old characters alike speak thousands of words, setting up layers of context that, even if I’m not aware of first-hand, are illustrated through these scenes, giving me a sense of understanding difficult to establish so subtly in a sixth entry in a series.
The game is chalk full of things to do too. While the two areas I’ve spent a significant amount of time in: Kamurocho and Onomichi, are both pretty small, they feel dense and alive and vibrant, all rolled together. While there definitely is an old-gen aspect to the way the game looks and populates its streets, feeling pretty sparse all things considered, the personality of the stages makes up much of that difference.
Side quests, mini games and side missions litter the street, and it helps fill in the density of the world in spite of its limited pedestrians walking on screen. You can walk into an arcade and just straight up play Puyo-Puyo if you want. You can wander into a cat-cafe only to find it’s completely catless, and you can help by going on a series of sidequests. It’s organic and each side mission has heartfelt characters that, while not up to the par of the main story characters, are far more interesting than other tacked-on open world missions to compare this to.
There are even layers of mini-games in the story that I couldn’t have expected, like a wave-based real time strategy-lite integrated into the story. It acts as a recruitment mini-game where certain thugs can join your “Kiryu Clan” and become captains in your own clan against the onslaught of one of the many rival enemies of Japan. There is even a full baseball mini-game later on that I haven’t reached yet.
I’ve spent a little over 11 hours in Yakuza 6, which I believe to be a little over half of it, and overall I’m having a great time. Jumping in as my first entry in the series has been way easier than I would have anticipated, and the story mainly circulates around a new “crew” of characters with their own charms, and maybe resolving some characters’ arcs that have been central to the story, especially Haruka, Kiryu’s ward and (for all intents and purposes) daughter.
Check back soon for my full review of Yakuza 6 before its release on April 17th in North America.
Yakuza 6 review code was provided by the publisher and is currently being played on a Standard PlayStation 4 console.