Yakuza 6: The Song of Life review: Grandpa battle simulator

Kiryu’s time lost to prison is the perfect setup to start introducing the nearly 50-year-old grandfather to more modern “conveniences.” A marriage proposal involving a runaway Roomba, for instance, sports just the right mix of saccharin comedy and eye rolling. But my personal favorite side moment is probably the B plot where Kiryu stops a horny, vindictive Siri knock-off from taking over the world.

Ongoing side activities also include running your own cat cafe and getting into real-time strategy gang wars with New Japan Pro Wrestling stars.

Put plainly, there’s a to do in . If you boiled every activity down, few would technically qualify as more than fetch quests or the same light-light-heavy battles you engage with all over the game. But is a franchise about you do, not always you do it. The joy is in discovering what wacky, soap opera-style twist Sega dreamed up this time. The magic is in wondering how the hell both wildly different tones fit so well together.

If has a weakness, it’s likely on the melodramatic end of things. The overarching story is fine but far less focused than the still-fresh prequel, . What starts as a missing-persons mystery quickly spirals out of control. By the middle of the game, it’s all-out war between four major criminal organizations, a shady corporation, dirty politicians, and all the sub-factions underneath.

Things settle back into the relatable interpersonal stakes the series excels at but not before giving in to the series’ worst storytelling impulses . One major villain too many is conveniently silenced by a mysterious gunman’s bullet, for instance. One (or perhaps two or three) too many women are used purely as plot devices with nothing close to the agency of literally every male character in the game. desperately needs to crawl over this female characterization hump, but if anything it has regressed a bit by laying up the once-playable Haruka in a hospital bed for most of the game.

I make this look good

When it plays to its strengths, however, does justice to the muscle-bound big boys it lingers over. It’s electrifying when a boss’ name, title, and entire clan lineage slam on-screen as he and Kiryu fling themselves at each other in a slow-motion clash leading into a seamless camera twist starting a fight. And it remains electrifying every single time it happens. Simply put, no other game of this scale holds a candle to on stylistic impact and consistency.

That sense of style goes beyond camera cuts and character models you can count every pore off of, too. One early scene sets the tone when Kiryu meets with an up-and-coming Yakuza looking to seize a top spot in the Tojo Clan. With just one line of dialogue and some stellar voice acting, the character both appeals to Kiryu’s vanityaddressing his once-legendary status in the organizationand makes a thinly veiled insult about his predecessor’s fading star. Kiryu, in response, says everything he needs to by saying nothing at all.

It’s a small, subtle kind of interaction, but those are sorely missing from many big-budget video games where spectacle seems so much more marketable. And manages to sneak these moments in constantly among the explosions of blood, sweat, raging emotions, and fighting spirit. It’s not the blend of bombast and character drama the series has ever seen (that’s still for me), but it’s up there.

I expected something slightly different for Kazuma Kiryu’s closing chapter. I expected a look back at the tangled web of his life and the lives he’s drawn to himself over 30 fictional years. Instead, cuts through that web and down into the bone of the characteras well as the series itself.

The execution isn’t always perfect. After so many very similar games, maybe that proves could use a total reset right about now. But this is still an appropriately larger-than-life send-off for a larger-than-life character who doesn’t lose sight of why he got that way in the first place.

The good:

The bad:

The ugly:

Verdict: sums up its lead character succinctly and emotionally, while shaking up to make the return ride feel fresh. Buy it.

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