Monday, March 26, 2018

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4) Review

I first dove into the Yakuza franchise at the fifth game.  It quickly proved that it was far from what I assumed it to be, and that it was very good.  The brutal combat and engrossing story won me over as a fan.  Now, it is time to look at Yakuza 6.

If you haven't seen the story trailer that Sega released, basically Kiryu goes to jail following the events of Yakuza 5.  Released three years later, he returns to his orphanage, only to find Haruka missing.  While trying to find her, he discovers she was in a car accident while protecting a baby boy named Haruto.  Seeking answers, Kiryu, with Haruto in his arms, heads to Hiroshima.

I mostly enjoyed the story, as there were many good parts.  One that I'll highlight is Nagumo.  When the game starts out, he is very annoying.  After a bit, you are presented with a development that makes him actually likeable.  The change doesn't feel forced, either.  The situations and dialogue are written in a way that genuinely makes him a better character.  That's rare nowadays, and other writers should take note on how it was done.

On the flip side, there's also some parts that felt drawn out.  Like the movie trope of "this would be over in 5 minutes if these people would talk to each other", there's a similar sense of that in Yakuza 6.  There are several parts where we wouldn't even have this story if people had just talked to each other, or made much smarter decisions.  Towards the end of the game, the story also feels a bit drawn out.  It's a bit of a mixed bag, but the story is still enjoyable.

The game flows much like the other two entries I've played.  The story is broken up into chapters, each with several main quests.  You walk around the various places, talk to people, and get into fights.  There are side quests and mini-games to distract people like me that wander around and do all of the side stuff.  Most are pretty fun or simple.  There's of course the Sega arcade, and even a full, 2 player version of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown!  However, one mini-game that I didn't like was having to calm baby Haruto.  I wasn't really sure which of the three options he wanted, and I think it changed each time you got it right or wrong.  So I was stuck guessing what would make the baby stop crying...just like real life.  Also, the few times you have to run around the town while holding him limits what activities you can do...just like real life.  Ugh, I'm getting flashbacks from a few years ago.

Anyway, one mini-game that I really enjoyed was the Kiryu Clan.  It's like a very bare bones version of a real-time strategy game.  In the fights, you have a meter that builds up over time, and the points accumulated on it are used to summon your forces to fight the enemy.  Normal troops cost a lot less than the leaders, as their stats are lower and they don't have special skills.  Instead, they have types, like the fast strikers, or the gunman who attack from a distance.  Which of these normal troops you can use, and the point cost of each, is determined by the leaders that you take into battle.  It's a really fun diversion from the main game, and I also appreciated the New Japan Pro Wrestling cameos in it, even if I only knew two of them.

For the most part, combat is still really fun.  There is one big change with combat that I haven't decided if I like.  Before, the Triangle Button was used for a stronger attack, but also was used for Heat moves when your meter was full.  While it still is used that way, Heat moves are now contextual, meaning you can only do them when certain criteria are met.  There are several different criteria, like grabbing them near a wall, at the end of a combo, or holding an object, but there aren't really any that you can just do.  This makes them a lot more uncommon than they used to be.  On one hand, I like this, so I can use the stronger attack while saving my Heat for stronger opponents.  On the other, combat is much less brutal-looking than before.  Sure, the Heat moves still look painful, but it is much harder to get the ones that make you say "Oooooh!"  There is also an extreme Heat mode, where you use your Heat orbs to enter a more powerful state for a bit.  This I really like, since it makes you feel like more of a badass while it's up.  It also makes tough fights much more manageable.

Experience has been reworked again, and I really like this system.  Fighting, eating, and finishing quests gives experience in one or more of five different types.  These points are then used to purchase skills and stat upgrades.  There are a lot of them to buy, so  unless you are very diligent, you will still have some left to purchase at the end of the game.  I really like this system, since even little bits of stat experience can be helpful.  My only gripe is that you need the green technique experience for just about everything, but it isn't the most plentiful.  A little more balance would make it near perfect.

While there are some hits and misses in the latest Yakuza, it is a game that I enjoyed playing, and should definitely be played by fans of the franchise.  It's a fun game in its own right, so new players can jump in here if they want to.  Still, I'd recommend starting with Yakuza 0 or Kiwami to get more out of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.

The Good:
Nicely reworked experience system, combat is still fun.

The Bad:
Combat lost a bit of its "oomph" factor, and the story can feel drawn out at parts.

The SaHD:
The physics engine does try to help with the less brutal combat.  One of my highlights is throwing a guy that hit the side of a moving car.

(Review code for Yakuza 6 was received from the publisher)

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