Most Japanese RPGs are wildly fantastical and cartoonish in their setting, but attempt to stay grounded through relatable character writing and conflict. In contrast, Yakuza sets itself apart with striking grit and realistic tone, offset by absurd characters, events, and cinematic spectacle. This unique approach to storytelling is arguably what brought the series critical acclaim when it took its first steps in 2005, but where does it stand after having released six additional titles in only ten years? It’s certainly become a bit rough around the edges, but still retains all of the charms that made Yakuza the hit we know it to be. The series’ staples – evocative storytelling, explosive combat, and varied gameplay – are all present and accounted for, but sometimes it feels like they fell asleep in class, going absolutely AWOL for long stretches of Yakuza 6’s story.
I suppose before discussing anything else, it’s worth mentioning how the game runs on PC, seeing as this is a Steam review. My rig definitely isn’t anything special: It boasts a Ryzen 3 3100 CPU and clocks in at 8 GB of RAM, but the game ran perfectly nonetheless. I didn’t see a single bug or framerate drop in my 25-hour playthrough, so I’ve got absolutely zero complaints in that department. As for presentation, Yakuza 6‘s visuals range from being inoffensive to downright captivating. There are moments when visual quality, camerawork, and voice acting come together to create what can arguably be called some of the most memorable scenes in gaming. At the same time, there are no shortage of scenes where characters move and speak stiffly while the camera simply cuts back and forth between speakers, making for a level of dramatic quality I’d put just above a conversation between two Skyrim NPCs. From an auditory standpoint, Yakuza 6 is decidedly inoffensive. Combat, background, and menu music are rarely noticeable or memorable, which I take no issue with. Where Song of Life misses a mark, though, is with its Karaoke tracks. Karaoke has probably been the most popular of Yakuza‘s side content since its inception, but here, the songs are surprisingly restrained. Gone are absurd moments and animated music videos featuring our golden boy. Yakuza 6 features only three real music videos featuring Kazuma, none of which have much of the charm of their predecessors.
The side content, one of the big draws of the Yakuza series, also seems to suffer a lot in Yakuza 6. While it can be a little shaky quality-wise, the bigger offender here is its scarcity. This is especially true towards the start of the game, within the six or seven chapters that span the beginning of the Hiroshima arc. During this 6-hour segment (about a third of its total runtime), the only activity to distract you from the main plot is going to and praying at a local shrine. This was by far the most difficult patch of the game to push through.
This isn’t aided by the fact that Yakuza’s plot had hardly any momentum during that arc. Don’t get me wrong: by no means can Yakuza 6’s story be considered “bad.” It boasts a plot that is easy to approach and relate to. The important characters are well-written and important plot points always hit. However, in the aforementioned segment, a lot of characters and plot threads are being set up, and their importance and relevance aren’t immediately clear. That leads the entire segment to feel very disconnected and listless, especially towards its beginning. The most agitating part is how the game turns into a glorified walking simulator during this time. For long stretches, your objectives simply ask that you go from one location to another, talking to NPC after NPC while the plot stagnates. Looking back, it’s hard to hate the arc, since it develops characters that are very important to the payoff of the finale, but it’s easy to see that the game would’ve benefitted overall if they’d trimmed off some of its fat.
Yakuza 6 is a triumphant ending to the Dragon of Dojima’s story, even for all of its failings. If you’ve played many of the Yakuza titles and are interested in seeing how it all comes together, I can’t recommend this game enough. But if you’re new to the series, I’d definitely suggest you start out with Yakuza 0 or just about any other title, because while this game’s plot can tell a valuable story all on its own, it really does rely on all the stories that have come before it to elevate it to greater heights.