If chasing one’s dreams is the heavy-handed theme of Yakuza 5, familial relationships would be the one for Yakuza 6, although a bit more competently conveyed. I took a longer than average break between my playthrough of Yakuza 5 and 6 compared to how long I waited between 3 to 4 and then 4 to 5 and that was initially because of not only burnout from Yakuza 5 but also because I didn’t expect any good from the plot when the cover featured Haruka but also her son. After what Haruka dragged me through in Yakuza 5, I wasn’t sure if I could take more of it and I shelved Yakuza 6 for a while after tasting the first 5 minutes with the introduction (more of a return in my case) to the Dragon Engine tutorial fight with Nagumo.
When I came back however I was pleasantly surprised with what I got.
Yakuza 6 is the first game in the series running on the Dragon Engine, the same engine Yakuza 2 Kiwami would be on and the signs of its recency shows. Yakuza 6’s map consists of 90% of Kamurocho while the other half of the game takes place in a much smaller location in Hiroshima called Onomichi. Compare this to Yakuza 2 Kiwami that came after where you had the entirety of Kamurocho and the entirety of Sotenbori. It’s probably why I was able to finish Yakuza 6 so fast because Onomichi is so condensed that completing the main quest missions there went incredibly fast.
The leveling is likewise similar to Yakuza Kiwami 2, you get 5 colors of “stats” to spend which are obtained from combat, mission completion, and a bevy of other smaller accomplishments such as eating, running, using x items y amount of times, etc. The combat also is in the early stages of the Dragon Engine as it was significantly easier to plow through the game compared to Yakuza Kiwami 2 where weapon storing was more or less mandatory to deal with the frequently armed secret koreans. All you need to do in Yakuza 6 is unlock the quick-step punch and then bosses will be unable to deal with it like 80% of the time.
I think another big contributor to the shorter, rather faster, overall playtime was that there were seemingly no training missions to unlock higher tier skills like the Tiger Drop or other techniques like what Akiyama, Tanimura, and Saejima went through in 5. Everything was simply unlockable through points and even when Kiryu meets Saiga from 4-5, Kiryu doesn’t really learn much from him, at least from the 3-4 times I encountered him. There’s a new set of side-quests called Troublr that are time-sensitive and somehow pop up in the most annoying moments so consistently that I swear they were intentionally implemented to waste some of your time. There’s this one segment in Onomichi in Chapter 9 where smaller alleyways are cut off and you have to walk around the whole neighborhood to get to a request and I just could not believe the game would make me walk around the long way. There’s also troublr quests that pop up right in the middle of some plot development traversal segments and those annoyed the hell out of me.
Anyone who has kept up with my experiences with the Yakuza series knows that the story is what I’m really here for while the gameplay satisfaction of beating countless groups of sharply dressed thugs with bicycles is simply there to get me to the next cutscene. That being said, boss fights and the context behind them generally tend to be on the cool side of settling masculine pride with fists and kicks. Most of the time they’re cool, sometimes they’re not. Yakuza 6’s biggest plot points revolves around Haruka, her son, and baby’s mysterious father who you spend around half the time trying to find. With that backdrop, I didn’t have too high of expectations for her but what I was presented with was pretty competent for a Yakuza game.
Yakuza 6 feels like a better version of Yakuza 3 and 5 with cleaner execution. Yakuza 3 is the one that puts Kiryu in Okinawa to watch the kids and then gets involved with the plucky small-time yakuza family and of course, ends up putting them in danger as Kiryu becomes more accustomed to them. Yakuza 5’s elements of a grand overarching plot between the Tojo vs. Omi Alliance plotline as well as the Tojo Clan’s plan to ally themselves with the Kitakata Clan in Sapporo also get retread here but with significantly larger implications. Instead, Yakuza 6 deals with a multi-pronged war between the Tojo Clan against the Saio Triad, the encroaching return of the Jingweon Mafia, and the reclusive Yomei Alliance. Yakuza 6 also highlights just how out of ideas they were with characters like Saejima since he goes back to jail for a third fucking time and is a complete non-factor in the game’s events. Majima and Daigo have no part to play and you can bet Tanimura and Shinada aren’t ever coming back. Instead, the story is rightfully focused on Kiryu’s final ride but still manages to introduce some decently likable characters. My biggest problem with 3 was not its combat but how I didn’t care for most of its characters. Kanda was just a fat slob who continued to stain Nishiki’s legacy, Hamazki went and redeemed himself later in 5, and Mine was someone I simply never got the appeal of. The plot twists involving Black Monday and Joji Kazama also didn’t get met at all either. Rikiya’s death, while poignant, ends up like Shinji from 1 where it’s barely ever mentioned again. Hell, despite the ordeal they went through, I don’t think Kiryu ever mentions the Ryudo family ever again.
Yakuza 5 instead had some decent villains with Katsuya and Watase but they didn’t get much time compared to the backdrop of constant backstabbing and weirdly giving Katsuya’s goon more fights than Katsuya himself. Aizawa’s entire schtick of obtaining everything he wanted out of nepotism and not even wanting it for like 90% of his appearance in game stands at a decent contrast but I wish this sort of stuff was hinted at instead of having him act like someone else for most of the game. Yakuza 5’s plot was ambitious and even cool sometimes but it’s also incredibly stupid.
Yakuza 6 however scales down the playable characters but also has prominent side characters, basically combining 4 and 5’s Akiyama, Saejima, and Tanimura/Shinada’s roles with the Ryudo Family from 3. The Hirose Family is so prominent in the story and in joining Kiryu’s missions that they might as well be considered the “other” main characters of the story. Nagumo starts off a bit annoying and dumb, with how much he tries to fight Kiryuu but I grew to like him as he changes his tone and insists on calling Kiryu aniki. He is quite literally Rikiya except I actually felt something for him since Nagumo’s subplot with Kiyomi kept him a relevant character. Also it helps that there were other members of the gang that could fight well and join you in combat instead of that fat guy I don’t remember from 3 who was with Rikiya and the old guy. Akiyama also shows up to and is the only one who does something in the story alongside Date in protecting Haruka. Ironically, Haruka’s relevance in the story is minimal until the end since she spends most of the game comatose. Yakuza 6’s villains were also surprisingly tolerable, I might say that they’re on the upper echelon of villains in the series actually.
Someya is introduced right early at the start of the game to signal the change in Yakuza stylings from organized thugs into white collar crime, something that Kiwami 2 decided to play a part in with a less relevant Ibuchi, but Someya is definitely the standout character. He’s a tattoo-less yakuza who is young but in the running to take over the Tojo Clan as the next chairman. He’s fought multiple times and is also connected to Kiyomi, who more or less gives him the layer of depth that puts him apart from the other villains. Then we have Lo, the triad boss who has way more interesting things to say than just being another Lau Ka Long. Lo’s connection to the good guys came as a surprise to me but I thought his character after the revelation actually made him a bit more interesting. Joon Gi Han, or just Korean Vergil, doesn’t play as much of a role as I thought he would, which was kind of a good thing since we don’t want to spread out too thinly like last time. If you’re a Korean character in Yakuza but don’t have a japanese name, you don’t get any depth so Joon Gi Han is mostly here just to be a hilariously cartoony villain. At the very least he respects Kiryu’s legacy and legend, which is saying a lot from a Yakuza villain. I will credit Nakamura Yuuichi for a decently convincing display of pronouncing Korean. Last are the Yomei Alliance characters from Heizo Iwami and his son Tsuneo but I’ll talk about them in the next part.
Yakuza 6’s big thematic message is the importance of family, specifically the relationship between parent and child. Kiryu of course has this inherent in him with legacy information between him and Kazama and now with himself and Haruka. Someya, Hirose, Lo, and Iwami all go through. Kiryu even spells out all the parallels by the end if people didn’t pick up on it yet but I think the likable characters were able to survive the twists and turns of the story while bits of Yakuza 4 and 5 kind of struggled to rein it all in. Someya impressed me since I thought he’d be yet another irreverent up-start who thinks they can beat Kiryu and while he does start out this way, he shows way more respect to Kiryu than most other Tojo clan members have in the past couple games. Let’s not forget Kiryu fought 100 OF THEM AT ONCE IN 5 and people in the Tojo Clan still think he’s irrelevant. Lo’s story didn’t interest me all that much until his connection to the cast members is revealed and that he survived the fire that occurs in Little Asia. Iwami’s reveal as the main antagonist and subsequently being treated as a pathetic attempt to be yakuza also fit the tone well, call it an Old King Allant to the False King Allant effect where the actual last boss is a joke.
The identity of Haruto’s, Haruka’s kid, father is one of the three big plot reveals in this game and I honestly didn’t mind all three. As an established character I thought his reaction to the entire ordeal and what backroom decisions were kept from him was appropriate and never under his control. Since he didn’t act like Aizawa or something I felt that his character, while not great by any means, was still believable. The next big twist was, of course, Takeshi Kitano’s character. You don’t bring in someone like that and have him be the happy-go-lucky boss who takes care of babies, and just sits in a house all day. The reveal with him and his relationship with his own group of guys in the Hirose family once again makes a compelling case for parentage that I thought was appropriate. Last but not least is the Big Secret of Onomichi that ties the whole plot together and while it was kind of stupid, it actually does hold some level of real-world problems that goes strictly beyond the Yakuza world as it involves WW2 treaties and laws that would bring seriously unwanted attention so I thought, if nothing else, was once again appropriate.
The Iwami’s while not the most threatening or impressive certainly presented themselves better as villains a bit more competently than the villains of the previous games, at least, I thought that the lack of betrayals made for a slightly less stupid presentation. That’s honestly enough for me to not shrink away from the twists the game presented. The ending with Kiryu definitely felt like a decent way to keep his fate ambiguous and have it open for future appearances while keeping everyone he loves safe.
Other than that, the graphics were fine and I didn’t have much else to address. The Side Quests were the usual Yakuza fare, hilarious and difficult to ignore once you walked into one of them. Loved seeing Pocket Circuit Fighter again and didn’t expect a continuation of the cult leader from 0’s Majima side story too. There’s an entire sub-story based on the Clan Creator mini-game where you basically spawn yakuza to fight battles in some MOBA-styled lane combat that I didn’t bother doing and there was a baseball game that I ended up discovering way too late into the game too. I can’t tell if I should be laughing with or at Yakuza 2 Kiwami for more or less lifting this mini-game from 6.
All things considered, Yakuza 6 stands pretty well in my ranking of the series’ entries for its worthwhile side characters and villains while also not miring itself in a comically strung together train of betrayals. 0 still remains at the top of my Yakuza game rankings and I think 6 and 4 come behind it. It’s a real slobber-knocker for 1, 2, and 5 because there’s stuff to like about all of them but there’s a ton of stupid stuff in there too, 2 and 5 especially for the dumb stuff. 3 is the weakest for me because I don’t think the big twist nor the side characters and villains were all that great. I feel like my familiarity with Kiwami 2 and how hard it kicked my ass with all the armed enemies made Yakuza 6 a lot easier to punch my way through. Like with all Yakuza games, I’ll most likely play another game in between before I get on Ichiban’s wild ride.