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Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life review

Kiryu's final chapter hits hard

After I completed Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life, I don't think I recovered for weeks. It was almost new year's day, and I watched as it faded to black, the roll of the credits followed by the tinkle of piano. It hit me then: that was it, Kiryu's chapter had come to a close. As the music swelled, I remember thinking about all the great times I had shared with my buff boy. "Man, what a journey", I thought to myself, "but what a send-off."

And now I've revisited the action-RPG on PC, I'm not surprised at my response. This is easily the most intimate Yakuza game of the lot. There's no bouncing around different playable beefcakes, or upholding your position in Japan's criminal underworld; the focus is on family, and punching anyone who dares threaten them - as is Kiryu's way.

Yakuza 6's plot is immediately compelling, even if you're new to Kazuma Kiryu's punch-laden saga. After a three year stint in prison, he discovers that his adoptive daughter, Haruka, has gone missing. He returns to Kamurocho, only to find that she's been left in a coma after a hit-and-run. But there's one more bombshell: she's got a baby son called Haruto. In a state of confusion, he hoists Haruto into his arms and travels to the seaside city of Onomichi in search of answers.

Kiryu's initial impressions of Haruto aren't great.

And it's this switch-up from the hustle and bustle of Kamurocho to the quaint shores of Onomichi which sets Yakuza 6 apart from the rest. You'll flit between the two on occasion, but a large portion of the game is set in this peaceful port town. I adored its hushed streets and lazy orange glow, so much so I never wanted to leave. When the time did arrive, though, it elevated Kamurocho from a familiar crash of noise into a welcome injection of pace.

I reckon I became so attached to Onomichi because it felt like I'd started a new life there. I'd rocked up as a clueless Kiryu desperately in search of baby's milk to calm a bawling Haruto, and as I built relationships with the locals, they helped me transform into a fully-fledged dad who had no trouble getting a big smile off his adoptive son. (Technically grandson, I guess, but still.)

And Yakuza 6 had me grinning, too, not only because I'd seen Kiryu morph into a loving father, but because he was allowed to do so without a technical hitch; the game ran really well on PC. It has multiple frame rate options, with a slider that lets you jump between 30, 60, 120, and unlimited. I opted for trusty 60 fps, and I didn't experience any performance issues. If you've got a 4K monitor then you can crank the resolution right up too, although I only played at 1920 x 1080 with my RTX 2070. I found the higher quality presets available for PC gave environments and characters more presence compared to the PS4 version, too.

It's good to be back.

Onomichi's self-contained nature also makes Yakuza 6 the cleanest of the lot. And by this, I mean that it doesn't dump you into the midst of a plot thick with characters and motives and betrayals. Some previous Yakuza games felt like I'd sprinted after them the entire time, while questions tumbled out of my open backpack. Here I jogged alongside with ease, and comfortably matched its increasing pace.

By placing Kiryu in a setting largely detached from his past, I wasn't only able to keep up with Yakuza 6's story, I was also able to breathe, and to see a different, more vulnerable side to a character that I'd marked down as invincible. Yes, Kiryu was still a hulking mass of taut muscle fiber, but I liked that I could finally see him soften as he offloaded his worries to new friends, or imparted sage advice to a younger, greedier generation of yakuza.

But, though the Dragon of Dojima may have revealed a tender side, there were still plenty of heads to crunch and bikes to buckle. Yakuza 6's beat 'em up combat will be instantly familiar to longtime fans. You string together basic combos to bruise groups of thugs until you can pop your special Heat actions: flashy moves that'll let you fold enemies in two or pound them into dust. Uppercutting suits into the stratosphere felt as satisfying as ever, but as the game wore on I did become tired of enacting the same animations over and over (and over) again.

Here's me, getting absolutely battered.

I missed the multiple fighting styles of previous Yakuza games, where I could flit between sweeping clotheslines and rapid fists of fury; they felt wonderfully chaotic. In Yakuza 6, the combat felt too streamlined, like after all these years Kiryu had solidified an unbeatable style which suited his needs, but wasn't nearly as fun for us to control. It was the one thing that made me long for a return to his wild and unpredictable days.

Thankfully, my interest in Yakuza 6's substories never wavered. I fought some actual ghost pirates, thwarted a sentient virus on my phone, and dressed up as Onomichi's mascot - an orange-headed humanoid who wears a ramen bowl as a hat - to entertain some local kids. They are gloriously at odds with the seriousness of the plot and will genuinely make you belly laugh, but are just as likely to make you reach for a hanky. And if you've played any of the previous games, a number of emotional reunions await.

It's a shame that Yakuza 6's other side-activities aren't quite as strong as previous games. Much like the combat, they felt a bit trimmed down. There's plenty to crack on with, but I never checked my watch to find I'd lost hundreds of hours to a game within a game. The closest I got to this was with Clan Wars, a simple RTS mini-game where you lead an army of yakuza units into battle against enemy armies led by actual, real-life Japanese pro-wrestlers.

Although, I'm nitpicking here really. Yakuza 6 is an excellent standalone adventure for newcomers and a brilliant send off for Kiryu without the clutter of the other yakuza games, for better and for worse. I'm just happy I can hang out again with my favourite yakuza dad, who now smoulders at max settings.

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