Back in 2015, I got my hands on Yakuza 5. I was already living in Japan at that time, so it was delightful to see the series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu running around the streets of my city Fukuoka. But that isn't all Yakuza 5 has to offer. I played as Taiga Saejima hunting in a small Hokkaido village. As Haruka Sakamura I tried to become a pop idol on the streets of Osaka. I batted my way through the tough side of Nagoya as new character Tatsuo Shinada. The scope of Yakuza 5 is enormous. In 40 hours, I covered just 5% of the game which has 5 protagonists and 5 different settings. Yakuza 5 was released the day before Yakuza 6 was released here in Japan. Finishing it was all that much sweeter knowing the follow up couldn't be far behind.
However, Yakuza 6 is very different from Yakuza 5. In fact, in terms of scale and scope Yakuza 6 shares far more in common with the remake of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami, than it does with its numerical predecessor, Yakuza 5. We are back to basics here. In Yakuza 6 we return to playing solely as the series lead protagonist Kiryu throughout every chapter. Also in common with Yakuza Kiwami most of the action takes place in series staple Kamurocho, a take on Tokyo's infamous Kabukicho. Although they have added one more location, sleepy Hiroshima seaside town, Onomichi.
So as we break down Yakuza 6's main story back to one protagonist and just two locations what do we get instead? While I'm a huge fan of Yakuza 5, trying to shoehorn five protagonists into one story meant that it was a little bloated. You learned so much about each character that it was hard to keep track of it all. Yakuza 6 is streamlined. Following three years in jail, Kiryu is released back into the public, only to find his adopted daughter Haruka has been put in a coma from a hit and run. Not only does he discover this, but Haruka has a son, and it is up to Kiryu to find his real father. It's an easy story to follow and more relatable as this is a quest close to Kiryu's heart. Of course, inevitably, he ends up mixed up with Yakuza based shenanigans.
The mix of serious and comical side quests are here as always. The best one so far is having the chance to run your own cat cafe.These work the same as previous titles in the series where you encounter them randomly as you wander about the streets, listen in on other peoples conversations, or answer your phone. You will stumble across these everywhere and there is no time limit so you can complete them at your leisure.
There are also two new systems of side quests available for the first time in Yakuza 6. The first is Troublr. This is an app on your phone which alerts you to crime in the area which you can go and solve. These do have a time limit but are very limited in themselves anyway. Mostly they are simple tasks consisting of "go to the place and beat up the guy". Sometimes, you instead go somewhere and fetch an item. You get a small amount of EXP for these but no real addition to the story.
The second is the Kiryu Clan. A new criminal gang JUSTIS has reared their head in Japan and it is up to Kiryu's clan to take them down. These fights are strategy-based as you slowly deploy members of your clan to join the fight. You can recruit new members on the street by defeating them in combat, and the more the fight with your clan the stronger they become. The first one is part of the main quest but after that, the choice to use the clan system is entirely up to you.
The biggest disappointment so far with Yakuza 6 has been the changes to the combat system. In Yakuza 5 each fighter had just one fighting style they were proficient in. However, with four fighters which you changed between throughout the game, with wildly differing styles, you would never tire of the combat. In Yakuza Kiwami you can only play as Kiryu, but all the fighting styles of the other characters carry over. During battle you can freely switch between a Brawler, Rush, Beast, and Dragon styles, depending on your opponent's weaknesses. In Yakuza 6 you are taken back to only using Dragon style. As such far less strategy goes into your combat here.
Instead, the level up system has changed. The skill tree is replaced by a list of skills you can obtain using various EXP won in battles. These different kinds of EXP level up everything from basics like health and strength to combos and heat techniques, as well as basic things like running distance. I don't believe putting all these things in the player's hands is necessarily a good thing. There are so many options to choose from here I simply leveled up what I could without paying the whole system too much mind.
Fans of the series may also be a little disappointed to see a lack of their favorite characters. Many staples of the series, such as Majima, Saejima, and even Akiyama, so far have only shown up more as cameos than central parts of the main story. Haruka is, of course, lying in her coma and Shinada appears to have left altogether. Instead, we have a new cast of characters in the Hiroshima based Yakuza family which Kiryu befriends. These are based on famous Japanese celebrities such as Beat Takeshi and Tatsuya Fujiwara, both who you may know from Battle Royale.
Yakuza 6 is the last Yakuza game for our protagonist Kiryu. While the series has been stripped back to its roots for this installment I am still hoping that he can go out in the blaze of glory he deserves.
Our Yakuza 6 preview was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game will release on April 17th, 2018.