Welcome to your virtual Yakuza life.
The Yakuza series has long given players an incredibly detailed version of the red-light district known as Kamurocho. Over the series, Kamurocho has grown along with the characters, going through the ages and giving players more and more options. During E3 2017 we managed to get some hands on time with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and what we found was an incredibly intricate version of Kamurocho that looks better than ever and is absolutely packed with things to do.
Our time with Yakuza 6 dropped us right into the middle of the city with the ability to explore. Right off that, we noticed just how visually striking the city has become. Water on the street shines with reflections, while bright neon signs buzz above almost every shop. Tons of people mill about the street going about their business, while the map shows numerous shops, activities, and quests. Just in terms of visual appeal, Yakuza 6’s Kamurocho is one of the most appealing locations I’ve ever seen, and it was a wonder to wander around.
Luckily, maneuvering around the city is far more streamlined than ever. Once you do the initial load, Yakuza 6 has absolutely no load times, which means walking into a store takes you right into it, while getting into a fight happens seamlessly as you jump in and out of battle. This leads to a much smoother experience that constantly keeps you in the world of Yakuza.
Of course, no matter how good a location looks, it’s nothing without content, and Yakuza 6 doesn’t disappoint on that front either. We started our trip out by visiting one of the classic karaoke bars, which gives you a fun little minigame to play once again. The UI for karaoke has been greatly improved, making things much more immersive by designing menus as a kind of brochure. After that we headed to a hostess club to talk to one of the hostesses. This time, the hostess club minigame has been replaced by a kind of card game that has you matching types on cards to keep the conversation going.
Unfortunately, those were the only minigames we were able to try ourselves, but a SEGA representative did inform us of quite a few more that would be in Yakuza 6. All of the classic arcade minigames from Yakuza 0 will be present, along with the addition of Puyo-Puyo. At the same time there’s a couple of brand new minigames that certainly sound interesting. One is a sort of pseudo-RTS similar to the Cabaret Club in Yakuza 0. This has you managing different Yakuza family members and issuing them orders to invade another clan. There will be story attached to these, as you find out more about each characters in the substory. There’s also another minigame that SEGA only describes as a “baseball sandlot RPG.” With all the minigames in Yakuza 6, the design team took on a special philosophy according to SEGA, deciding that anything that couldn’t be improved would be completely dropped in favor of new experiences.
On the topic of substories, SEGA also confirmed that every piece of dialogue in Yakuza 6 will be completely voiced. This includes main story, substories, shopkeepers, and more accounting for a huge amount of voice work. We were told Yakuza 6 is a bit shorter than other titles in the series, with the main story taking roughly 25 hours, while side content will of course significantly boost that.
Probably my favorite feature in my time with the demo came with a small new addition a SEGA representative told me about. Kazuma can now take selfies in the game, posing and everything. The real twist comes with the fact that ghosts can randomly appear in your photos, however. Not just any ghosts either, as they’ll often be characters that died in previous Yakuza games. At the same time, there’s apparently going to be tons of references and Easter Eggs scattered throughout the game.
Combat has also been altered in Yakuza 6, moving closer to the original Yakuza games instead of the multi-style options in Yakuza 0. Kazuma moves much more deliberately now, and there’s a certain weight and impact that you can feel as his blows land on enemies. The heat gauge returns, letting you unleash super-violent heat actions on enemies, even more ridiculous than before. The one I saw had Kazuma picking up an enemy and throwing them feet first into a metal pole.
Yakuza games have always been an interesting blend of storytelling and quirky optional activities. It’s a uniquely Japanese series, and Yakuza 6 only leans harder into those inspirations. As a final hurrah for Kazuma Kiryu, we’re feeling optimistic from what we saw of Yakuza 6, but hopefully it has enough content and craziness to follow up the well-liked Yakuza 0.