Yahtzee reviews Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
So after God of War was about Kratos taking his pet semen sample for a walk, it's no secret that I think that narrative AAA games have a preponderance of "Serious Hairy Dad Games" right now, almost certainly because game developers and veteran players are now old enough to be dads themselves and want to envision a world in which their families actually respect them. All I'm saying is, surely there are other kinds of people with stories worth telling besides serious hairy dads. Why don't we ever hear about serious hairy mums? You know, games in which jaded and battle-weary mums escort their helpless child as they kick down the door of a Jamba Juice and demand to speak to the manager? (Oh, wait a second; does Bayonetta 1 count?)
Well, anyway, let's play Yakuza 6; hopefully, there won't be so many poignant lessons about fatherhood in a game centered around stoving faces in with other people's bicycles-- Oh, for fuck's sake, there's a baby! A baby that the hardened, permanently-scowling Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, has to amuse in a baby-amusing mini-game where we swing him about like a sack of spuds to fill the Baby Amusement Meter.
"Well, are you still surprised by the range of weird side activities in Yakuza games, Yahtz?" But this isn't side activity! This is critical path! And worth mentioning, because virtually everything else on the critical path is the same shit one should always expect from Yakuza: there's a massively-convoluted plot to take over Japan that Kazuma Kiryu discovers and foils basically by accident, during a personal investigation he started pursuing after he got really cross about a beautiful innocent lady being dishonored, and the story is told through a series of prolonged scenes of very serious-faced men staring at each other saying ominous things until they get bored and start hitting each other with bikes. There's one particularly hilarious scene where one dude starts splashing gasoline around, and the other dude just continues to sit, angrily staring at him, because it's literally the only way anyone in these games knows how to deal with situations. "Maybe the match will go out if I scowl slightly harder at it!"
This time, as well as the usual dicking about in Kamurocho, we get to spend time in Hiroshima, where the plot eventually centers around a mysterious secret that the town's leaders will stop at nothing to keep covered up, which I don't want to spoil, so let's just say it's a giant robot brontosaurus. Frankly, it might as well have been that; it's about as absurd, and in the end, what it actually is doesn't seem to matter a tinker's fanny flap, 'cos it never does anything. Kazuma Kiryu never gets to ride on top of the giant robot brontosaurus or slide gaily down its tail like on The Flintstones; it just shows up, looming over the houses, and all the characters look at each other and go, "Well, secret's out! Time to take our shirts off and start decking each other!"
This is all part of why I love Yakuza games: they're hilariously fucking dumb, and yet so earnest, you can't help getting invested. Having said that, Yakuza 6 definitely feels lacking compared to its predecessors. Kiryu is the only player character, the new Hiroshima sandbox is kind of low on content, and even Kamurocho feels a bit deader than usual; it wouldn't even let me play on the skill testers at the batting cages. And they haven't even tried to mix up the standard combat like Yakuza 0 did with switching around the main characters' favorite part of Neapolitan ice cream; it's just the usual "punch, kick, stomp, bike-to-the-face" combat. Incredibly unbalanced combat, as well. Nothing seems to be nearly as effective as picking up a bench and flailing it around; that just wrecks shit like a high-fiber diet. And when there are no benches, I eventually discovered that even the final boss is made your cringing, shirtless bitch if you just keep knocking them down with flying dropkicks. Don't you see, Kazuma Kiryu? The bench was in you all along!
The only major shakeup to the core gameplay is a leveling system where the XP is split between five stats - strength, defense, sage, rosemary, and umami - and it doesn't really add much except a delightful rainbow color scheme to enjoy as I go down my stats screen, halfheartedly mashing the A button to make them go up. If the intention was to try to encourage specialization, then it was a misguided one, because Kiryu is only ever called upon to deck people and none of the stats do much to change the effect of picking up a bench and going on a mandible safari.
But I think it's finally clear to me that the draw of Yakuza games absolutely isn't the main plot or the critical path. Look, I'm going to spoil every fucking Yakuza game's main plot now! Early in the game, there'll be a scene where you have a growly-voice, angry-stare sit-down meeting with someone important that doesn't end in a fistfight. Someone in that meeting is the main villain; probably someone shifty-looking, off to the side. At the end of the game, after the bit where everyone puts on dark suits and walks slowly down the street as the "we're done fucking around" music plays like we're going to a West Side Story-themed funeral, they'll be the one who pulls their breakaway suit jacket off to reveal their torso's built like a fucking double-decker bus with a Chronicles of Narnia poster on the back.
So forget all that; it is the side stuff that makes Yakuza games, that usually think to make me start laughing until my buttocks fly off into a sandwich. One highlight for me this time around was the "sexy Internet chatroom" mini-game, where a live-action video of a sexy lady plays as we have to complete a series of button prompts to type phrases like "YOU ARE SEXY LADY" and "MMM LOVELY BOOBS" in all caps, and I think what really made this for me was the image of Kazuma Kiryu typing in the bottom-left, still wearing the furious scowl he uses to confront dastardly villains. And then, of course, there are the numerous side stories wherein Kiryu demonstrates his unending willingness to humiliate himself at the request of random strangers. And none of this would be as funny as it is without the very serious main plot, which is as good a justification for its existence as any; when we agree to put on a mascot costume to amuse the kiddies, it's funnier because it's the Dragon of Dojima in there making a happy mascot pose, who, half an hour ago, made a roomful of Yakuza captains piss themselves 'cos his left eyebrow slightly twitched.
Oh yes, and in keeping with every Yakuza game, having a "main" side activity like the real estate stuff in 0 or Akiyama's hostess club/blue-ball factory in Yakuza 4; this time around, we have a street gang simulator. Yeah, I can tell you're serious about leaving the Yakuza life behind, Kiryu; that must be why you exclusively hang out with Yakuza and casually started a fucking street gang! We develop a fraternity of disillusioned young people and fling them Pokémon-style at enemy gangs in a series of contained real-time strategy battles, or rather, real-time "press the button to spawn dudes" battles, for there isn't much strategy involved. I only played four or five of them, but they all took place on perfectly-straight roads with nary a chance for even the simplest pincer movement; about the only strategy I figured out was to only spawn the big tank-top dudes at the start of the battle, 'cos otherwise, it takes so long for them to saunter leisurely into action that by the time they get there, it'll all be over and everyone will have pissed off to the ice cream social.
In case it wasn't clear, I'm not impressed by this whole side-quest; don't see why we needed a gang at all when Kiryu has taken on bigger numbers by himself with just his two fists and a communal seating area. And I'm less impressed by Yakuza 6 generally; yes, it's another idiosyncratic ball of Yakuza-brand fun, but it feels lesser than its predecessors: less player characters, less depth, less complexity, let's all forget about it and play Yakuza 0 instead. Ha ha!
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