I am choosing to be generous here; I think the Yakuza
series has earned that generosity by this point. There's two ways of looking at what happens to Kiryu in this game (not from a story perspective, but as a character). The first is that he's losing his mind, with the events of the previous five games finally taking an understandable toll on his sanity and turning him into something far more reckless, bloodthirsty, and unpredictable than he's ever been before - and the second is that he does so many things that are out of character simply because he's badly written, that other parts of the game suffered because so much energy and focus was expended on putting together the new Dragon Engine. If the way Kiryu frays at the edges and comes apart in this game is intentional, it's kinda brilliant (and to an extent, justifies an ending that is otherwise a little weak and deflating). If it's not intentional, well.....
So yeah, I get why some longstanding Yakuza
fans dislike this one, especially when you consider that so many series mainstays are completely sidelined here. Majima, Saejima, and Daigo all barely appear at all, spending the vast majority of the game in prison. Haruka is absolutely central to the plot but spends most of it in a coma, regularly spoken about but barely heard from at all. Akiyama and Date flit in and out of the picture throughout, popping up to help drive the plot every so often but spending much of the game offscreen. The Okinawa orphanage only appears briefly. The Tojo Clan's complex role in the overarching story of Yakuza
is scaled way back, leaving them as just another antagonist organisation alongside the returning Jingweon Mafia, the new Hiroshima-based Yomei Alliance, and the Saio Triad, who fill the role that the Snake Flower Triad had in previous entries. There are only two locations this time out too, Kamorucho joined by the new city of Onomichi in Hiroshima.
This isn't all bad; it's a consequence of Yakuza 6
having a far more streamlined, simple plot than any of its predecessors. Sheer overindulgence is one of the defining features of a series that has never compromised nor half-assed anything, but stripping away some of the bloat from the main plot is probably an overdue step, and the introduction of a new game engine is a sensible time to do it. At no point did I have to Google any of the characters in this to remember who they were, and why it was significant that they were turning up in a cutscene thirty hours after I last saw them - this centres on a much smaller central cast, which includes bigger name actors than ever before (including Shuya from Battle Royale [バトル・ロワイアル]
, Yoko from The Grudge
, Beat Takeshi from whatever you know Beat Takeshi from, and bafflingly, a line of sidequests featuring darts legend Paul Lim, who absolutely cannot act to save his life). This, really, is the greatest strength of Yakuza 6
; the Hiroshima crew are all charming, likeable new additions, the way they're given room to breathe without being crowded out by a personality as big as Majima is a refreshing change of pace, and the newfound sense of focus in the story helps the stakes feel higher in the game's final quarter, which is traditionally when Yakuza
stories start to crumble a little under their own weight. Were it not for that one final (and unnecessary, I would argue) plot twist in the closing cutscenes, I would have absolutely no qualms about saying this was the best final chapter any Yakuza
game has ever had. There are also some key benefits to the game engine - loading times, graphics, general smoothness - even though it's ever so slightly rough around the edges at this point. (No matter: Yakuza Kiwami 2 [龍が如く 極２]
would whip it right into shape the following year.)
Outside of the core plot, though, it's a step down. There are fewer memorable sidestories in this one than in previous instalments. Baseball fans will tell you that the baseball management minigame is brilliant, but I am not a baseball fan and did not understand a single thing that was going on. The cabaret club hostess dating simulator minigame is a bit of a slog. The clan creator minigame lacks the strategy and depth it would go on to have in Kiwami 2
. Recusing cats for a cat cafe is a fun idea, as is sending Kiryu into a gym and giving him a personal trainer, but not enough is done with either. Even the two major exceptions where the side content really works feel a little like missed opportunities: the spear fishing game is great fun, but only has a meagre three courses to play, while the Snack New Gaudi quest line - which sees Kiryu becoming a regular at a bar and befriending all of its patrons - feels satisfying (and very funny at times, if you play it for laughs), but is ever so slightly shallow and feels like it could have done with fleshing out a bit more. Onomichi also just feels a little on the empty side, with large chunks of the map containing little of any real interest; the lack of shops and restaurants is no doubt intended to be a reflection of real life (not everywhere can be as bustling as Tokyo, obviously), but it does lose something in enjoyability as it goes for authenticity.
Still, none of these criticisms of the side dishes really impact the main course, which - as long as you're prepared to give the writers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to some of Kiryu's behaviour, you don't mind the Tojo Clan being marginalised , and you can forgive the plot for completely chickening out on Kiryu's death
at the very last minute - is one of the strongest in the whole series. Given what a powerhouse this series is, that's saying something.