Yesterday at E3, we at Hey Poor Player were given the chance to step into the well-shined shoes of Dojima clan tough guy Kazuma Kiryu and explore the seedy streets of Tokyo in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
A story-free affair, the E3 demo for Yakuza 6 allows you to experience the many distractions found in the game’s two main cities, Kamurocho and Hiroshima, in free-play mode. I’m a little nostalgic, so I chose to spend my limited time with the game in Kiryu’s old stomping ground of Kamurocho to see how it’s changed in the years since Yakuza 5.
And to be quite honest, surprisingly little is different from the last time we set foot there. The city is as bustling as ever. Street vendors, salarymen, and local toughs fill the streets like you’d expect. But boy does it look pretty this time around! Neon lights dance playfully on the city’s rain-slicked streets, and the crowded stalls and shops are filled with just the right amount of visual clutter to look believable and lived-in. Yakuza 6 also sports some impressive animations that really work to breathe life into the world – especially during the game’s over-the-top street brawls.
Yakuza 6 pulls no punches
The hand-to-hand combat is more explosive than ever before in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Punches and kicks seem to pack more weight this time around which makes each successful combo or punishing throw feel all the more satisfying. One of my favorite moments from the demo happened after I grabbed a hoodlum by his head and smashed his face into a glass display window, sending him tumbling into a shop. From there I proceeded to bring the fight into the aisles of the small convenience store, finishing the melee with a Heat Move that sent the hapless hoodlum’s teeth tumbling all over the store’s counter – much to the shopkeepers chagrin.
It was during this fracas that I noticed that — save for before in-game cinematics — Yakuza 6 features virtually zero load times. Entering buildings is seamless, which really helps immerse you in the game’s gritty world. It’s great to look outside the storefront of a busy shop and see dozens of NPCs milling about outside, hawking their wares or simply making the most of Kamurocho’s busy nightlife.
While the combat found in Yakuza has always been fun, any longtime fan of the franchise will admit that the number of encounters with street punks who’re itching for a fight can eventually get annoying. Thankfully, it seems like SEGA has finally gotten the memo this time around. Rather than linger on corners and wait to harass the player, rival gangsters and ‘Menacing Men’ are walking about, doing their thing. Honestly, you almost have to go out of your way to pick a fight with them now. This will be welcome news for players who simply want to enjoy all of the sights and sounds of the city.
Hitting the town
Given its pedigree, it should come as no surprise that Yakuza 6 offers plenty of addicting mini-games to sink hours upon hours into. Feel like sending some balls into the stands? If so, then the batting cages are back and better than ever. However, the mechanics have been tweaked a bit since we last saw them. In previous games you had to aim towards targets in the outfield while timing your swing with the incoming ball. This time around things are a bit different, as SEGA has switched to a touchpad-based system. Pitches are lobbed into divided strke zone. Touching the corners and center section of the pad will select strike zones and move your cursor as you try to smack the incoming ball. As someone who’s typically struggled with the batting cage mini-game in previous entries, I found this to be a welcome change of pace. However, if you prefer to use the left stick to move your cursor like the olden days, you’re able to do that as well.
In addition to the batting centers, Kamurocho offers plenty of other distractions to help separate you from your hard-earned yen, such as darts, mahjong, hostess clubs, and fun centers. Feel like taking a crack at Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown to switch things up? Plunk a few hundred yen into the cabinet and go nuts! While only a small sampling of the game’s side attractions were available at the show, everything we played felt great. It’s hard not to imagine losing countless hours to Yakuza 6‘s full menu of time-sinks when the game releases next year.
Our time in Kamurocho was brief but incredibly satisfying. Between the lush visuals, punchy combat, refined mini-games, and trimmed down load times, SEGA is working some real magic when it comes to perfecting the Yakuza formula this time around. If the story manages to deliver the goods, Yakuza 6 could very well be one of the best entries in the series to date.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is slated to make its way west in early 2018.