The Yakuza series has been very successful for Sega in Japan over the years, amassing a strong following across various PlayStation platforms from PS2 onwards. However, for one reason or another, it's never really caught on in Western markets. There's a core group of followers, but whether it's been due to belated releases here or that it's simply been too Japanese for Western tastes, it just seems as if the series has never gotten the attention it deserves. Perhaps the time has come with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life? It is the first game to make the full transition to the current generation of consoles (previous Yakuza titles were released on both PS3 and PS4), and we've only been made to wait just over a year for it (and not three years like with Yakuza 5).
And on that note it should be mentioned that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life does a great job of settling in new players. The first hour or so is mainly spent looking back at the events leading up to the game, mainly focusing on main franchise protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and his relationship to his ward, his chosen family, Haruka.
Kazuma Kiryu is all about honour, and so he accepts a four-year prison sentence to somehow buy his way out of the life and to ensure that his orphanage on Okinawa isn't dragged down with him. Haruka, a Japanese pop idol, announces her retirement on stage while stating her support for the former Yakuza-man. Of course, things didn't turn out as he wanted. As Haruka returned to the orphanage on Okinawa the press caught wind of the Yakuza angle and she opted to leave. Fast forward three years as Kiryu leaves prison for Okinawa and he's left with trying to locate Haruka. It takes him back to Kamurocho, where it turns out Haruka has been in an accident and she's in a coma. To complicate things further she's had a baby. Who the father is and why hasn't she told anyone about this remains a mystery.
If this sounds like something out of a daytime soap, you're not too far off. Yakuza is a weird yet tasty cocktail of a Japanese take on GTA mixed with goofy characters and lots of mini-games and activities. It's steeped in Japanese culture and while it does give you an authentic vibe (walking around in Kamurocho is simply great), there are also elements that just don't really gel with our Western tastebuds. In particular, there was an introduction to a live chat mini-game that felt a bit on the cringy side of things, but these side activities are largely optional. Some of the mini-games are also returning, like the batting cages and the hostess club. There's also a cat café that sadly we didn't have time to visit during our play session, but apparently there's a side story revolving around its management. Yet another fun little aside was this story of Haruka's greatest fan, a little girl looking for her idol's merchandise that has been pulled from store following the reveal of her ties to the Yakuza.