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Review

Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life Review: Tokyo Drifter

  • First Released Apr 17, 2018
    released
  • Reviewed Apr 17, 2018
  • PS4

Five Men And A Baby.

The Yakuza franchise is over a decade old, and in that time, its feature set has predictably grown. Over six mainline entries, free-roam areas became more substantial, additional playable protagonists were introduced, combat mechanics were expanded to incorporate multiple fighting styles, and more and more minigames were steadily piled on. Surprisingly, the latest installment goes the other way, discarding components that certainly won't go unnoticed by series devotees. But that doesn't end up being a bad thing, because Yakuza 6: The Song of Life successfully uses its smaller footprint to create a deeper, more meaningful impression.

The final installment in Kazuma Kiryu's story focuses on him alone, with the plot seeing the large cast of series-significant characters like Majima, Saejima, Daigo, and the children of Sunflower Orphanage make only the briefest of appearances before being tidied away. Adopted daughter Haruka, sympathetic detective Date, and hobo-turned-loan broker Akiyama play important parts, but exist on the fringes. The Song of Life centers on Kiryu as he returns from another long stint in prison, separated from the Tojo Clan, and unravels the mystery of an infant who's suddenly come into his care. The setup distinctly echoes the events of the first game, a seemingly purposeful decision which lets The Song Of Life act as a fitting refrain, giving Kiryu's final sojourn a roundness that brings a nice sense of closure to his series arc.

His investigations bring him to the port town of Onomichi, Hiroshima, where he encounters a lowly blue-collar crime family led by an aging, but supposedly legendary yakuza portrayed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano (a yakuza film icon in his own right, though his subtle mannerisms don't completely survive the transition). While the game unsurprisingly spirals into a complex and dramatic story involving underworld political alliances, age-old conspiracies, and a healthy dose of deception, what's ultimately memorable are the threads and character developments that explore what becomes a very significant, widespread theme: family. Kiryu's time meeting new people from different walks of life in a closely-knit small town has him reflecting on remarkably ordinary ideas as they exist in different facets of society--bonds of friendship in the face of adversity, loyalty in times of uncertainty, and caring for your ward as a parental figure.

These themes resonate consistently throughout the better part of Yakuza 6's narrative, and this includes the numerous, optional substories. You'll help children and parents resolve conflicts and try to understand each other's point of view. You'll see Kiryu finding true strength and loyalty in the smallest of gestures, along with the different ways friends and strangers can support one another. The writing in these stories is often corny, but that doesn't mean there isn't an endearing sincerity that regularly shines through. When the sentimental piano melody kicks in during pivotal scenes of moralistic resolution, it's hard not to be swept up by it all. The series' penchant for goofiness still exists, though it doesn't return to Yakuza 0's ludicrous levels of absurdity. Particularly memorable substories are ones which humorously explore Kiryu's unfamiliarity and disdain towards modern technology like drones, robot vacuums, and YouTubers. But even the game's most comedic series of quests, which involve Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi's adorable character mascot (who has an orange for a head and a fish for a purse) ends up becoming a touching reflection about having loyalty in town pride.

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These heartwarming stories are also a key component of Yakuza 6's new minigames. There are less of these side activities than previous entries, but much of what's included is more robust than usual, and in many cases, the substories attached to them are enjoyable enough to stop the simple mechanics from wearing thin too quickly. Spear Fishing is a score-based on-rails shooter that finds Kiryu helping an injured fisherman and orphaned fishmonger track down the shark that ruined their lives. The Onomichi Baseball League involves some light team management, pinch-hitting, and player scouting, but the story of Kiryu rallying a team of no-hopers is what really makes the whole affair great. The Snack Bar minigame stands out as a real highlight in this regard. It involves attempting to become a regular in a small, Cheers-style local's bar where Kiryu tries to forge personal relationships with a group of relatively unextraordinary, blue-collar folk. Its key mechanic is participating in group conversations where one patron has a vent about their woes, and Kiryu's role is to help provide supportive dialogue and refrain from saying anything selfish or dumb. It's lovely to see Kiryu try to resolve everyday, down-to-earth dilemmas and provide genuine acceptance and friendship.

Conversely, there's the incredibly involved Clan Creator Mode, which sees Kiryu unwittingly intervening in a war between youth gangs (whose leaders include real-world New Japan Pro Wrestlers, because why not). Taking leadership of one of these groups, you'll help Kiryu scout for soldiers, organize hierarchy, and participate in simple, real-time strategy-style street battles. You'll take a bird's eye view in skirmishes, where you can dispatch autonomous grunts as well as a limited number of leader characters with special abilities. Clan Creator is Yakuza 6's most substantial minigame, boasting online network functions that let you compete against other players, tackle daily missions and participate in a ranked ladder. Unfortunately, it's also the most tedious to play. Victory strategies stem entirely from massing as many troops as possible and grinding missions to keep your leaders at a capable level. Battles don't really become challenging until the many substory missions are already done, and even then, the strategy more or less stays identical. For a mode with such ambitious scope, its mechanics and relatively uninspired plot--which mainly seems concerned with spotlighting its celebrity guests--aren't satisfying enough to make the long ride enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the Club Sega arcade once again offers playable classics like Super Hang-On and Outrun, but there's also complete, multiplayer-capable versions of puzzle action favorite Puyo Puyo, and the seminal Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, both robust offerings in their own right. Mahjong is back, a gym offers track-and-field-style minigames for above average experience gains, karaoke and a cat cafe provide enjoyable distractions, and a simple-to-master darts minigame features a substory that lets you take on a real-world darts legend.

Yakuza 6 also maintains the series convention of including more titillating pursuits. Cabaret clubs return, with a choice of six hostesses for Kiryu to woo through conversation minigames. Also notable is the particularly risque Live Chat, a minigame which sees you pay money to watch live-action webcam shows (featuring real-world AV idols, no less), while hitting button prompts to progress to the point where you can watch the models strip their clothes off and moan suggestively. The unambiguous objectification of women in these minigames continues to make their inclusion uncomfortable in their own right. Their presence does truthfully reflect prominent parts of the real-world Japanese nightlife and adult industries, but these kinds of minigames have always perpetuated an unbelievable inconsistency of character for Kiryu. There's a conflict between the canonical depiction of him as a strong, stoic, honorable saint, and a version who is a creepy, bumbling pervert. After ten years, it's still hard to believe Kiryu is someone looking to build a harem as big as the orphanage he owns, who madly exclaims "BOOOBS" and "IT'S GROWING" when a woman takes her top off. These activities do have their moments, though--the text-based quips of Live Chat participants can sometimes be laugh-out-loud funny, and courting hostesses mean you get to see additional, phenomenally good karaoke videos. But in the grand scheme of Yakuza 6, where heartfelt themes pervade all of Kiryu's character interactions, these minigames feel like distant outliers.

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The iconic red-light district of Kamurocho still plays a big part in the story, though it has a noticeably smaller area size this time around. You'll still feel at home if you've visited the area before, but there is a significantly disappointing lack of access to the Champion District and Park Boulevard areas. However, the distinct sense of a vibrant, bustling city still remains, and that's amplified by what feels like a more detailed and densely populated world. Walking around in the first-person mode is enough for you to appreciate all the surface level intricacies and changes, and there's a new element of verticality with increased rooftop access. But there are also some great advancements in the way the city invites you to engage with it.

Yakuza 6 now rewards you for interacting with the world in a way that previous games didn't. Eating at the game's many restaurants, which was previously really only worth doing if you needed a health boost, is now the most convenient way to rack up experience points to spend in the game's extensive upgrade system, though you're limited by a new stomach capacity meter. Purchasing and drinking beverages from one of the numerous vending machines around the world will give you cheap, temporary combat buffs. Every mini-game, from the batting cages to playing a round of Space Harrier will also earn you experience. The result is that slowing down and taking your time to soak in the atmosphere of the city will benefit you, and the world is no longer just a pretty path for you to run down to get to your next objective. Now, you don't necessarily have to feel guilty for letting yourself be distracted by Mahjong for hours.

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Onomichi, Hiroshima is a region that is larger than previous accompanying locales have been, although the sleepy port town is a much quieter, more unassuming area than Kamurocho. Situated by the seaside, cute greenery arrangements line its single-story businesses, an above-ground train splits the area, and narrow pedestrian walkways snake up the steep hills, leading to an impressive temple with spectacular views. It's a charming, authentic-feeling recreation of the more tranquil parts of Japan, which both you and Kiryu learn to cherish. The town's relaxed atmosphere and characters exemplify the Song of Life's wholehearted themes.

Of course, in order to keep that tranquillity, sometimes you need to pound a few dirtbags into the ground, and the game's updated combat system follows its philosophy of slimming and focussing. Gone are the variable fighting disciplines introduced in Yakuza 0--the Kiryu of Yakuza 6 is equipped only with an expanded version of his signature brawling style, perhaps another refrain to the series' beginnings. It still maintains its characteristic weight and rigidity, but there are additional factors that make the act of fighting feel more fluid than it's been in the past, turning encounters as a whole into more dynamic and exciting experiences.

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Enemy mobs are larger in The Song of Life, and crowd control takes a more prominent focus because of that. Set-piece fights that make up central story moments regularly see Kiryu and his companions go up against dozens upon dozens of enemies at once--a ratio that is frequently amusing. As a result, the properties of Kiryu's attacks have been altered. His throwing maneuver swings a victim around before letting them fly. Each combo string now allows him to execute two finishing blows as a default, and the second typically lunges forward with a wide attack radius. Starting a hard-hitting combo with some wise positioning means that Kiryu can feel like a human wrecking ball as he cleaves and plows through a group of assailants. You can frequently create domino effects that send enemies crashing into each other, and thanks to the game's new physics engine, into environmental objects like rows of bicycles, through glass windows, and potentially, into stores and restaurants.

That's the most significant change to combat--it now benefits from seamless transitions between world exploration and battles. Getting into a fight on the street no longer means coming to a jarring halt for a few seconds while a splash screen pops and civilians gather to restrict you to a small area. Fights now have the potential to move through the city and into areas like stairwells, rooftops, convenience stores, restaurants, and a handful of other accessible building interiors. It also means you have the opportunity to make a break for it if you're not in the mood to throw down. The dynamism and uninterrupted flow this gives to Yakuza's combat is a real wonder, and means that random battles are less likely to eventually devolve into monotony, as they could in past games. You could be strolling down the street, leisurely drinking a can of Boss coffee or taking a selfie in front of the cat cafe, and a gang of thugs can suddenly interrupt you, forcing you into a tight stairway brawl that eventually spills out onto a rooftop. Or, you might try to run and hide in a convenience store, unsuccessfully, and find yourself destroying shelves and sending snacks flying until you put an end to the chaos by slamming a thug's head into a microwave--just don't expect the clerk to serve you afterward. Combat in Yakuza 6 is exciting, and the situations you might find yourself in positively echo the kinds of scrappy, tense struggles you see so commonly in East Asian gangster films.

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The one mechanic that doesn't really hit the mark is the new Heat Rage system. It allows you to sacrifice your entire Heat gauge (earned by dealing and taking damage) for the limited ability to deal more damage, avoid being staggered, and perform unique Heat Actions, the series' entertainingly brutal takedowns. It's a useful tool on paper, but when activated, the camera zooms far too close to Kiryu, and you lose too much peripheral vision to make the technique practical in crowd situations or difficult one-on-one fights.

Another sticking point is one that's been present in all of the game's iterations--the inconsistent visual presentation. While the scenes that deliver pivotal plot events are absolutely spectacular--with uncannily lifelike character models, dramatic cinematography, and exceptional Japanese language performances--scenes that present lesser moments, like substories, are a dramatic drop in quality. As in previous games, they feature far less detailed character models and wooden, sometimes non-existent animation. Static camera angles also play a big part in aggravating their dullness. Substories make up a significant part of Yakuza games, so the low-end visuals continue to be an unfortunate blemish. Yakuza 6 is also entirely voice-acted for the first time in the series, and because the performances go a long way in enhancing the humorous and earnest moments these missions can contain, it's a shame that the presentation doesn't go to the same efforts.

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Yakuza 6 reins in its scope, but doubles down on what has made the series great. It's a unique and fascinating representation of the modern Japanese experience, worth playing even if you're a newcomer. The narrative is dramatic and sincere, and the game's endearing characters--coming from all walks of life--are interesting studies. The world is dense and rewarding to exist in, the dynamic combat system stays exciting even after you've kicked the crap out of five thousand enemies, and perhaps most importantly, Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life serves as a fulfilling conclusion to the turbulent, decade-long saga of its beloved icon, Kazuma Kiryu.

Back To Top
The Good
Endearing, sincere narratives permeate the whole game
Dynamic and exciting combat system rarely gets stale
Dense and fully realized world is rewarding to lose yourself in
Fulfilling conclusion to Kiryu's story
The Bad
Lackluster visual presentation in substories continues to disappoint
Clan Creator minigame feels shallow relative to its scope
Risque side activities remain at odds with Kiryu's ethos
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Edmond Tran has been an ardent fan of the Yakuza series since 2006. He spent around 65 hours completing literally everything Yakuza 6: The Song of Life has to offer, and all he got was a lousy Platinum trophy. The game was provided by the publisher.
117 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for adambarton
adambarton

sooooo....if i love yakuza 1 and 2....I.....buy...this..? What Do ya'll think folks?

Avatar image for pinkfloyd6789
pinkfloyd6789

Have the demo, didnt play it alot. Should give it a try

Avatar image for CRAPCOM1926
CRAPCOM1926

7 games later ( Or more) and i still dont care for yakuza which is weird i love japan.

Avatar image for DeviantCode
DeviantCode

Pedestrian dodging simulator. 6/10

There's about 10 hours of medium-complexity fighting game here buried under about 600 hours of Japanese soap opera. The story is pretty good, if you can sit through it.

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SpoonyPizzas

Is this a fighting game or a story game? If I liked Sleeping Dogs for its combat, will I like this?

Avatar image for Byshop
Byshop

@SpoonyPizzas: It's both. Sleeping Dogs seems the obvious comparison but it's a very different game from that. Sleeping Dogs is more of a GTA clone with some Batman-style combat.

The Yakuza games are more like contemporary adventure games with a heavy emphasis on complex combat and epic storylines with dozens of characters.

Moderator
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DeviantCode

@Byshop: Actually, the combat is very much like Batman/Sleeping Dogs. It's just a bit faster and they don't put the prompts for counters above the enemies. Combat in Yakuza mostly devolves into using QTE-type kill-moves and environmental weapons. Raising the difficulty doesn't do anything more than give enemies more health, which usually just means finding the right 3-hit combo to damage the guy and then spamming it until the higher healthbar is depleted.

I can't recommend Y6 for its combat, but its story is definitely epic and twisty.

Avatar image for Byshop
Byshop

@DeviantCode: I wouldn't describe it as that similar. The Arkham games and all of the games that basically rip off Arkham's combat (Mad Max, Mordor, etc) boil down to keep attacking in different directions until you see someone about to attack you, then hit the counter button, with bonuses applied if you manage to not miss with either an attack or a counter. Yakuza's combat predates this formula and it doesn't rely heavily on a universal counter button. Without that easy counter, you have to pay attention to where you are in groups and make sure you don't get surrounded, plus enemies don't wait until you're done doing what you're doing before they attack. Keeping to the outside of large groups and using weapons from your environment are good tactics. Although Y6's combat is a bit... streamlined compared to the previous ones it has more in common with previous Yakuza games than it does with the Arkham style games.

Moderator
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Berrlett

I loved Yakuza 0 and loving this, a very good and satisfying experience I still prefer the fighting in Yakuza 0 but 6 is great. Yet to start the first Kiwami.

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GameboyTroy

This is a great game. It's nice that VF5 is within the game.

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adambarton

@GameboyTroy: you can play virtual fighter in this game.......im sold

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Gelugon_baat

Apparently, there is one mini-game where real people actually appear.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

After looking at the sculpting of the faces of the characters, hearing their voice-acting and watching the camera work, I would say that it is unfortunate that the developers of the game couldn't make the facial animations and animations for body language better.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Lhomity: I do indeed believe that if something is not real, it's not an issue.

But then, do you yourself have limits on works of fiction?

For one, I would tell you about a certain campaign that players can undertake in Fantasy Flight's Dark Crusade RPG: the player characters kidnap war orphans from a Schola Progenium academy and subject them to all kinds of torment:

Force the kids to murder each other in pit fights for the amusement of Khorne.

Ravage and ruin their "innocence" to sate Slaanesh.

Brainwash them and implant sleeper cell programming into their heads and release them back into society - the Great Conspirator Tzeentch would be happy.

Or turn the boys and girls into walking time-bombs that unleash plagues from Grandfather Nurgle.

Among other things. The players have to describe how they wreck the children, by the way, and the GM rewards them with more experience points and Infamy points if they come up with more awful ideas.

What do you think about this?

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siarhei

As someone who never played Yakuza and got hands on full game demo, it was allright. If you are a fan, then it's probably more value, but for an outsider like myself, it was fairly average.

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Mojoterra99

From scanning the comments I'm probably in the minority with my views. I think the devoper needs to have a chat with Bioware over talking sequences, ie animate your characters while they talk. Every time characters were talking to each other they stood perfectly still while speaking to one another. Correction they had a breathing idle animation that was going on but that made it look worse as its disconnected from the talking and that's not how breathing works.

As for the combat while it feels like it hits hard which is nice it feels like a dumbed down Tekken(with object grabbing attacks). It's cool this reviewer didn't get bored with it but I could see it wear out it's welcome quickly.

Avatar image for deactivated-5b0457a4d6084

I’ll be rocking this game on my Pro and LGB6 tommorow.

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Striker-F0x

Anyone else see the ragdoll physics and think back to The Bouncer from back in the day on the PS2? Definitely buying this now just because of that

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doorselfin

@Striker-F0x: Wow, I remember The Bouncer. Deep cut.

Staff
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iX-gamer

I can't wait to try out the cabaret club in this game which is my favorite part of the series lol

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twztid13

Why is this being reviewed a month early? Or more accurately, why is it not being released for a month if there's a final, reviewable build available?

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Berrlett

Playing Yakuza 0 now and its my first Yakuza, seriously everyone with a PS4 should try this, its awesome, rich story and multiple fighting styles and tons of activities to do.

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ChrisAnetkaC

This game alone is worth getting a PS4 for. I'm hanging from a cliff by a fingernail, holding my PS3 in one hand. The PS4 abyss is below with its whirlpool-like mouth wide open. It's only a question of time before it sucks me in. Help me, PC.

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GameboyTroy

Good job Sega and Ryu ga Gotoku Studios. The Yakuza game series is interesting and the games ended up being good.

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Lhomity

Characters in video games are virtual objects. You cannot objectify something that is already quite literally an object.

Opposing the objectification of real women, in the real world, is perfectly fine - and we should be opposed to it - but we should stop calling out stuff like this in art when it isn't real to begin with. Video games are escapism, and their content is not real.

Most GameSpot readers know the difference between reality and the fictional occurrences within a game. GameSpot reviewers should learn to do so too.

If you're not offended by the violence of punching, kicking, stabbing, and occasional shooting, that takes place in Yakuza, but are offended by sexualized characters, you need to get your priorities in order.

You spent hours and hours beating the crap out of people in game, and committing murder, but drew the line at 'objectification'.

..What?

JUST.
STOP.

This is why I don't ever visit Polygon, Kotaku, and the other psuedo-liberal websites. Just stop. You sound like a complete fool.

P.S. This is a really neat game. Not as enjoyable as Yakuza 0 was, but solid anyway.

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judaspete

@Lhomity: Did you watch the video? They have real life cam-girls strip for you in this game.

Avatar image for twztid13
twztid13

@Lhomity: sadly, it seems San Francisco has that affect on people. I wish there were other homes for gaming events, companies, everything, but that's where the tech industry settled early on, sadly. I think it has suffered immensely because of it's location, as has the movie industry (but I don't value that at all, myself). It will end up branching out more than it already has eventually, but until then we get hypocrisy exactly like you point out, from the vast majority of anything gaming in the US. People who push values on the rest of society that they don't adhere to themselves (gun control while they have armed security & have never owned firearms & stand to lose nothing with erosion of 2nd amendment, sanctuary state that affects citizens overwhelmingly negatively, pushing 'time's up' for rest of us outwardly at award shows while inwardly fostering the Weinstein culture & allowing it to thrive all while refusing to give recognition to victims of Weinstein & Polanski, etc for a few examples, and lots of times it's unintentionally, since they aren't conditioned to notice these things in their own lives, surroundings, but are groomed by those around them to find the 'evil' in those who don't share their political beliefs or way of life).

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Seven7Swords

@Lhomity: You make a good point. Most gamers are okay with the glorification of virtual violence but the objectification of virtual women is bad. One could argue virtual violence teaches people it's okay just as much as virtual objectification of women is okay. I am just glad Asian game developers typically don't cave into Western societal pressures like the SJW movement.

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doorselfin

@Lhomity: Interesting point of view. I don't agree with you, and felt there were additional problems with this stuff as I mentioned in the review, but thanks for visiting and reading all the same. Happy we both feel the same way about the Yakuza games in general, though.

Staff
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Starshine_M2A2

Is this better than Sleeping Dogs?

Avatar image for Mkeegs79
Mkeegs79

@Starshine_M2A2: This franchise has had numerous entries and you still don't know anything about it? It is somewhat like Sleep Dogs but it isn't as open like a GTA game. It is open but at the same time linear. It has a heavy use of cinematics since it is very story driven.

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DudeBroPartyYo

@Starshine_M2A2: I guess that depends on taste. Its different so its better in some aspects and not some others. I love Yakuza series

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USDevilDog

Very good and thorough review. It's going to be a crowded next few weeks for us with Yakuza 6, Ni No Kuni 2, God of War, Sea of Thieves, A Way Out, Far Cry 5, and The Show '18.

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BanHammer

@USDevilDog: preordered the show, getting far cry later, god of war seems like a must, and now yakuza 6 smh....with my car payment and other bills.....i think i can afford to walk to work for a while lol

Avatar image for twztid13
twztid13

@banhammer: wow, pass on MLB, far cry later, god of war a must, Yakuza 6 WAY later, as 0-5 first. Bought ni no kuni 2 yesterday, which you left out of your list. Still, great games & choices.

Avatar image for USDevilDog
USDevilDog

@banhammer: I hear you. My fiancee and I are saving up for our first family home so I have to be a bit less crazy when it comes to spending too much for games... but these upcoming releases are making it difficult. Must... play... these games.

Avatar image for twztid13
twztid13

@USDevilDog: congrats on the mature decision, though. Many can already have money for a first home, yet blow it before that becomes a reality. It says lots when someone saves up, & dpes withoug things you love in order to realize that dream home. The games will be there when you are living in your family house on your way to home ownership, so you can always go back & play later, though I know it's not an easy decision to pass on great games you're hyped for.

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USDevilDog

@twztid13: Thank you. I appreciate the words of encouragement. Military pay is decent, but I'm living in California so budgeting has been a bit tough. We've been itemizing everything and cutting some luxuries. We figure we can live boring for just one more year in order to reach our goal.

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koospetoors

Good review! I'm surprised reviews are coming in so early though, the game is only out in a month if I'm reading this right?

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life More Info

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  • First Released Apr 17, 2018
    released
    • PlayStation 4
    Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the final odyssey for long time protagonist Kazuma Kiryu.
    7.3
    Average Rating20 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
    Developed by:
    Ryu ga Gotoku Studios
    Published by:
    Sega
    Genre(s):
    Adventure, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol