Yakuza 6 Review

Yakuza 6 Review

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How does one top Yakuza 0? My favorite game of 2017 was easily the best entry in the series. So what can Sega do to top that game? How will they cap off the story of Kiryu Kazuma? 

Overhauling the engine sounded like a good idea on paper. Introducing a physics basic combat system should allow for fights to play out more dynamically. New graphical bells and whistles should result in a prettier Kamurocho as well. The end product wasn’t as rosy as I envisioned though. Coming from 60 FPS of Yakuza 0 to the 30 FPS of Yakuza 6 took a bit of time to adjust. What good were dynamic brawls if the controls were less responsive? The visuals received a huge upgrade resulting in a game that didn’t look like a high resolution PlayStation 3 game but it was tainted by horrible aliasing. I would gladly sacrifice all the modern niceties of the Dragon Engine for 60 FPS and a clean image. The lighting, materials, and textures were quite remarkable but the jagged edges crawling across the screen during conversations and cutscenes were very distracting. 

Image clarity issues aside, I found the move to eliminate any sort of loading within Kamurocho or Hiroshima was a long awaited technological advancement for the series. I always liked how dense Kamurocho was and not having to see a loading screen while entering/exiting buildings or combat transformed the little district into one seamless space for shenanigans. I’m particularly fond of the upset restauranteurs who refuse to do business with Kazuma after he smashes into through the windows during a brawl. 

The move to a more physics based brawling system gave way to gems like this but it also sucked out most (if not all) the combat’s challenge. The running dropkick can bulldoze over half-a-dozen enemies like they were clustered dominoes. Heat actions were noticeably less abundant and toned down which genuinely bummed me out coming from Yakuza 0’s wince inducing bangers. But perhaps it’s a fitting departure for an aging Kiryu Kazuma; maybe he’s feeling too old for this crap.

Much of what I loved from Yakuza 0 is present in Yakuza 6 but it’s now viewed through the eyes of a 48 year old grandfather. I didn’t play Yakuza 5 but I was just as surprised as everyone else when I discovered she was Haruto’s mother. Baby Haruto was at the center of attention in this organized crime story and because Kiryu Kazuma’s the loving grandfather, he gets sucked right back into the thick of it. It was a solid tale of fatherhood in various forms but it was also a ridiculous one — just like every other title in this series.

Yakuza games always imparted life lessons and advice laced with wackiness but I felt Yakuza 6’s side stories lacked the wackiness seen in Yakuza 0. Kazuma was older,wiser, and a tad subdued and I felt Yakuza 6’s side stories reflected that this go around.

The big side commitments asked Kazuma to spend his time managing a small time gang to drive out another gang filled with Japanese wrestlers, manage a local baseball team, or make friends at a local Hiroshima bar. I completed the gang management but only dabbled sparingly in the other two. I just wasn’t drawn to these activities like I was with the slot racers and other activities from Yakuza 0. I would have liked to spend more time making friends at the Hiroshima bar but I got around to it too late and the inertia of the main story thread pushed me to just wrap it all up.

I would also like to take a second and give Sega props for including games like Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo. I finally found games that I wanted to play in the Sega arcades. Titles like Outrun, Space Harrier, and Fantasy Zone were interesting retro game artifacts but I never had much affinity to them. I am wondering if Sega will be releasing these inclusions as standalone releases on modern consoles. I know a PlayStation 4 release of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown would make some folks really happy.

If this indeed is Kazuma Kiryu’s final chapter in the Yakuza series, I think Sega did right by their man. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it was a solid effort considering the circumstances. I would have liked to have seen the technology handled better but I really cannot fault them for toning down the outlandish nature of the stories for an aging Kiryu Kazuma. Don’t misunderstand, there’s a sizeable chunk of crazy here — they just paled in comparison to Yakuza 0’s and is metered out by a lot more wisdom. It was always going to be tough to follow Yakuza 0 but I’m ultimately glad Sega dragged us all forward with the series. There’s nothing sadder than watching an aging star relying on past glories. 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Persona 5 PS4 Review

Persona 5 PS4 Review

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There was a tremendous improvement between Persona 4 and 3. And while I found Persona 4 to be fantastic, I had no idea it would become a breakthrough hit like it did. Its numerous spinoffs were evidence of its popularity – they even made a god damn fighting game! However,Persona 4’s success made me incredibly skeptical of Persona 5. How would Atlus top Persona 4? How much would Persona 4’s runaway success influence them? The last thing I wanted to see was a Chie knock off.

It was quickly apparent Persona 5’s cast differentiated themselves very well. Ryuji Sakamoto was a convincing dumbass that I actively wanted to slap silly. Ann Takamaki had an embarrassing outfit in the Metaverse but was offset by her kindness and determination for doing the right thing. Morgana was less outrageous than Persona 4’s Teddie and served as the Director of Sleeping for the player. I could go on with the rest of the cast but the key takeaway was how much of the cast had quirks, faults, and qualities that gave them a sense of dimension that I did not see in Persona 4’s cast.

The interactions with adults seemed generally pleasant and “normal” in Persona 4. This made it incredibly baffling to witness Persona 5’s awkward and unusual dialog exchanges. It was immediately apparent during the opening moments in the interrogation room and continued well into Sojiro’s introduction. The weird interactions would persist till the very end. It’s easy to attribute such oddities to questionable localization but, at the same time, I found it ended up somehow working for Persona 5’s theme of mistrust and misunderstandings with adults. Most interactions among the students and teammates seemed fine but with the adults? It can’t be helped, I guess.

I appreciated the amount of effort poured into realizing each target’s Palace. It was a step up from the retextured random dungeons from previous games; I appreciated the fact that each one had a thematically relevant gimmick. Castle infiltration, bank and casino heists didn’t exhibit many mechanical differences but it was better than running through hallways hoping to find the next staircase down. They could have trimmed the padding down a bit for the latter Palaces but in the end though. 

It seemed like the developers weren’t too keen on completely ditching the mindless and wayward dungeons of the past. Mementos was there for me to drill down and revisit from time to time. Thankfully side quests and gated progress gave me just enough reason to visit Mementos and a reason to leave. It was the epitome of mindless.

The combat received its share of additions and tricks in an effort to break monotony but it ultimately boiled down to exploiting enemy weaknesses and knocking them over for “All-out Attacks”. It’s still very much a turn based battle system and I had my fair share of Game Overs due to negligent play. It’s not brain dead easy but it brushes awfully close to it in spots. I don’t know how to make the battles more engaging but tossing out each elemental attack in search of a weakness was not a complicated strategy. The final bout leaned towards the more complex side of things and I wished there were more bouts like that throughout the game. Also, can they finally step away from the idea of the game ending when the protagonist gets incapacitated? Other people can resurrect as well.

As the Persona series makes its way onto the big stage, it was only fitting to see the game’s locale transition towards a metropolitan city like Tokyo. Persona is in the big times now and nowhere was it more evident than on the subway map; Shinjuku, Shibuya and other districts were now available for exploration. They had their share of shops, theaters, and activities to partake it in. Unfortunately I felt they were severely underutilized in the Social Link interactions.

I didn’t discover any mind blowing information by interacting with my teammates – they merely reinforced and elaborated on what I already knew. Time spent with Confidants yielded more flavorful stories that gave me more insight to the different citizens of Tokyo. I approached each one armed with a lot of intrigue. Unfortunately, they ended up with a side quest into Mementos. A few stories justified the use of the Phantom Thieves to change hearts and get the individuals out of sticky situations but others seemed like dangerous overkill. I understood the need to take down a con artist taking advantage of poor and uneducated people but should the Phantom Thieves be dealing with a controller mother What happened to just talking it out?

Recognition and online fame became a staple theme throughout the game. Not long after the formation of the Phantom Thieves, a fan site popped that tracked the group’s popularity. A voting poll showed how the people of Tokyo saw the Phantom Thieves. As more and more targets were taken down, the site’s meter would rise. Comments flashed by below the meter, giving some pretty convincing “internet comments”. They surfaced this data on transition/loading screens. They reinforced the idea of public opinion and popularity through the use of ambient chatter when we’re out on the streets and subway. TV stations regularly reflected the latest happenings of the Phantom Thieves. And if that wasn’t enough, they dedicated a screen to show off text bubbles of the public’s thoughts and opinions on all sorts of topics including the Phantom Thieves. I chose to downplay the need for recognition through my dialog choices but it’s difficult to ignore that when Ryuiji wants to leverage his Phantom Thief fame to pick up girls. By the end of the game, the entire group were seeking recognition in order to save themselves and everyone in Japan.

I just couldn’t empathize with their desire for online recognition but I appreciated Atlus for trying to tackle this phenomenon. Seeing Ryuji, Ann, Futaba, and gang get visibly upset that strangers were not recognizing their efforts for good was perplexing. It wasn’t like their real selves were being assaulted and yet they were consistently bummed out by the unsavory comments. I didn’t have time to worry about the relationship between our hero personas and the public, I had Social Links to maximize.

As I progressed, I wanted to maximize the time spent on Social Links development and minimize the time I spent in dungeons. By maximizing sneak attacks, swapping teammates in and out of combat, and tactful play, I tend to wrap up a palace with over a week to spare. This meant I would be spending a lot of time thumbing through Social Link or activity dialog boxes. It was then that I realized how much padding there was within each Social Link. I want each interaction to build upon the character’s story and not just a brief scene in a ramen shop. I would have also appreciated more hotspot options and scenes that took place within the major districts. Tokyo is a big city but it looked like everyone only enjoyed a handful of hotspots across this big city. I would have liked to compete with Ryuji at the batting cages or play some arcade games with Futaba.

The music and style of Persona 5 was undoubtedly stellar. I love the soundtrack to bits. Many tracks make repeat appearances throughout the game and I continued to jam to them all despite hours of exposure. Even the overly stylized menus never lost their charm. It’s not the most technically proficient title but running at a faultless 60 FPS with these stylish visuals makes for a very pleasant impression. I could have done with fewer loading screens though. (Likely a remnant from its legacy as a PS3 title as well.)

It’s always bittersweet to reach the end of the of a long game like Persona 5. Hanging out with the Phantom Thieves was a regular ritual for weeks and now it’s all over. I didn’t find the twist and final chapters of the game to be particularly wowing like Persona 4’s but I was left satisfied. I will gladly relive the good times through the game’s soundtrack though. I I wouldn’t say this game was a giant leap forward like Persona 4 but they expounded on the modern Persona formula in appreciable ways. If they were a bit more mindful of the excess and addressed some of the weaker aspects of the game for future installments, there’s a bright future for Persona.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was an excellent way to wrap up the adventures of Nathan Drake. I don’t want the rapscallion to star in another adventure again. I am, however, perfectly fine with more Uncharted games — especially if they are in the same vein as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Giving secondary characters like Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross their own adventure was something I wanted for quite some time. Although the bombastic action has become very familiar these days, playing as Chloe through the jungles of India felt surprisingly fresh. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Uncharted like this. A Thief’s End was a long adventure that explored Nathan Drake inside and out. The Lost Legacy fleshed out the likes of Chloe and Nadine more but they didn’t perform the playable deep dives like in the last game. As a result, The Lost Legacy was briskly paced like the earlier Uncharted titles. 

Many of the mechanics and ideas of A Thief’s End were remixed and brought over once again. Chloe and Nadine found themselves in an open area where they could tackle objectives in whatever order suited them. They fought through a train and bombed across the jungles in a jeep as well. Again, they were not fresh ideas but they were executed very well which made their repeat appearances acceptable.

Having just played more open ended games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Galaxy, The Lost Legacy (and the Uncharted franchise) felt restrictive. I was used to being able to go just about anywhere. It took some time to relearn the unspoken rules of Uncharted where only certain handholds, ledges, and selectively lit areas were accessible. Chloe fell to her untimely death numerous times under my control and I’ve played the game before. I cannot imagine how many times newcomers would die. Thankfully the checkpoints were generous and the load times were quick.

Franchises like Uncharted, God of War, and Assassin’s Creed do a great job of bringing mythologies, that I wouldn’t normally interact with, to my attention. The incidental learning is fantastic. I don’t know why I never looked up the origins of Shiva but I’m glad to know that she’s more than just a Final Fantasy summon now. It’s a shameful admission but I’m happy that Uncharted helped rectify that. 

I’m also glad to have played my first HDR game from beginning to end. I checked out Uncharted 4, Gears of War 4, and other titles briefly but the Lost Legacy was the first complete game. It shouldn’t be a surprise but the HDR implementation was great and the visual presentation as a whole was top notch. However, the number of weird glitches that I experienced was unusually high for me. Normally, I wouldn’t face bugs like this in a Naughty Dog title.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune debuted 10 years ago and wooed me with a charming cast of characters. Little did I know, that 10 years later, I would be playing the fifth installment of the franchise starring none of the characters that debuted a decade ago. Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross were strong and likable characters; I would love to see more adventures of this magnitude starring the two of them. They’ve proven that Uncharted doesn’t need Nathan Drake to succeed.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Yakuza Kiwami Review

Yakuza Kiwami Review

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I loved Yakuza 0. It’s probably the best Yakuza game to date. It filled in the backstory of key characters like Majima and Nishikiyama by giving them more depth and nuance then I would have ever imagined. But as someone who started with Yakuza 2 and only experienced the first game through the included retrospectives, the game that started it all is a mystery to me.

Yakuza: Kiwami is a fine remake of the PlayStation 2 title from a gameplay and presentation perspective but I feel it’s a remaster from the story standpoint. Yakuza 0 placed its arm around me, showed me the sights around Kamurocho and introduced me to new friends. We sat around, had drinks, and took our time to soak in what this series has to offer. By comparison, Yakuza: Kiwami stumbled around for a bit and then sprinted towards the end. I felt like the game had a big story to tell but didn’t have enough time to tell it.

I knew key plot points, characters, and what happened to them but I didn’t realize that would be sufficient to move forward with the series. I discovered tidbits that colored certain characters in a slightly different light but none of it was earth shattering. Events certainly transpired but if I didn’t play Yakuza 0, I doubt I would have felt much sympathy for any of the characters involved in this game outside of Haruka.

Yakuza 0 built up Kiryu’s enemies throughout the game’s arch. It even built-up other characters that wouldn’t have made significant contributions until this game. But then there were folks like Jingu who were thrusted into the limelight and I’m supposed to conjure hatred for.

I didn’t delve into the side content like I did with Yakuza 0 because the idea of more pocket racing was just too daunting so soon after the deep dive I took with 0. What little side stuff I caught wind of failed to entertain like the ones found in 0 though. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained by tidbit though. I got a kick out of seeing modern recreations of Yuya, Kazuki, and Detective Date. This trio of characters were among the first that I met in my very first Yakuza title, Yakuza 2.

It’s tough to make a direct prequel like Yakuza 0 without it completely overshadowing the game the game that comes after it but that’s what it did. Advances in technology and gameplay design are one thing but the lessons learned in story telling and presentation makes me wish Sega would go all in and commit to a full remake. It would give the likes of Yumi and Nishikiyama more screen time to breathe. A full on remake would also give the developers an opportunity to rethink Majima’s role without breaking continuity. I didn’t mind randomly seeing him pop up in Kamurocho to fight Kiryu but not 3 seconds after seeing him get stabbed in the gut by his own lackey. I think his forced inclusion to Kiwami may be the most egregious offense.

But for $39.99 CAD, it’s tough to argue against picking up Yakuza: Kiwami. It’s the best way to experience the game that started it all without digging up a PlayStation 2 copy. Just remember: for better or worse, despite the fresh coat of paint and refinements, the story is still faithful to the original. I have nostalgia for Yakuza 2 and knowing it will also receive a Kiwami treatment of its own, I’m wondering how I will receive it. I guess we’ll find out next year when I expect it to make its North American debut.

 

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

Thanks to Sega for providing a copy of Yakuza Kiwami for review

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