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

Game of the Year 2017 Day 3 of 3

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Best Old Game of 2017

Winner: Firewatch

Firewatch wins this category on a technicality because I simply didn’t play many older games in 2017. I was at odds with Henry’s cowardly ways; it’s very rare that I don’t find any redeeming qualities with the protagonist of an  game let alone an adventure game. He was a coward who ran away from his problems. I made it my mission to steer him back home and away from the allure of Delilah. I related to his growing infatuation with her even though she was nothing more than a voice. 

I came away reinforcing my own definitions of infatuation, love, and unconditional love. And for someone who was in the middle of a budding relationship, that proved to a bit helpful.

Best Game of 2017

Winner: Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 is a masterful blend of wacky and touching moments. It took me on a wonderful journey through 1980’s Tokyo that left me wanting more. Giving Kiryu’s backstory more airtime was nice but transforming Goro Majima into a more than just a wacky nuisance was the real winner here.

I’ve played my fair share of Yakuza games starting with Yakuza 2 and the sheer amount of stuff to engage with in Yakuza 0 was astounding. Not all of it was of stellar quality but I found myself enjoying the journey and not wanting to end. I even flirted with the idea of returning to 0 to mop up leftovers.

Runner-ups:

2. Super Mario Odyssey – There may have been way too many Moons to collect but for the vast majority of the time, Super Mario Odyssey was a joy to play. My only complaint? It didn’t quite dazzle me like Super Mario Galaxy did but then again, how many games can live up to that masterpiece?

3. Persona 5 – I’m technically still in the midst of playing this game but I really enjoy it. I – like many others – have a strong affinity towards Persona 4 and its cast of characters, so I was curious what Atlus would do to win me over with a new cast of characters. After a bit of an awkward and rocky opening, I’m finally hitting my stride with the game.

I adore the music and style which they unsurprisingly nail. But I’m a bit surprised with how invested I am with the characters and their stories. They’re grabbing with their shocking nature but I’m sticking with them to see how they handle these “classic tales of woe” in these modern times.

4. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – In a year filled with open world goodness, Uncharted games feel especially antiquated with their restrictive climbing mechanics and instant death pitfalls. But once I got my Uncharted legs back under me, The Lost Legacy was a wonderful way to revisit the mechanics of Uncharted 4 without the long commitment of reliving Nathan Drake’s final epic.

5. Metroid: Samus Returns – Almost any effort would have been seen as a success coming from Metroid: Other M. Metroid: Samus Returns not only successfully remade Metroid II: Return of Samus for 2017 but they also proved capable of taking the franchise forward with fresh new additions to Samus’ core moves.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – There’s a lot of promise shown in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I think Nintendo struck gold with this new take on 3D Legend of Zelda. But I want something more than dazzle. I want more to do and I don’t mean more shrines. Creative types had a ball coming up with clever ways to torment the denizens of Hyrule. If only I had the knack for making my own fun. Then maybe, I would have loved Breath of the Wild a bit more.

7. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Mario Kart 8 was number 2 on my 2014 list and it still holds up 3 years later. It’s easily my favorite Mario Kart title and it’s even better with this refined package. This time around, I found additional joy playing the game with friends and family in 4 player splitscreen. It’s the first Switch game that I played like one of those Switch commercials.

8. Nier: Automata – I like many of the individual elements of Nier: Automata but as a whole, it felt short. The soundtrack is phenomenal — I still listen to it on a regular basis. But the bland world and basic combat left me wanting. And while I understand that playing the game multiple times to wring out additional endings is appealing to some, I generally dislike it. I don’t mind replaying exceptional experiences but unfortunately for Nier: Automata, it wasn’t one.

But that soundtrack? Keep that on loop.

9. Puyo Puyo Tetris – I didn’t get around to reviewing this game because I never got around to completing I did enjoy what I played of Puyo Puyo Tetris. The campaign is silly nonsense that overstayed its welcome but I admire their heart. It’s a fantastic game filled with nonsensical characters and great puzzling action. I know I will be returning to it time and time again which is why it currently sits as one of two digital purchases for the Nintendo Switch.

10. Yakuza Kiwami – I experienced the first Yakuza through Yakuza 2’s recap video so while I had an idea of how the adventures of Kiryu started, I didn’t experience it first hand. I rectified that this year thanks to Sega’s remake dubbed Yakuza Kiwami. It was certainly extreme but coming from Yakuza 0’s ridiculous panache, it felt a little toned down and disjointed. Granted this was faithful to the original game but I think they may have been a little too faithful. Still, it was good to see the likes of Yuya brought out of the dark ages of the PS2.

Game of the Year 2017 Day 2 of 3

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Most Disappointing Game of 2017

Winner: N/A

I didn’t play anything that was disappointing this year. I wished certain games were a bit better in different ways but I didn’t find any title disappointing. It’s been that kind of year for me.

Most Surprising Game of 2017

Winner: Yakuza 0

 

I didn’t think I would be surprised by another installment of Yakuza. Yakuza 0 blew me away and reinvigorated my adoration for this franchise. It’s a fun, action packed, wacky adventure peppered with some of the most touching moments in games. It’s my fourth trip to Kamurocho but they somehow manage to keep it fresh with each visit. Also, who would have guessed Goro Majima was more than just a lunatic?

Runner ups: Persona 5, Metroid: Samus Returns

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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