While Yakuza games’ campaigns are always a highlight, there is another reason they shine. Each one has these substories that get Kazuma Kiryu caught up in the world. Instead of having to always deal with serious issues like turf wars, mob disputes and a terrible accident involving his adopted daughter, Kiryu can have a positive impact on the world around him in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. What is really great here is how contemporary this installment is with these optional quests. Many references things we see in our daily lives, but in a clever way where they will not feel too dated or as though they are capitalizing on a fad.
One of the first examples is “I, Hiji.” One of the first things that happens to Kiryu after returning to Kamurocho is having a virtual assistant installed on his phone. It is basically the Yakuza 6: The Song of Life take on Alexa, Cortana and Siri. Except, it takes inspiration from Spike Jonze’s Her too. Hiji is a self-aware AI who is going to have Kiryu do what she wants him to do and feels is best, with shades of HAL. The way it proceeds makes you think about what could happen with AIs, while still referencing our own lifestyles.
Once Kiryu gets to Onomichi, we get two substories nearly one after another that reference two amazing animated movies. In “A Freaky Situation,” we get a body-swap tale with a twist. A young man and woman are star-crossed lovers who switch bodies. It is more Your Name than Freaky Friday, but offers a self-aware take on the premise. Shortly after, there is “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” which… well… references The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. This time, the idea of a young woman who can time-leap her consciousness to the past to alter things is played straight. It is interesting to have these two happen in such close proximity, as both reference the original sources rather well, but tackle things in a way where they can feel timeless.
It is in that same chapter that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life salutes yuru-kyara, the Japanese practice of creating mascot characters to represent towns and regional products. “Oh No! It’s Ono Michio!” transforms Kiryu into Ono Michio, Onomichi’s mascot. He is talked into presenting himself as this mascot and performing for children, noting the meaning behind each part of his attire and giving it his all to promote the town and its culture. It captures the whole approach and reasoning behind these characters and is not only entertaining, but enlightening since it can help people understand how these figures work.
But the one substory that really rings true takes place in the seventh chapter. “Like, Comment, Subscribe” introduces Kiryu to the influencer life. Kiryu runs into a guy named Hiroshi. The guy has got a phone on a selfie stick and is putting together a video called “Kamurocho Yakuza: Up Close and Personal” for the views. (One of Kiryu’s best lines here is, “Are kids really that annoying now?”) He is willing to risk it all to go viral, which means Kiryu has to follow him along as Hiroshi takes part in increasingly risky and stupid activities. This is one I would rather not spoil, but know that his second attempt to get people watching is to visit the batting cages to “test” the speed of its fastballs. It is sharp commentary on what people are willing to do for fame, but handled in a way where it is contemporary while being applicable to similar situations.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is full of these substories that nail the details. They manage to be contemporary, but tackle these subjects in a way that does not make them seem like they are trying to capitalize on fads. Rather, everything comes across as genuine. It is an enjoyable opportunity to see takes on modern life and references to things you may have heard of or loved.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is available for the PlayStation 4.