Yakuza is a strange series. I don’t even say that because it really is strange and full of so much quirk. I say that because Yakuza is onto it’s seventh game, has a plot which may as well come from Kojima, features the same city every time, and yet is only becoming more popular. That’s weird. Weird as Yakuza itself.

People are only just discovering its charisma. Excitement for Yakuza went a long way up after Yakuza 0 and Kiwami released (I guess prequels and remakes really can work). Now we’ve jumped five games ahead, and Yakuza has to play the accessibility game to cater to all those people who aren’t caught up on the in-between. Well, that’s not entirely true. Yakuza 6 doesn’t have to be accessible, it just tries to be anyway.

Which the game achieves quite well. Almost all of the important characters are new ones in new areas, so you don’t necessarily need an in-depth knowledge of Yakuza’s complex past. Remember how nobody watched Dragon Ball before seeing Dragon Ball Z, and didn’t matter ‘cause most of the old characters were barely present? Yakuza 6 is a little like that. You could pick up and go, like the way many movies deliberately start in the middle of a story, and you wouldn’t be entirely at a loss. Kiryu’s off to a new city, where he’s gonna get over-involved in the affairs of entirely new people.

The Song of Life is no less complicated than the rest of the crazy story it joins – such are the twists and turns that make these games so comically charming. The layer of conspiracy is thick. We’re talkin’ extra crunchy. Dolloped on so dense there’s enough left over you could make another Yakuza game.

Yakuza 6 is half the length of Yakuza 0, and with half the side stories. Actually the games is trimmer all ‘round. Where Yakuza 5 switched between five playable characters in five different areas, Yakuza 6 has only one playable character and only two areas, and keep in mind there hasn’t been a single-character game since Yakuza 3. This may be another consideration for new players, and/or SEGA’s realisation that focus is sometimes a better thing.

The layer of conspiracy is thick. We’re talkin’ extra crunchy. Dolloped on so dense there’s enough left over you could make another Yakuza game.

In fact, Yakuza 6 does away with several features. Kazuma only has one fighting style now. I was under the impression the four-style system from Yakuza 0 would continue, though I’m not particularly bothered by its absence either. The additional styles were more-or-less superfluous. I never bored from the return of mono-style, since the gameplay systems already allow so much variety within. Combat has a different vibe since we’re playing off a new engine, and after so many games with similar programming, I had to adjust to the new flow and feel of brawling.

The aptly-named ‘dragon engine’ has made space for a lot of small changes I’ve simply grown accustomed to in Yakuza games: there’s no loading screen for shops anymore; you can finally save anywhere; and the text-box conversations have been replaced by full-blown, fully voiced cutscenes.

Yakuza looks to the old guard of gaming when it comes to story. In a time when people tend to look down on cutscenes as lazy, games like Yakuza 6 are refreshing for how little they care. Trendy design philosophies be damned – Yakuza’s got story to tell. It’s befitting of a main character who’s also a bit of a relic, and knows he is. A guy who’d rather beat things with his fists than use those new and fancy methods he can’t be bothered with.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life review
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life review

That’s the thing about Yakuza 6; it makes a lot of long-needed changes at the expense of other areas. Parts of the game have grown while others have shrunk. The hostess clubs have been simplified to a shadow of what they were. Many of the mini-games could be considered substantial, though few of them could be considered interesting, except for the live chats. There’s even more of ‘em than host-less clubs, and they are interesting. A woman of your choice will strip for you while Kiryu and NPCs sound off in the comments. It’s the kinda thing Fox News might do a piece about. Is it perverted? Yes. Is it pathetic? Yes. The game knows it too.

You need look no further than the virtual comment section where users like ‘UncleDicky’, ‘7TimesDivorced’, and even Kiryu make such perversely lame remarks it’s actually amusing. Almost like the game’s doing it on purpose. Almost like it’s satire. Even the guy who initially inducts you is so hopelessly mesmerised he tells you he’s dumping his girlfriend. But don’t be surprised if some of the world doesn’t notice that. To be a parody, you’ve got to partly be the same thing you’re parodying, and the live chats gets dangerously close to the real thing.

But the point I was trying to get to before getting distracted by sex is that Yakuza 6 feels like less content for better production values. I have no issue with that. This series is often criticised for its technical quality and presentation, something Yakuza 6 takes personal responsibility in addressing. Consequently this is not the mammoth-sized game Yakuza 0 was, but a complete one nonetheless.

My familiarity of Kamurocho has grown alongside the visual fidelity, something Yakuza 6 works on particularly. Kamurocho looks markedly different from its days on the PlayStation 2, yet the city is the same. The gradually increasing detail of each game grows a strange sense of feeling to the place, like you’re coming to know it better every time.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life review
Yakuza 6 feels like less content for better production

There is another reason Yakuza has become so popular: it’s filling a want at the right time. At a time when people are catching open-world fatigue because big spanning spaces really aren’t interesting, Yakuza shows how smaller worlds with molecular detail can be more engaging. And this ain’t new: Yakuza been showin’ chumps how it’s done since 2005.

The highly relative question for you will be, "Should I play it?" If you’re a Yakuza fiend: duh. Just temper your expectations, especially with those mini-games, as they’re not the drawcard they usually are – even with a full version of Virtua Fighter 5’s arcade mode included.

For those without a Yakuza qualification, you could play the sixth game (technically seventh) in a complicated long-running series. But should you? Yeah you could, but why would you? Yakuza 6 goes to great lengths to accommodate you (in other words, reading), and you could pick up and roll with it, but unless you’ve got some condition which only lets you play new games, this is not the ideal place to begin with the series.