Closing the book on Kazuma Kiryu


Spoiler alert

Warning: While I don’t go into any specific story spoilers in this post, there are some images from the game that might be considered spoilers.

I’ve probably started this blog three or four times now, and for some reason, nothing really seems to stick. I mean, how do you sum up a series that you’ve put years into? How do you sum up a series that others have thrown decades of their lives into? Does it stick the landing? Does it matter?

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life isn’t the holy grail of video games. It isn’t the perfect end to the story of Kazuma Kiryu, and it isn’t exempt from having faults. It probably isn’t the best game in the Yakuza series, since it suffers from a brand-new engine, and numerous storytelling tropes that the previous titles used so much that you can see them coming from a mile away here.

After I finished 6 the other night I booted up Yakuza 0 for the first time in forever, and kind of confirmed my fears: 0’s movement, combat and just quality of life felt better on every level. Despite telling myself that Yakuza 6 was going to be the game in the series that I finally tried to 100%, the more I played, the more I just wasn’t feeling it. Something about it just didn’t click.

It’s not all bad, though: for every FPS drop or awkward physics interaction, there are moments that make me feel thankful that I’ve put in the amount of time that I have to the series as a whole. Regardless of every plot point revelation that gets cut off by a gunshot from off-screen, Kazuma Kiryu has taught me a lot about fatherhood, honor, personal responsibility and the idea of sticking to your principles.

These games have made me consider what exactly makes up my tastes, and why certain things bounce off while others stayed. They’ve made me consider how I see other people enjoying things that I like, especially as Yakuza 0 brought the series into the spotlight of the mainstream. Despite knowing that it has changed how the series is developed — even negatively, in some cases — I’m okay with how things have come out.

And that’s all okay. Considering the track record for franchises these days, I think “not being utterly terrible and not disrespecting your older fans” is a good place to be.

Yakuza 6 is a game about fatherhood, and any game review worth its salt will mention that. This isn’t because of anything special; the game hits you over the head with it multiple times. We’ve been with Kazuma for decades of his in-game life, and the series celebrates its 15th anniversary this year — we know how things are going to go when it comes to involving people that Kiryu cares about.

However, I feel personally rewarded for that ride as much as any member of Kazuma’s family, mostly because the game feels like it’s thanking you, the player, for sticking it out to the end. It recognizes that you might come from any number of generations of fans, and you might’ve jumped on at any number of bus stops on the metaphorical route.

It references substories, characters and locations all coming together for one last proper hurrah; it celebrates its own history and progress, and recognizes that it’s in a different place from where it started. As the final scenes and epilogue play out, you get a great sense of closure that many people fail to achieve, and you’re happy to leave things as they are in favor of exploring new horizons.

That counts for a lot. Personally I’ve come across a large amount of disappointment when it comes to narrative loyalty in the past little bit. It’s been difficult for me to invest in series, especially when I know that there’s a paradox involved — if you’re liking something niche, there’s a great potential for you to lose what you liked about it when it inevitably gets bigger.

If you found it, there’s a good chance other people did, too. If the artist wants to keep making art, that means growing, and there’s always that risk that “that thing you like” can grow to leave behind the things that made you like it in the first place.

That possessive feeling — the desire to want things to stay the way you like it — seems almost selfish, and it was something that I had to confront as the Yakuza series reached a new audience with the Kiwami remakes and 0. As one of the series’ strong points is its ability to balance the melodrama of the main plot with the sillyness of the side stories, I felt that that balance had tilted a bit in a way that I didn’t like; for all its stereotypes of crime fiction, Yakuza isn’t inherently a silly series, and that was what the Internet was picking up on.

I feel like it’s similar to the Saints Row franchise, which found a similar delicate balance of goofyness with heart; that heart kind of got eroded, and by Saints Row IV things just got cranked to 11 in a way that was alienating and just exhausting. Playing became a chore, and mashing through any dialog because you know you weren’t going to enjoy it

Yakuza 6 didn’t do that, thankfully.

It’s difficult for me to explain exactly what makes the series so special to me. It was a major reason is me wanting to go to Japan, and some of the strongest memories I have from my trip to that country was because of things I did from the games. Sitting in a bar in real life that would’ve been placed in the in-game Champion District and listening to the bartender playing steel guitar with two people from Ireland was something I’m not going to forget. Hearing that he heard of the series and was thankful that it represented Kabukichō faithfully made me feel like less of an obnoxious tourist — I wanted to treat the country with as much respect as SEGA did.

So now we’re on the other side of things. I can go back and play Kiwami and Kiwami 2 if I feel like it, since I’ve never touched them, or I can grind out the 100% in Yakuza 6 that I originally planned. I can play Judgement, which is just sitting on my shelf, never-played, since I didn’t have time. I can wait for Yakuza 7, which brings a new protagonist and chapter for the franchise.

Things are “over” over in the way that I’m done experiencing what the developers have to offer, but it feels like one major milestone is complete. That kind of transition demands a bit of pause, and a bit of mourning.

Kazuma’s time is done: it’s probably good that we finally let him rest for a bit.


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