Time waits for no man.

That is the single most central lesson in Yakuza 6. And whether you've been a longtime fan, or just came in with last year's Yakuza Kiwami, you'll feel it strong. Whether you've been with the Dragon of Dojima from the start and seen his growth, or whether you're watching an entire decade fly by in a blink, you're gonna notice.

And before we even get started on the review proper, there's that elephant in the room. This is the sixth game, not counting the prequel Yakuza 0 or various spinoffs. (Spinoffs that we mostly didn't get in the West to begin with) The last one to come out here in the US was a remake of the first game in the series. That's a big gap, and if you only got into the game recently, I could easily see there being that question about whether or not you're really 'welcome' here.

Well, I can tell you that you can absolutely enjoy the game without having played the others. The plot is...mooostly self-contained, and if you really want to know everything that happened, there's a Memories section on the main menu that will summarize all the previous games in Kazuma Kiryu's story.

But that said, onto the review proper. Yakuza 6, as the latest game in the Yakuza franchise, is the world's topmost simulator of being a Japanese tough-guy gangster who loves going to arcades, singing karaoke, and helping random citizens out with their problems instead of actually advancing the plot for like six hours.

At least, that's how it is when I play it.

So, how does our on-again-off-again yakuza badass get into trouble this time? Well, it all starts with Haruka. You might remember Haruka from Kiwami. Back then, she was just a little kid...But now, 11 years have passed. She's grown from a tiny little kid to a young woman.

There's just one problem. After Kazuma does a brief stint in prison, the last thing on his record finally cleared and him a fully free man, he returns home...Only to find no Haruka. She's gone missing in the time since he was last here. Kazuma is left with nothing but questions, the barest of possible answers...

And a child. With nobody who knows who the father is, and Haruka not around to provide that answer, Kazuma is left with only one task. To find the one man who can tell him what happened while he was away, by following the thin threads of a trail that Haruka left in her wake.

It's a heavy, weighty plot. And I haven't even touched on the other side of the coin, that of a new war brewing in Tokyo between the Yakuza families, and a ferocious Triad alliance moving in out of China to try and take up territory of their own. Because, yeah, that's there too, simmering in the background of Kazuma's personal story and waiting to make things that much worse for all involved.

So how does the whole thing play? It's pretty classic Yakuza. You run around in the tight Japanese city, you get into fights with young punks who don't know who they're messing with, and you get yourself lost in sidestories and minigames.

The fighting here is definitely distinct from how it was back in Kiwami. From the perspective of looking straight from that game to here, this is an older, wiser Kazuma. He's ditched the four distinct stances of his youth for a singular, refined style, pulling elements of all of his old distinct methods together. (From the perspective of having played the old games, they just didn't bring in the new tricks of the remake.)

Of course, if you came in from Kiwami, then we've got to talk the minigames. That game had some, yes, but 6 is just jam packed with the things. You can go train at the gym. You can go sing karaoke. Help folks with their problems at the bar. Enjoy your time with hostesses.

And this is the big one, you can go to the arcade. Do you like classic Sega games? I sure hope you do, because there's a bunch here. From shooters like Fantasy Zone to puzzlers like Puyo Puyo, to what seems to be a pretty arcade-complete rendition of god damned Virtua Fighter 5. Oh, and those last two? They have a 2-player mode available from the main menu.

Yes, you basically get two free competitive games with your single-player gangster game.

And yes, I spent at least an hour learning how to get good at Virtua Fighter instead of finding answers about Haruka. I have never claimed to be a good man, merely a man who likes punching real good.

Without giving any actual spoilers, the quality of the substories (as absurd as they can often be) is top-notch, as well. For every one that's just plain ridiculous, or a parody of a thing two years out of date, you end up with one that...Well, suffice it to say there's one near the start of the game that tugged pretty damn hard on my heartstrings.

So, that's a lot of really positive words about the game. But do I have any problems with it? Well...A few small things. Probably the biggest one is that the balance of gameplay to story to cutscene can be a little...wonky. It never hits full-on Metal Gear bad, but there were a few times where I sat down to squeeze in a good 30 minutes or hour of play, and found myself spending most of that in cutscenes, interspersed with me running two blocks to the next cutscene or fighting a guy really briefly.

But for a game that's so dense in story and rich details, you kind of take it as a given that you're going to be spending some time in that story. And sure, I could also bring up the fact that sometimes, it feels really awkward how they maneuver you into some of the substory stuff, shoving the triggers right in front of where you need to go (often for a rather serious thing that has to happen) so you suddenly get cut off by a cutscene introducing a new ridiculous problem to solve. But, really, it's all part of the fun, you know?

When you boil it down, Yakuza 6 is a hell of a ride, and a very unique game even within the open-world-action space. Its favoring of density over breadth, its focus on martial arts and improvised weaponry over just shooting everyone, and its wild mix of intense drama versus absurdist comedy, all add up to something you basically can't get outside of this series. Go get the game. You'll be glad you did.