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Yakuza 6 is a rare portrait of fatherhood’s hardships

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I finally found something in common with tough-guy Kiryu Kazuma

kiryu with haruto in yakuza 6 Sega

Aside from the occasional arcade game, there’s little of my own life recognizable in Kazuma Kiryu’s, star of the Yakuza series. But as a father of young kids who’s constantly learning the ropes, I’ve finally — and surprisingly — found something that Kiryu and I can bond over in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. When his adopted daughter Haruka turns up with a baby he didn’t know existed, Kiryu suddenly becomes the ill-prepared guardian of his tiny grandson.

Haruka was 10 years old when Kiryu adopted her in Yakuza Kiwami; baby care is new to him. For most of the game, Haruka’s baby son Haruto is a lovable football, occupying the crook of an arm or a basket as Kiryu goes about his business. But in a scene where grandpa and grandson arrive in a new town, Kiryu realizes he has no milk to feed the infant. He sets out to find a store still open, stopping to soothe Haruto when he fusses. This takes the form of a minigame, in which you have to interpret Haruto’s desperate baby wiggles and swing, lift, rub or “upsy-daisy” the baby according to his whims.

Calming down Haruto was surprisingly effective at evoking the panicked flop-sweat feeling of trying to soothe a baby in real life. Haruto’s gestures consistently convey what he wants, though subtly enough to be totally opaque for the first few attempts, and motion-controlled enough to be accidentally done wrong.

haruto minigame in yakuza 6 Sega

Although these moments are simplistic, they instantly put me back in the mindset of a new parent: stressed out by my desperate, futile attempts to glean meaning from the cries of a baby. (Or in my case, two babies.) My twins were born in 2013, and that first year was alternately wonderful and absolutely, bone-chillingly terrifying. Their moods changed for totally unknown reasons, if any at all. They were babies, after all. That’s how babies do — even if I will never understand it.

Parents learn to interpret their babies’ needs based on the time of day, how long it’s been since their last nap or feeding, and even by honing in on different kinds of crying, but there’s no perfect science. I think the best technique I used to understand my kids was being patient until they learned to speak. Now that they’re five, I feel like those uncertain days of spinning the invisible plates of their emotional and physical needs happened in another life.

Unlike me, Kiryu is undeterred by his grandson’s shrieks. Instead, he helpfully says out loud what he believes Haruto wants, if the player waits long enough for him to do so. This is a privilege no parent in real-life ever gets. I never had another self to consult — and when I did talk to myself, I wasn’t right every time like Kiryu is. Somehow, his wisdom outstrips my own, despite Kiryu just having a baby dropped into his life out of nowhere. Months of preparation for twins wasn’t enough to make me as level-headed as this calm, collected gangster grandpa.

But the gold does not stay. Soon after the soothing sequence ends, Kiryu hands the baby off to a stranger so he can have both hands free for a street fight. And once Kiryu locates the milk (Yakuza 6 spoilers ahead: Haruto isn’t actually hungry), the baby-soothing minigames end, and Haruto spends the rest of the game as an accessory. Equilibrium is restored, and Kiryu and my paths toward fatherhood diverge once again. I take care of my kids by, you know, feeding them and taking them on walks to the park and stuff. Kiryu takes care of his by throwing bicycles at anyone who threatens them. But despite their brevity, that a tiny Texan dad like me found anything in common with the tattooed gangster Kiryu is a testament to how deep a game Yakuza 6 really is.