Yakuza 6's Kazuma Kiryu proves that badass heroes have softer sides too

Contributed by
Mar 24, 2018

With all the talk on the news of violent video gaming causing violent behavior, you get to see what comes to nongamers' minds when they think of games. It seems like politicians believe that all video games are filled with hyper-violent, amoral men who only want to kill with impunity. There’s never talk of storyline or context behind the violence in games or the moral arguments behind it. It seems ironic that a government obsessed with military power appears to be blaming the all-American heroes of gaming like Private Ramirez of Call of Duty for apparently inducing gamers to take their gunplay into the real world.

So what about the hardasses with a heart of gold in the gaming world? There are characters in gaming that might be inclined to fight, but definitely reflect the morals that most consider traditionally desirable in men and women. One of the most memorable guys in gaming who kicks ass with the best of them but has complex character motivations and backstory is Kazuma Kiryu. Kiryu is the primary protagonist of the Yakuza series, and his various adventures through the dark underbelly of the Japanese criminal world show but one example of a franchise that can mix the entertainment of incredible (bordering on ridiculous) fighting with a poignant story starring a complex and admirable male role model.

In the latest entry in the Yakuza series, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, we see Kiryu expanding on the role of something of a surrogate father to two children, one that he's been taking care of off and on for a few games' duration, and another new addition. There are so many softer, kinder sides to the character that demonstrate, particularly in this game, just how good a guy Kiryu is and always has been, especially when it comes to the children.

Now, there’s definitely a lot about Kiryu that shouldn’t be emulated. He can be headstrong and hotheaded, and of course, there’s the whole being a former member of the Yakuza thing, but Kiryu has a way of showing that perceived weaknesses can be strengths in the right context. Kiryu was orphaned at a young age and was basically adopted into the Yakuza. His adopted father figure, Shintaro Kazama, was a captain of the Dojima Family and later split off to form his own family as an influential member of the Tojo Clan Yakuza. Although Kazama warned him, Kiryu wanted to follow in the footsteps of the man he most admired and became a member of the Yakuza.

Eventually, Kiryu was forced out of the Yakuza and ended up doing jail time to protect one of his dearest friends, Akira Nishikiyama. Kiryu was thrust into a tight position after he returned to the streets and found the Tojo Clan in a civil war after the assassination of its head official. Eventually, it was revealed that Kiryu was the next chosen chairman of the Tojo Clan, and even with all that power placed in his hands, including the ability to completely rehabilitate his name in the eyes of the Yakuza, Kiryu stepped down the same day after ensuring the peaceful transfer of power to someone else.

It became Kiryu’s greatest dream to live in peace and run an orphanage as a civilian. Though time and time again, fate would draw Kiryu back into the Japanese underworld, he continued to focus on his dream. As an orphan himself, he has a great love for children and goes out of his way often to do whatever he can to save any kids he encounters from the troubles they face. 

Kiryu’s martial arts prowess is almost unmatched in the Yakuza games, but he rarely succumbs to anger or resorts to violence without warning, the exception being when it comes to the treatment of women. Kiryu is a devout protector of women and refuses to fight them in any situation. In fact, I can recall only one time in the seven main series games where Kiryu was tricked into fighting a woman thief who was disguised as a man (who attacked him first).

There are video game characters of every imaginable gender, race, and orientation that are inspirational and great role models regardless of whether they use violence. Every time I hear the argument that video game violence is somehow harmful to the fabric of society, I always wonder why it’s never taken into account what context it’s in. There are few games that are filled with senseless gunplay and destruction, if only for the reason that it makes for terrible gameplay. Gamers want purpose behind what they’re controlling, and the goofy, dramatic, and ultimately very satisfying adventures of Kazama Kiryu are just one of the many fantastic video games that use violence in a positive moral context.