Sega’s Yakuza franchise has a pretty strong cult following in America, but even the most die-hard of fans was surprised to learn the publisher planned to bring Yakuza: Dead Souls to the States. Forgoing the more serious crime storylines the series is known for, Dead Souls takes a turn for the weird, and introduces zombies into the fray. While it’s certainly an interesting choice, the game ends up falling a bit flat due to a pretty awful control scheme and lots of repetitiveness. It’s a shame too, because Yakuza: Dead Souls might be the last Yakuza game we ever get to play.
Taking place after the conclusion of Yakuza 4, Dead Souls finds Kamurocho overrun with an undead epidemic. It seems a rival of the Tojo clan has planned to take out the entire family by carefully orchestrating biological attacks on key locations around Kamurocho. Unfortunately for the normal citizens, the zombie plague soon turns into a massive outbreak. Players assume the role of four different protagonists in Dead Souls, and while each narrative is different, there are plenty of moments where the protagonists will interact with one another. Even though the game shifts its main focus from a hard-boiled gangster drama to a horror movie opus, Dead Souls is able to maintain its serious tone. While some of the clichés and tropes the game pokes fun at have just about run their course, Dead Souls is still chock full of the same strong character moments that have helped define the franchise over the years. Though it’s definitely bizarre to have series star Kaz Kiryu running through the streets of Kamurocho blasting zombies, there’s something enjoyable about a game that traditionally takes itself very seriously going out on a limb like this.
"There’s definitely some appeal here for longtime fans of the franchise that just can’t go without a new Yakuza fix."
For the most part, the only thing that really separates this version of Yakuza from its predecessors is the inclusion of zombies, and the focus on firearms instead of hand-to-hand combat. Side quests and optional mini-games have always been a big part of Yakuza’s allure, and most of them return in Dead Souls. Players can still go to hostess clubs, play around in the arcades, sing karaoke, and visit bars and restaurants of Kamurocho when they’re not dealing with the throbbing masses of the undead. Side quests are just as plentiful, and will deliver plenty of unique items, cash, and experience upon completion. Some side quests will even run their course over a few different characters, which is a nice touch to help further flesh out the world. It’s also reinforces the idea that the city boundaries are closing in around you when you constantly run into the same NPCs over and over again.
As great as it is that so much of what the Yakuza fans have come to love has made its way into this bizarre offshoot, there’s an awful lot of repetition keeping you from enjoying the game. Almost anytime you want to explore all the game has to offer, you’ll have to travel to one of the quarantine zones. That means finding one of the few entrances into zombie infested areas, shooting your way through hundreds of zombies, and finally making it to the other side. Once there, you’ll be able to do what you want… provided you’ve shot your way through the infected zone to get to where you wanted to go. Then you’ve got to do the exact same thing in reverse to get back to the non-infected part of Kamurocho to continue the adventure. What’s even better is that the zombies will never stop spawning. They will keep coming at you in hordes until you finally decide you’ve had enough, and you just make a run for it. Eventually you’ll just want to give up on going into the quarantine zones all together, and that’s a shame because Yakuza really shines when you get to experience every aspect the game has to offer.
Where previous Yakuza titles were basically open-world brawlers, Dead Souls relies on firearms quite a bit. Every character has one unique weapon, and a few slots to equip other guns that can be purchased. Almost all of the pistols come with unlimited ammo, but the bigger weapons, like sniper rifles, shotguns, and arm-mounted gatling guns, require you to continually stock ammo. Every weapon is upgradable, and the benefits of the signature guns far outweigh the negatives of utilizing precious inventory slots on ammo crates. There are few instances in the game more exhilarating than clearing an alley full of dozens of zombies with Goda’s machine gun arm. Since the sheer number of zombies constantly trying to rip you to shreds vastly surpasses the number of foes you’d previously have to fight at once in a Yakuza game, the shift to gun combat makes sense. The poorly designed shooting mechanics do not.
Mapping the manual aiming to the same analog stick you use to move wasn’t a very smart idea. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and pretty much forces you to make use of the rather mediocre auto-aiming way too much. The auto-aim will get the job done just fine when it needs to, but there have been so many strides in perfecting the art of the shooter over the years that it’s a little strange to see a title basically ignore the standards set by more impressive games like Resident Evil. Considering how much Yakuza heavily borrows from other zombie apocalypse shooters, it’s really quite baffling how such an archaic gameplay mechanic made it all the way through to the finished product.
Perhaps the most shocking disappointment of the Dead Souls experience is how old the Yakuza engine looks. Just a year ago, Yakuza 4 came out, and was one of the most impressive looking Yakuza’s to date. Dead Souls somehow takes a step backwards, and looks quite rough around the edges. Not only do characters look rather poor, but the zombie models were seemingly set on wash, rinse, repeat. Save for the special mutant zombies. They’re just cheap knock-offs of Left 4 Dead’s special infected - the Boomer, Jockey, and Witch. There are a few interesting boss monsters you get to fight, but for the most part you’ll be blasting your way through the same small handful of undead citizens over and over and over again. You’ll also encounter a hefty amount of slowdown when there are more than a dozen zombies on screen at once. Were that to happen just once or twice it probably wouldn’t be such a big deal. However, there’s almost always more than a dozen zombies coming at you. And heaven forbid you use an explosive, forcing the game to also render fire. Cut scenes still look great though...
Sega deciding to take such a strange diversion from the path with the Yakuza series was indeed head-scratching when Dead Souls was first announced. It’s even more puzzling once you actually play the game. There’s definitely some appeal here for longtime fans of the franchise that just can’t go without a new Yakuza fix. However, that appeal is very limited, and newcomers will end up wondering what all the fuss was about. At its best, Dead Souls is a very average zombie shooter. There are plenty of other games that do what Dead Souls tried to do way better, and at the end of the day, you’re better off playing one of those titles.
Release date : 2012-03-13
Publisher : Sega
Developer : Sega
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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