Zombies. It Looks like the walking dead are everywhere these day – movies, TV series and of course video games. Zombies have become very popular in recent years, and now is the Yakuza series’ turn to join the madness with Yakuza: Dead Souls. This is a serious deviation from the formula of past games in the series, which has always focused on beating bad, but rather alive, people with fists and baseball bats. Was adding zombies to such an established series as Yakuza a wise decision? Well, not really. All the zombie in the world cannot save a game with such a boring story, exhausting gameplay and annoying control issues. But It’s not all bad, because despite all this, shooting ridiculous amounts of walking corpses is always fun, no matter what.
Dead Souls is an open-world, single-player action-adventure game, with a storyline that jumps from one character in the Yakuza series to the next. This storyline can be sometimes a little odd and confusing (as befits a Japanese game), but overall it’s fairly shallow: the fictional district of Kamurocho in Tokyo (the less fictional city) fell victim to a rather serious epidemic of zombies, and four tough men, dressed like they came straight out of the 70s, come together (kind of) to save their beloved district, while victims keep piling up. From here the plot pretty much stays the same, with some twists here and there to try and stimulate the player, who at this point has long since entered a coma from killing so many zombies and skipping through the tedious Japanese dialogue.
The game opens with Shun Akiyama, the loan shark with the red jacket who first appeared in Yakuza 4.Akiyama is also the most boring character in the game; he is indeed nice and pleasant man, who can shoot two pistols simultaneously, but he pales in comparison to the other playable characters, which include a one-eyed psycho who seems to revel in his zombie-killings, and a huge blonde man with a machine gun for an arm. The fourth character is of course Kazuma Kiryu, the star of the series, who offers a little taste of the classic Yakuza with his iron fists. The four main characters are the highlight of the game – each with its own personality and behavior, and they help in adding some humor and fun to the game.
Since you only experience the little story there is through cutscenes or dialog segments in which the player has no control over what’s happening, the story of Dead Souls often feel disconnected from the game itself, with little to do with the player. It’s very difficult to connect to the characters or develop any empathy towards them, because the only time the player controls the character is when it is killing astronomic amounts the zombies. There is almost no connection between the story and gameplay of Dead Souls, which greatly cheapens the gaming experience, and makes it nothing more than a casual action game. The story is nothing more than a background for Yakuza: Dead Souls long and exhausting zombie-hunt.
The gameplay of Dead Souls is divided into two parts: an endless scampering through the infected parts of the district, and : an endless scampering through its normal, safe parts. When in the “Quarantine Zone”(where all the zombies are), all you have to do is run from point A to point B and kill as many zombies as you can on the way. Since most of the story progression is done there, you will get to eliminate many, many zombies during the game. When you want to take a little break from all shooting, you can go and take a walk around the populated areas of the district, and grab something to eat, gamble a little, play tennis, go fishing and even hit on the waitresses. There is lots to do in the world of Yakuza: Dead Souls other than killing zombies, it’s just a pity there are very few reasons to do so.
It is possible to enter the “Quarantine Zone” not as part of the story, and just run around and do side missions, or rescue people. These side missions can be very fun, and even amusing, so if you will fed up with the less interesting main story, you can always pick up a good rifle and start helping the poor people of Kamurocho (Of course, you’ll also get better items and a lot of experience points if you choose to do so).
The combat in Dead Souls is very different from that of previous games in the Yakuza series. First off – there is hardly any brawling in the game; it is still possible to pick up objects scattered around the map and use them as a weapon against zombies, but most are not very effective against them, and besides – all the characters have guns. Yes, for the first time a series of Yakuza, the combat puts a very big emphasis on shooting instead of punching and kicking. Each character has a unique weapon only it can use, along with a variety of other standard weapons like pistols, shotguns, machine guns and SMGs. There are also grenades and Molotov bottles for those large groups of zombies. Since this is the first time the developers implemented ranged combat into the game, there are naturally quite a few problems when it comes to the fighting. The most prominent problem is the camera: When aiming the weapon, the camera rotates to match the direction the character was facing, instead of the other way around (like most standard shooting games). It is very difficult and confusing during combat, and it’s usually better to just shoot from the hip in the general direction of the zombies.
Another problem resulting from a bad development is the gun’s aiming mode. There are two actual aim modes: one simply raises the gun in front of the character and allows it to strafe around the target (this is the mode mentioned above), while the second mode s much like the familiar “aim down sight” mode, which offers higher accuracy. While aiming down sight, your character can’t move, and the aiming itself is done using the left stick instead of the right one – completely opposite from any other mode in the game, where the left stick is for movement and the right stick controls the camera. This is a terrible and confusing decision, and you’ll often find yourself trying to aim while moving, only to get a screen full of sky while a zombie is nibbling on your character’s neck.
In general, the game suffers from serious control issues, which can frustrate and prevent the player from doing the only thing the game really has to offer – killing zombies quickly and efficiently. Dead Souls just serves to show how much the Yakuza series depends on its original formula that accompanied it throughout the years, and how difficult it is for the series to innovate and surprise.
I’ve already mentioned several times the zombies (yes, there are zombies in the game) that shamble through the streets of Kamurocho, but they are not only enemies in the game. There are several mutations (or more advanced zombies) which offer a little more challenge than your average zombie. These mutations range from smaller and faster (and a lot more annoying) zombies, to huge hulking beasts covered with a protective layer of rock-like skin which protects them from damage. They pose about the only challenge you face in the game, especially when they come in groups. But it’s very easy to learn what the best kill-method is for every type of mutant, so they become more of a diverse distraction in a sea of gray and rotting zombies, than an actual challenge. For a real challenge must deal with one of the game’s many bosses.
The bosses in Yakuza: Dead Souls are the real challenge in the game. It’s not that they are too difficult or clever, it’s just a matter of endurance – they adhere to the classical method of multiple life bar and clear attack patterns. There’s a recommended strategy against each boss, whether it’s a constant lead barrage or finding a way to remove a damage- resistant layer (and then bombarding it with lead). The bosses offer a welcome respite from the constant running around, and pose a real challenge for the player (though not a terrible one). It’s also nice to see that every boss looks differently and act differently from its predecessor, despite their common themes (e.g., glowing weak points). There are occasional boss battles that are more annoying than challenging, but for the most part the bosses are the fun part of the game.
Dead Souls is generally well designed, and the graphics in the game are certainly worth attention. Character models all look quite realistic, with believable facial expressions and body movements. Even the less important characters seem real enough to sell the illusion of a living and breathing world with actual people living in it. Other textures in the game are a little simple or blurry at times, but the bright lights of the shops, combined with the compelling destruction of the quarantined area, definitely helps the game to look good. The music also does a good job, and is very suitable for the game’s general vibe – it is upbeat enough for the systematic eradication of the zombies to feel intense, but not too loud or arcade-y to disturb. All of the dialogues are done in Japanese with English subtitles, which on one hand feels more authentic, but on the other a bit weird and funny because of the tendency of the voice actors to give an overly dramatic performance.
As a whole, Yakuza: Dead Souls is not an especially good game. Gameplay is repetitive and even boring at times, the story lacks presence, and the problematic control issues during combat can lead to frustration and anger. The game’s graphics are not bad, and the diverse boss fights help break the monotony of killing zombies, but it’s not enough to make Dead Souls more than it really is: a bland action game lacking originality, that only hardcore Yakuza or zombie fans will find reasons to enjoy it. The rest of you might not actually suffer from playing it, but with a market saturated with zombie games, there are better ways to satisfy your appetite for brains.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.