Yakuza: Dead Souls Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3
Yakuza: Dead Souls is the latest Yakuza game from Sega giving us their take on the ubiquitous gaming staple of the Zombie apocalypse, right in the backyard of the Omni Alliance and the Dojo Yakuza clans. The game follows the trials and tribulations of Kazuma Kiryu and Ryuji Goda as they survive and battle their way through the district of Kamurocho, helped by Yakuza favourites Goro Majima and Shun Akiyama. The game follows the 4 protagonists as they clear the streets of the shambling cannon fodder while taking on a multitude of tasks from the local residents who still have all of their faculties intact. All at the same time as uncovering the source of the brain eating menace and playing a game of bowling, too.
The game starts with a sinister looking fella storming a Dojo clan office and unleashing the menacing plague on the unsuspecting Yakuza grunts, and ultimately the district, with our first rather wooden money lending protagonist Shun taking the fight to the streets to save his faithful assistant Hana. The gameplay in Yakuza: Dead Souls has a split personality of sorts with gameplay arenas divided into two main types. The quarantine zone contains arcade style run and gun sections where you can mow down the undead with a rather modest array of armaments and some close quarters action to deprive your enemies of their prospective lunch (That’s you by the way). The other less frantic free roaming section of Yakuza: Dead Souls give you a change of pace planting you to do as you please in the less bitey parts of the Kamurochi district where the infection is yet to spread. You can pass the time talking to the locals to pick up a side mission or two, maybe have a drink with some lovely ladies at the the hostess bar or perhaps modify your weapons and armour in your mobile hideout. The Kamurocho district is visually split with the ruined cityscape confined to the quarantine zone and the free roam sections filled with crowds of blissfully ignorant civilians unaware of the vast amounts of carnage and destruction taking place only a stone’s throw away.
Yakuza: Dead Souls has a few quirks to get over initially, with the controls throwing up the first hurdle to manage. They seem over-designed for a start with the arcade sections having at least three different control types to wrangle with. You will spend most of each mission running and gunning and it is satisfying for a time, while only being able to shoot in one plane i.e. directly in front of your character. This has its limitations and will leave you frustrated. Aiming your weapon to pop a zombie skull requires a button press which is very Resident Evil-esque; pinning you to the spot and bringing up a reticule on screen to reduce your foe’s appendages to bloody stumps leaving them a metaphorical undead worm on a hot pavement. Again this will leave you frustrated when surrounded by enemies and desperately trying to thin out the crowd with a more accurate touch.
In the days of twin stick third person shooters this is a massive oversight forcing you to concentrate on what your hands are doing and not the game. This could be understood in a more sedate experience to create tension but when your zombies are more 28 Days Later than Shaun of the Dead this doesn't quite work leaving you high and dry. There are some close quarters mechanics thrown in which don’t seem very well fleshed out either. In comparison to the game’s heritage of street brawling beat-em ups a quick copy and paste from Dead Rising seems to have been implemented here with items strewn around the play area to pick up and cave zombie skulls with. Unfortunately it is as stiff as some of the NPCs in Kamurochi leaving you to fall back on your ballistic weaponry nine times out of ten.
Last but not least is the biggest enemy you will face while playing, the camera. I’m still stupefied sometimes by the way some games are released with such unrefined and unfinished camera mechanics in this day and age. When we have game after game getting it right for so long. It’s the disconnection between the camera and the direction your character is facing which is my biggest gripe. Leaving squaring your sights at the nearest wall or pile of rubble instead of the twenty foot zombie behemoth behind you. It also suffers from the age old problem of picking the most unhelpful view point when you find yourself in any corner or confined space, usually giving you a bird’s eye view of your middle parting when the undead are closing in for the kill.
The free roaming sections offer a change of pace and gives you the illusion of freedom more than anything, allowing you to wander the streets talking to people, finding a side mission or hostess club to venture in. The uninfected area acts more like a free roam hub for missions rather than free roam world teeming with activities. Kamurocho is quite a small map in comparison to other open world games and to be honest this is a blessing as you will find these sections rather dull at times. They make you go for a little impromptu jaunt back into quarantine zone to scratch that zombie killing itch or maybe help a couple of budding film makers realise their dream of a zombie filled masterpiece with you as the star. The main plot missions throughout the game find you venturing in and out of the quarantine zone for a number of reasons and this is where the game is at its best. While the plot may never reach the heights of Metal gear solid it is entertaining. Some of the characters keep it alive and the change in pace each hero brings to the table is welcome.
The game does start slow with Shun Akiado but as soon as you are introduced to Goro Majima a rather eccentric Dojo clan member with a taste for zombie films and zombie killing, the game starts to pick up pace. Ryuji Goda and Kazuma Kiryu accelerating it further with their past history playing a part in their respective story arcs within the main quest. I wasn't familiar at all with past Yakuza games but I got quite a wealth of back story from the subtle and entertaining cut scenes within the game. Goro Majima steals the show giving the most memorable moments, with some quite funny cut-scenes coupled with truly inspired side missions which I won’t spoil. Word of warning - this is a game with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles, not a problem as the dialogue makes the cut-scenes more real and fitting to the game setting but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The game’s flow does pick up as the story progresses with the quarantine area growing along with your list of adversaries. You have the bread and butter zombie types with extra mutant variants on the side for good measure, again drawing parallels with other zombie franchises. You have the nimble types called ‘monkey boys’, rather large hulk types called ‘meat heads’ and Ill leave the rest to your imagination. Needless to say they mix up the combat nicely and each successful mutant take down yields zombie trinkets and supplies to help you in your quest. More of these enemy types are introduced throughout the game at regular intervals mirroring the increase in pace of the plot and applying it to the action. This is also felt with your change in character, with each hero giving you a slightly different gameplay experience. Be that through a combination of the plot driving different mission types and the unique signature weapons our heros are packing which offer a different slant on the gameplay. One special mention has to be Ryuji’s go go gadget arm which wonderfully transforms into a gatling gun at will - big grins all round! As you progress you can upgrade your character with the bolted on RPG mechanics which seem to be mandatory with all modern games these days. This allows you to upgrade your shooting and close quarters prowess along with your Inventory.
Another gameplay mechanic worth a mention is heat sniping which allows you to initiate a quick time event to instigate a devastating attack onto an enemies weak spot or exploding barrel to unleash a flurry of destruction, in theory anyway. I found this a little useless throughout the game with most barrels or fuse boxes being more of a damp squib and ultimately a waste of time. You also get to buddy up with a companion from time to time in the campaign offering you help. These NPCs are nothing to write home about in the AI department and become incapacitated quite regularly but they do take the attention away from you at crucial moments which is very helpful especially during boss battles.
So that’s a nice link to the best part, the boss battles. A real break from the normal combat and a real challenge with some truly interesting situations, having to manage sniping and zombie crowd control whilst protecting your campaign buddy is a stress at times but it is worth it and about the only time the game offers some real challenge. This was a nice surprise after battling with the game’s controls and zombie hoards to find the boss arenas well thought out giving you varied play spaces fitting to the boss’s attack routine. They are also forgiving enough for you to enjoy the battles, and hopefully won’t instigate a hissy fit resulting in smashed controllers and a warranty claim on your shiny LCD TV.
Things are pretty at times when you are battling huge mutant monsters and gigantic zombie hoards swarm across the screen towards you, but it is a mixed bag graphically with some muddy visuals and a somewhat depressing grey on grey colour palette. The cut-scenes are well put together and graphically sound with the art style going for the more clean high res texture look rather than hiding all the detail with post processing motion blur and bloom effects, as is common with western games these days. Music wise who doesn’t like a bit of Japanese electric guitar thrashing out of the TV whilst in the thrall of a zombie slaying rage. The game is quite a lengthy affair with about ten to twelve hours if you concentrate on the main campaign only and twenty-plus if you’re a completion junkie. It also has some treats thrown in to help with re-playability giving you new game options with all your mods and upgrades intact and greater difficulties to boot. While an alternate adventure mode gives you the option to return to the free roaming parts of Kamurocho to complete those unfinished side quests if you didn’t manage it in your first play through.
In all Yakuza: Dead Souls is an enjoyable experience and a must have for fans of Kazuma Kiryu and his kin, but is it a brilliant must have game? No, it is enjoyable and mostly fun while it lasts but the technical hiccups and odd design choices prevent Yakuza: Dead Souls from being exceptional. I believe it will be polarising for die hard fans also as the departure from street brawling and the more realistic setting may be a step too far. It is however a good way to spend your time if you find yourself hankering for some switch your brain off zombie slaying action, with the zombies being the ones who have to worry about surviving the horror for a change.