Yakuza: Dead Souls - Staff Review  

Kazuma Kiryu Gets it Together... With Zombies
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

Less than 20 Hours
+ Well-developed plot for a zombie game
+ Pleasant graphics
+ Lots to do and tons to explore
- Combat is a major step down
- Two forms of targetting for no reason
- Awkward camera
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   Zombies are the cool thing in town, and have been for years. Unfortunately it must be said that the industry's need to put zombies in everything may have been ill-placed in Yakuza: Dead Souls. Clearly Amusement Vision thought that adding the undead to the Yakuza universe would be something fans would be on board with, but the final product is a mixed bag. How much of a step back is it? It depends on your tolerance for repetitive gameplay and whether or not zombies as a theme matters to you.

   Yakuza: Dead Souls takes place during a zombie epidemic in the city of Kamurocho. Members of the Japanese Special Defense Force attempt to take control of the city by erecting walls to keep these brain-lovers from infecting the entire population. Sadly, the walls do not hold and most of Kamurocho is overrun by the undead. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure makes a phone call to the Dragon of Dojima and informs him that his adoptive daughter Haruka has been kidnapped yet again. Like any righteous badass, Kazuma Kiryuu makes a beeline for Kamurocho, and he's got friends with him. Shun Akiyama, Goro Majima, and Ryuji Goda all return from previous Yakuza titles to show that zombies are never as awesome as old-fashioned Japanese gangsters.

   The story of Yakuza: Dead Souls isn't exactly the most imaginative of tales. In fact, it spends more time being downright silly than serious. Regardless of how silly the plot may seem, it's enjoyable and does not by any means attempt to take itself seriously. In fact, while playing Goro Majima's sections, players learn his love of zombie films and see that he enjoys assuming the role of Ash Williams from the Evil Dead franchise. Each character's plot feels separate and shows minimal connections to the overall arching story, but all is forgiven considering how much fun each narrative is to play through. Seeing how the characters cope with the day-to-day issues of the zombie apocalypse makes for some entertaining dialogue and writing, both which are stellar.

   Sadly, the same cannot be said for the game's combat, which takes a huge step back from what players have expected from the Yakuza series over the years. On the surface Yakuza: Dead Souls is a third-person zombie shooter. It's also a shooter done wrong. Normally when gamers think of the Yakuza series, they immediately think of pulverizing enemies with bicycles and trash bins. Regrettably the brawler combat that makes the series such a joy to play has been stripped down in favour of shallow shooting mechanics. For some reason the game insists on auto-aiming, yet it often will hit walls as opposed to enemies and will only aim in the direction the character is facing. The two forms of manual aiming both feel unnatural on the dual-shock controller. Shooting is done with R1 as opposed to either of the triggers, and aiming requires the player to hold down either L2 or R2. To make matters worse the right analog stick does not sync up properly when attempting to aim manually, causing even more camera and control issues. This awkward setup creates a messy control scheme, a sloppy combat system and a poor camera that seems to do as it pleases.

All we wanna do is eat your brains. We're not unreasonable, I mean no one's gonna eat your eyes. All we wanna do is eat your brains. We're not unreasonable, I mean no one's gonna eat your eyes.

   While the gun mechanics are a bust, the RPG-elements still exist to some degree as characters level up and can allot points to attributes like shooting, range, gunplay, and even brawling moves. Most of the hand-to-hand combat has been removed, and what little remains mostly consists of dodging maneuvers. Players can still lift items from the environments and beat zombies senseless, but the variety is lacking as the game forces the player into focusing on firearms almost exclusively.

   Had the shooting elements been more refined, and the control scheme less sloppy, Yakuza: Dead Souls could've been a contender, but the combat is unimaginative, tedious and repetitive even once the control scheme is mastered. Players can take advantage of using the Heat Sniping techniques when environments have gasoline tanks, oil drums and other destroyable elements, but filling the gauge takes quite a bit of time and the skills lack variety regardless of which character one is playing as. In fact, considering the game has four main characters, it's a shame it didn't take advantage of each character's unique fighting styles and skills that are present in previous installments.

   Furthermore, with the combat dragging on and lacking in diversity, exploration of Kamurocho becomes more of a chore than a thrill. During Free Mode, players can wander around the quarantine zone, liberate businesses, and save stragglers by murdering the undead surrounding each area. When players restore a business, they can then go back to take advantage of the services offered by those locations. By opening up new areas it allows players to take time off from the apocalypse and play minigames or unlock sidequests that help to provide bonuses as well as distractions from the overall tedium of the game. The substories are a lot of fun and very engaging, but accessing them requires dealing with hordes of the undead in the process. There's tons to explore in zombie-infested Kamurocho, but players will need a lot of patience if they wish to work their way through the plethora of side content Dead Souls has to offer.

Hey gramps, lay off! Hey gramps, lay off!

   While the overall gameplay is a huge letdown in Dead Souls, the production values are not. First off, the game's soundtrack has a surprising amount of diversity in terms of tracks, and the voice acting is absolutely amazing. The zombie moans feel realistic and add to Dead Souls's atmosphere. Second, the game's voice acting is amazing, especially the performances by Chiaki Kuriyama and Peter, which are top notch. Everything in the sound department is flawlessly done and commendable. On the visual side, the game's cutscenes are realistic and strong. However, it is similar to its predecessors in that the in-game graphics are much weaker by comparison. While the backgrounds look great the character models and zombies have less detail, sometimes looking grainy in the distance.

   Yakuza: Dead Souls is a surprisingly linear experience even with the decent-sized sandbox to play in. The game can easily be completed in less than fifteen hours, though trophy hunters will find more than forty hours of gameplay with all the additional content that the game provides. There is the Dead Souls mode, copious amounts of subplot material, and the Endless Subterranea, a special dungeon that can be unlocked during the main game. Even with the control problems, the game is fairly easy, though it does offer an adjustable difficulty for those who need more a challenge.

   The problem with Yakuza: Dead Souls is that it's a game full of wasted potential. The story is fun and the atmosphere is excellent, but the broken controls and awkward camera make this game more frustrating than fun. While there are tons of elements to enjoy, the gameplay has enough problems that it will definitely turn many away from playing it. If you wish to see how the zombie apocalypse affects Kamurocho and you're okay with repetition and tedium, then Dead Souls is worth your time. If the complaints I've made throughout the review turn you off, but you still wish to try a Yakuza game, then do yourself a favour and play Yakuza 4 and forget this entry ever happened.

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