By David Fernandes / October 29th, 2016
|Title||Yakuza: Dead Souls
|Release Date||March 13, 2012|
|Age Rating||M – Mature|
Ah, zombie games. Whether back in 2011 or up to today, they became such a dime a dozen affair that it felt the genre was more than played out for its own good. So when it came time to announce the latest Ryu ga Gotoku game in 2010 and it was shown off at that year’s Tokyo Game Show, I was left speechless by it being a shooter spin-off title dealing with zombies. However, I gave the game the benefit of the doubt as the team has always made such captivating titles, with each game in the franchise having its own unique and memorable experience from start to finish. What made the game even more interesting is the subtitle “Of the End” in Japan, as it meant more than zombies but an end of an era to the devs, as this would be the last game to use the Ryu ga Gotoku 4 engine, and how do they cap that off? By having the rendered set piece Kamurocho be torn apart in this engine; in other words literally tearing down the engine for a new one that would later be used for Ryu ga Gotoku 5. It would also serve as a blueprint for another game they were developing side by side with Yakuza 5; Binary Domain. With so much on their plate and the stakes high, how does it ultimately fare?
The game starts out with the typical zombie outbreak as Akiyama, trying to skip out on work, gets caught by his assistant Hana. Before they can head to the office, an unknown assailant attacks a local Yakuza branch office nearby and all hell breaks loose. Kiryu gets dragged into it when he gets a phone call with a man stating he knows of his background and has kidnapped Haruka, so of course he goes to save her and the city. Majima is watching zombie flicks in the Millennium Tower only to get attacked by real zombies and he relishes the idea of fighting a whole horde of them. Goda, who was kicked out of the Omi Alliance and found work in the city, gets an offer by an old comrade, Nikaido, only to brush it off. Seeing what becomes of the city and knowing who did it and why, he too fights the zombie horde as he feels its his job to clean up his friend’s mistake.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is similar in its narrative structure to Yakuza 4. There are four characters with their different perspectives playing out in each chapter and switching out to a new one when it ends. However, Dead Souls does something no entry has done before with mixing of genres like sci-fi, horror and crime drama with the usual Yakuza template and it’s quite intriguing. Being that this is a spin-off title and an alternative timeline, the devs decided to have the events of Yakuza 2 end differently with Goda surviving the last battle with Kiryu and only losing an arm; which he had installed a makeshift Gatling gun in its place and it’s as crazy as it sounds.
From what you see above, you can pretty much gather that Kiryu and Goda are the ones who have the full stake in this, as Akiyama and Majima just kinda help along the way in their own paths. Not to say their chapters were uneventful. They were just as impactful as the other two thanks largely to their substories, which also take in the zombie theme this time around. With the writers going all out with poking fun at the zombie cliches, some with an emotional gut punch, to others making it seem like it was just another crazy day in Kamurocho, it was a crazy ride. Essentially, this story is Yakuza being Yakuza despite the new themes, and I love it for it. Goda is my favorite main antagonist in the series. So, it was odd to see him act out of character and loosen up and be a good individual, but being this is a spin off and all, I didn’t mind it in the end and it was just great to see him again. Kiryu and Akiyama are just as fun and heartfelt as always even with everything going on. Majima is the highlight of the game as this is his first true playable debut and they nailed it — a loose canon with loose morals, capturing him perfectly as he was since the first game.
While I will sound like a broken record for stating this, another aspect that I like and similar to Kenzan is how consistent the plot is. It doesn’t go out of its way to try and be some epic tale with a giant cast that lacks development and a multitude of twists and turns with diminishing returns. This is a problem which I feel every mainline game after Yakuza 2 suffers from. My only real complaint with Dead Souls would be that the four never become a full team to fight off zombies, not only in gameplay but not even in a single cutscene. Because of that, their intertwining stories lack the cohesion that game’s opening suggested they would have. Especially considering that putting Majima and Goda in the game was pure fan service. So, its a real shame they didn’t go all the way.
One of the things that seem to hurt the game was the fundamental misunderstanding that this game is a third-person shooter. On the surface it may not look like that but in all honesty, its really just a shooter. Taking the structure of the simplified melee and gun weapons and expanding on this, especially the latter, and this is what the game really is. Don’t expect anything else as you will most likely leave disappointed as this was most likely a deliberate design choice to keep Yakuza its own beast and to have it stand out in the crowd. For what it’s worth, however, it works but is a bit underwhelming. First of all, to make things more comfortable I recommend switching to the second control layout as the first has the button layout being a bit cumbersome and awkward. As a shooter, you are able to run and gun in any direction with blind fire, lock-on to enemies and strafe, and the ability to stop and aim which has you zoom up with a reticle to get more precision for those sweet head shots. This is very helpful against the more dangerous biomodified monstrosities among the zombies.
The game is split between the usual Yakuza gameplay in the safe city portions. You go around doing sub stories or visiting the local shops and maybe playing a minigame or two. Then you have the infected zones which is where all the zombie combat is done. As the game progresses, the infected zone spreads which also means more businesses will be under quarantine and it’s up to you to save them so you can use them again at your leisure while in the infected zone. There are two modes in the infected zone, one where you’re in the middle of the main story and can’t do anything else but progress or free time which allows you to complete sub stories and visit the rescued locations like normal and bring along partners to help you out. Yes, partners, who become available as you complete sub stories or filling up the hearts of the hostess girls. Because this is a shooter, instead of melee based heat actions, they’re now more context sensitive targets. For example, potential hazards like blowing up a barrel near a group of zombies or shooting down a steel beam from a building, to pinpoint weak spots off enemies, to team attacks with your partners that you bring in free time or ones in the story portions.
If that wasn’t enough, the game also sported what would become a somewhat standard feature in future titles like Ishin, 0 and Kiwami in the form of a point/checklist system. Hasegawa Orders essentially serve as mini tasks for you to undertake while in the infected zones, like getting a number of head shots, a number of kills with a certain weapon, traveling a certain distance on foot, etc. You can trade these points in for rare items and equipment as an alternative to obtaining said items without having to pay for them. Finally, another new addition to the series is the Kamurocho Underground which are mysterious manholes that have you go through a certain amount of levels like a rouge-like. There are two types, one that has a set amount of levels and the other is endless and they’re a bit spooky thanks to the atmosphere. Since its all randomization, it actually makes for some intense gameplay.
As you can see, like any entry in the series there’s a lot there, but in this game’s case it all falls down to the core gameplay and as I said its pretty underwhelming when you get down to it. With the first half, it stays fresh enough with new enemies spicing things up and plenty of scenarios to keep you busy, but it all starts to feel extremely repetitive among a myriad of other issues. One of problems I have is the guns themselves. Plenty of them are just useless compared to the standard set the first three characters get, especially after you upgrade them. I only really used the other guns to spice things up and complete the orders that had you use them. Outside of that I never felt the need for them. Once I got to Goda the game started to lose its luster, and while I still had fun with it by the end, the problems I had with it only started to pile up.
Another issue that makes the gameplay monotonous is how the zombies constantly respawn in infected zones. When leaving and re-entering the infected zone, all zombies respawn. While it makes sense gameplay wise, it just starts to wear thin in having to re-kill a whole batch of them every time I needed to leave. To make matters worse they also respawn when entering and leaving shops, so it made me avoid them altogether unless I really needed something or simply wanted to start clearing out the completion list. Not only that, but they constantly respawn at certain areas in the map, like near a swear drain or from an inaccessible alleyway, or from the ceiling indoors. When you’re trying to escort someone I just lose my patience and rush it. The enemy AI isn’t too bright either with them only charging head first in your direction when they catch sight of you, which you can manipulate to have them get stuck on environments or props, making them easy prey. You don’t get this opportunity every time but it does make the outside portions much easier for the wrong reasons.
The issues don’t stop there, however, as the game suffers on the technical side. For example, the load times are unusually longer than they were with Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4. The framerate drops heavily during intense moments which happen frequently in the later half of the game and most boss fights. Seriously, some of the boss fights are in slow motion for the whole duration, which simply ruins any enjoyment of them. The game does look good for its time, with the team once again paying fantastic attention to detail. The city is now in a state of decay and it’s a marvelous sight to behold. I was impressed, to say the least, that it really feels like a virus outbreak. I wasn’t impressed with some of the designs of the genetically altered zombies as I felt they looked too much like their inspirations, and borderline rip off designs from Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead. The soundtrack I was a bit mixed about, fitting, sometimes catchy, but as a whole let me down with them feeling a bit uninspired. The only tracks to impress were the install theme, the last level theme, the last boss themes and the credits song which caps it off with a montage of all the console titles up to that point, including Kenzan; which must have made fans in the West either confused or made it generally awkward.
Dead Souls is a decent effort by the devs that would later pay off, not really in sales but in delivering a great quality third-person shooter down the line with Binary Domain. Its chock full of fanservice and because of that, it helped ease some of the mediocrity. It’s not normally a title I go back to, but despite its issues, each chapter gave me something to look forward to and I was grinning by the credits so it must have done more right than I give the game credit for. However, I cannot deny it is plagued with issues that could turn off newcomers so I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to them unless you can find it for dirt cheap. For fans of the series I do at least recommend to give the game a chance as who knows, you may find more enjoyment out of it than I did, with a bevy of content the game has to offer.
Review Copy Purchased by Author
PS3ReviewSegaYakuza: Dead Souls