Yakuza: Dead Souls First Look Preview -- Classic Yakuza Flavor...Now with Zombies!By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Oct 21, 2011
The Yakuza series is a strange one to step into if you're not already aware of what to expect from it. It's an open-world exploration game, and a mini-game collection, and a surprisingly deep 3D fighting, and a Japanese RPG. There are epic-length cutscenes and tens of gameplay hours just in the core story, but there are also a myriad number of ways to kill time and have fun in short bursts.
Yakuza: Of the End, which was released in Japan over the summer, took all of those basic ideas and then added zombies to the formula. Yakuza: Dead Souls is that same game, but Sega's had it localized for American and European audiences. It's not exactly the same, as Dead Souls will arrive in March 2012 with all of the downloadable content released in Japan so far packed onto the disc.
Sega brought Dead Souls to New York City last week on the eve of New York Comic-Con for some hands-off preview demonstrations meant to highlight how the game stands apart from previous Yakuza games. The most notable and immediately apparent shift is the move away from melee-focused combat and into gunplay. While guns have existed in past Yakuza games, they are almost the sole focus of your combat encounters in Dead Souls. A stunning kick can be dealt out to enemies that get too close, and all manner of random environmental objects can be picked up and used to bash undead brains in with, but you'll never swing your fists at an approaching zombie.
Instead, each of Dead Souls' four playable characters comes packing heat. All of them have a signature weapon that draws from a limitless supply of ammo -- Shun Akiyama uses paired pistols, Kazuma Kiryu wields an anti-materiel rifle, Goro Majima has a trusty shotgun, and Ryuiji Goda is equipped with a chain gun built directly into his arm -- though that arsenal can be supplemented with other firearms (and explosives) as well.
What's amazing is, even with this shift from melee-focused encounters to a shooter-oriented approach, the brief demo pulled from an early moment in the game felt exactly like any other Yakuza game from the series' past. You're still locked into a tight area when you face off against many of these zombies, and you're still performing incredible feats that only become more impressive as you level up your shooting skills, with rewards like auto-aim snapping to headshots instead of body shots.
The demo's slice of gameplay focused on Shun, who it appears is the first character you'll play as in the game. Just like Yakuza 4, you'll eventually reach a point over the course of the game's 20+ hours when you'll be able to switch between the four protagonists, but only after you've played through each one's individual story.
The demo opened with Shun protecting his personal assistant Hana from a zombie attack. He only has one pistol at this point, but I'm told that everything shown was essentially pulled from what amounts to the game's intro tutorial. The basic combat mechanics are simple enough, with all aiming handled by an auto lock-on feature.
There's another layer to combat as well, a sniping mode that can only be entered when you bring down enough zombies to fill up an on-screen meter. This is your gateway to special gun attacks. I only got to see something called "Heat Sniping" during the demo, but it seems that there are a range of such attacks. You press the triangle button to enter the sniping view, choose your target and then complete a quick-time event to pull off the shot. The example shown at the end of the demo saw Shun putting a bullet into the gas tank of a wrecked car. This triggered an explosion that took out the surrounding horde of zombies.
That came later though. I watched first as Shun took down those initial attacking zombies and then sped off to visit a nearby doctor. Hana is sick with something -- it's not clear what -- and he's hoping the doc can help. It should also be noted that the story in Dead Souls is very much a "what if" scenario, with none of what unfolds in the story really fitting into the series' canon.
Shun encounters a variety of zombies as he makes his way to the nearby doctor's office; you can encounter them anywhere in Dead Souls, though unlike previous Yakuza games, these random encounters aren't broken out into discrete combat arenas. Zombies will just pop up on the street, and from all directions -- the urban cityscape of Kamurocho sees to that -- so you'll need to be on guard for attacks.
Speaking of Kamurocho, fans of the series will immediately recognize the city, though they'll have to learn all sorts of new routes. The zombie plague has left the city in tatters, and its formerly open streets are now cluttered with rubble. You'll frequently be cutting through the tight confines of abandoned buildings as you work your way around town.
The city may be in ruins, but there's still all sorts of stuff you can do. Gambling returns, both card games and Pachinko slots. You can make time for hostesses too, though first you'll have to liberate them from the surrounding zombie hordes.
The demo offered an admittedly brief slice of this very large game, but speaking as a fan of the series, I also saw immediately that this is, against all odds, still very much a Yakuza game. The zombie element changes certain things on a very fundamental level in Dead Souls, but the overall experience certainly appears to be very true to the spirit of what fans expect. Look for Yakuza: Dead Souls on PlayStation 3 next year, in March 2012.