Yakuza: Dead Souls is not a good shooter, nor is it what people expect from a Yakuza game, yet taken on its own merits it's an extraordinarily quirky, delightful experiment with lots of humor and a distinctly Japanese flavor. Stiff controls and lengthy load times hold it back from being as good as it could have been, but it proves that there's still some life left in massacring the undead.
- Hilarious writing
- Plowing through zombies is empowering
- Loads of mini-games
- Rich setting
- Uncooperative controls and camera
- Incessant, lengthy load times
- Combat can feel unfair and cheap at times
Yakuza: Dead Souls Review:
The Yakuza series is known for its complex characters, labyrinthine plots, and detailed portrayal of Japan, yet beneath all its heady crime melodrama there was always a good dose of just plain silliness. The latest game in the series, Yakuza: Dead Souls, takes the series further in this off-kilter direction, emulating a campy zombie flick. It stays a little to close to its schlocky inspirations, however, and delivers a B-game that's highly amusing despite the fact that in many ways it's not very good.
Land of the Rising Corpses
The biggest change zombies bring to the series is the combat has transitioned from a brawler to a third-person shooter, and an exceedingly bizarre one at that. Shooting is primarily handled via an auto-aim system that feels akin to the detached third-person shooting in early Resident Evil games. Controls are a little more refined than that, as you can strafe and reset the camera behind you, but blind-firing your way through hordes of the undead feels antiquated.
There is an option to aim manually, but this requires standing still. This worked in Resident Evil 4 where smaller throngs of foes slowly approached you, but it's not up to task for mowing down armies of zombies. Worse, switching into manual aim resets the camera to where your character is facing, rather than where the camera is already pointed, making it especially jarring. As such, manual aim is only useful in very specific circumstances.
Despite Yakuza: Dead Souls' awkward approach to third-person shooting, combat is satisfying in a stupid Dead Rising sort of way. The auto-aim is usually sufficient, and the way the zombies' heads explode into little chunks of flesh is immediately gratifying. I especially liked running and gunning with a shotgun, where the auto-aim seems less pronounced, given the gun's already widespread range. The high point of Yakuza: Dead Souls' shootouts are its boss fights. These monstrosities feel cut from the same cloth as Resident Evil with their former hosts absorbed into colossal hodgepodges of blood, tentacles, and extra limbs. Since you're usually only fighting one or two enemies during these encounters, the stodgy controls seem less problematic.
There are instances where the controls simply aren't up to scratch, though. Getting up after being knocked down takes too far long. Get cornered by a cluster of zombies while in need of reloading and it can get downright unfair as they'll repeatedly topple you before you're given a chance to react. The camera also has a tendency to get displaced in the most uncompromising positions, especially in narrow corridors.
How the Other Half Lives
As anyone who's played a Yakuza game knows, combat makes up less than half the package. The rest of the game is filled with exploring Kamurocho -- a fictitious setting based on Tokyo's red light district, Kabukicho. It's an extremely meticulous environment crammed with billboards, neon lights, and underground passages. The structure has taken a slight deviation this time around with the previous games' irritating random encounters replaced with zombie-filled treks to your destination.
Certain sections of the map are quarantined, so while one block may be filled with the undead, the next road down will be populated by naive citizens going about their daily routines. This dichotomy is hilarious, especially when you liberate a store in the quarantine zone only to walk in and find a squeaky clean establishment filled with patrons completely unperturbed by the massive zombie invasion happening just outside. As the story progresses, the quarantine zones occupy more of the city. Frustratingly, there aren't many entrances to these areas, making navigation increasingly tricky with giant walls blocking off several passages. This can make sidequests a pain to complete, but these can all be tackled in the post-game if you don't feel like taking a lengthy detour.
These side-missions are worth getting around to as they're often very humorous. One involves maniacal eye-patched mob boss, Goro Majima, helping out some amateur filmmakers by slaying zombies on screen for them, while another tasks you with helping a fledgling yakuza pass off his zombified boss as normal by gagging, handcuffing, and placing sunglasses on him until the scene resembles Weekend at Bernie's at an S&M club. Yakuza: Dead Souls is jam-packed with strange objectives like this.
Elsewhere, mini-games ensure there's no shortage of things to do when not slaying zombies. These range from bowling, table tennis, darts, fishing, pachinko, karaoke, and the perviest massage game ever where you keep a meter balanced while oggling images of your masseuse in gradually receding clothing (complete with a bonus for achieving a "happy ending"). There's even a dating-sim element where you can court a hostess until she decides to fight zombies alongside you. It's stuff like this that gives Yakuza: Dead Souls its peculiar, lovable flavor in spite of its often staid mechanics.
The biggest problem with exploring Yakuza: Dead Souls' eccentricities is that the game suffers from long, frequent load times. I didn't spend a quarter of the game suffering through load screens, but at times it sure felt like I did. Many of these feel completely unjustified to boot. Often you'll enter a new area, wait through a load screen, walk a few steps, watch a cutscene, and wait through another load screen before you can fight. Even when the game isn't loading most menus take far too long to wade through. Every time you enter a quarantine zone you have to painstakingly click through a conversation with a guard, asking if you're sure you'd like to enter and if you'd like a partner. Selecting all the options from the armaments dealer is also an extremely unintuitive chore. This molasses-like pace puts a damper on the experience more than anything.
Bless This Mess
Your enjoyment of Yakuza: Dead Souls is highly dependent on what kind of player you are. Many will bemoan the sloppy shooting and languid pace, while others will find the shoddy mechanics only add to the campy tone. If you want a smooth shooter, check out the Yakuza team's excellent follow-up, Binary Domain, which just came out last month. But if you have the stomach, nerve, and twisted sense of humor for something a little more offbeat, Yakuza: Dead Souls is a delectable curio. The market may be over saturated with zombie games, but Yakuza: Dead Soul's madcap script, unique setting, and charming personality ensure that it feels unlike anything else out there.