Review: Yakuza: Dead Souls
Yakuza: Dead Souls brings the acclaimed Yakuza series into the increasingly popular world of zombie games. That means criminals in clean suits battling the undead – and it’s as wild as it might sound. A big departure from what series fans are used to, Dead Souls trades gangster agendas and organized crime for waves of thoughtless, pulseless zombies. But is the game any fun or should you just stick to Dead Island? Read on to find out.
I didn’t come into the game expecting any sort of significant narrative, but I found the story in Dead Souls to be rather developed for the genre. There are a number of notable cliche’s that are absolutely banal, but they’re easy to forgive in the big picture. There are zombies, so of course there has to be some sort of virus or disease in play, right? Right. From this point, the zombie element is somehow woven into the ongoing feud between various organized Japanese crime families. When a faction kidnaps protagonist Kiryu’s daughter, Haruka, a story encompassing four characters begins. You take control of a different character during each of the game’s chapters.
During each character’s chapter you learn about their backstory, their motives and their personality. Granted, not much of what you learn about them has much to do with the zombies or any of the other main focuses of the story, but it’s alright. Summarily, the wealth of cinematic cutscenes and involved characters does make it seem as though the story was more than competent for explaining why so much of the game consists of mindlessly slaughtering zombies. It doesn’t get away without deductions for its cliches I’m afraid, but not bad.
The visuals in Dead Souls aren’t bad, but they aren’t wonderful either. The graphics fair well enough, although the occasional atrocious NPC model or face does crop up. The pre-rendered cutscenes look great as expected and the environments are presented adequately at some times and finely at others. The design of Kamurocho city is clearly inspired by Tokyo, and I thought it looked awesome. The buildings, advertisements and people did a fantastic job of creating a believable atmosphere and immersive experience. Being the Japanophile I am, I was sold on the setting the moment I saw the faithfully recreated Club Sega arcade. I couldn’t get enough of exploring the thriving, beautiful city.
Dead Souls also passes in the sound department. All of the voicing is Japanese, but I think this was expected with the rest of the game’s Japanese attitude. There is a lot of different music to be heard in this game. I pretty much hated the hard rock stuff that played while you were killing zombies because it was boring and just uninspired. However, you can hear a lot of different stuff if you explore the city. The hostest clubs played mellow pop which I liked. Keen listeners will also catch some techno, instrumental and metal playing at various different places. In general, you’ll spend most of your time killing zombies and the music that plays during that time is pretty boring, but there’s some good stuff to be heard.
While the story and music in Dead Souls were just decent, the game-play was actually very good. This is mainly because there is a ton of variety and things to do. First and foremost, killing zombies makes up the biggest part of the game. Whether you’re shooting them, setting them on fire, running them over or drop kicking them, you’re constantly hauling zombie arse. You have several weapons at your disposal, including environmental objects such as garbage cans and motor cycles, and of course, several different guns.
Zombies drop various items when you put them down. Most of them are components needed to upgrade your weapons, but others are items you can use such as health drinks or valuables you can sell. Weapons are upgraded in the back of some guy’s truck. You can invest in the guy as you earn money over the course of the game, enabling him to modify a wider variety of weapons and provide more items. Your character gains experience and ability points as they ice thousands of zombies and level up. Leveling up lengthens your health bar and gives you a few ability points that you can use to unlock new abilities.
These abilities are split into two categories: active and passive. One group of abilities consists of attacks and techniques that your character can perform, such as a running jump kick , automatic head targeting (it’s awesome) or faster reloading. The passive abilities consist of upgrades like a bigger item inventory, more weapon slots and recognizing and using more kinds of weapons. Progression is solid as you reach for newer, stronger guns and abilities. Money is earned from doing quests, selling valuables, and a few other ways.
Unlike many other zombie games that I’ve watched, there’s a lot more to do in this game than kill zombies. Kamurocho is a big, bustling city full of different activities. I was simply blown away by how many different activities there were. Take a break from all the killing with a nice spa visit and an addictive game of paddle ball. Head over to one of the hostess clubs for some expensive company and an entertaining date. Marvel at the accurate depiction of Club Sega and the flawlessly recreated UFO Catcher. Unwind at one of the casinos or clubs and sip your favorite alcohol. Every inch of the city this game is set in has something to explore, do or discover and you’ll spends hours trying to make sure that you’ve done everything at least once.
I enjoyed my time in the un-quarantined city much, much more than I enjoyed killing zombies, but that’s just me. These distractions helped fill the game out and kept the main game component of zombie killing from becoming an infinitely boring grind. When you don’t have time for leisure and you want something serious, you can do various quests and side-missions for inhabitants of the city. Walking around talking to people can yield plenty of valuable information and quests. The quests go a bit in-depth with details and back-story on the NPC you’re aiding. I thought this was another subtle, nice touch.
The zombies themselves are really nothing special. In addition to the hordes of throwaway zombies you’ve surely seen in several games by now, there are seven big types: the fatty, the crybaby, the monkey boy, the aggro, the golem, the flying bug and the big one. You must use specific tactics when facing either of the named zombies, but other than that it’s just run and gun. Shoot until all the zombies are gone and when they return, mow them down again. I am personally not a fan at all of this sort of game-play, but I don’t see why anyone who typically likes it wouldn’t enjoy it here. You can also activate a QTE after filling a special meter by killing zombies. I found this to be an enjoyable flourish whenever it wasn’t required in some boss fight.
Sometimes you’ll get an NPC partner to do missions with you. The AI for your partners is pretty terrible though, and they’ll spend more time yelling for you to shoot the zombie pinning them down than providing any actual help. You can level them up, however, and they seemed to become more useful as they grew in strength. The shooting itself isn’t bad but it suffers from the controls, which I thought were terrible. Holding L1 will fix your character’s aim on whatever enemy is closest to it. Whilst aiming, you can strafe with the left stick and further control your aim with the right stick – or at least that’s how it is supposed to function.
In reality, you have to wage a full on war with the irritating fixed camera if you want to turn around while strafing (it can be even harder to do without strafing), and it is truly quite bad. In small areas and tight corners, you have absolutely no hope of actually aiming at a zombie. Another flawed component is the manual aim. Hold L2 to zoom in and then aim with the left stick while your character remains completely stationary. Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to allow you to aim with the right stick and, I don’t know, move with the left stick? This puzzling configuration feels confusing and takes plenty of time to get adjusted to.
After the credits roll, you unlock premium adventure mode (in addition to several other things), in which you can explore and enjoy Kamurocho without being bothered with any story missions. This allows you to catch up on all the side-missions and activities you either didn’t have time for or didn’t feel like doing the first time around. There’s also a new game plus, which of course allows you to carry over all your items and money from the previous play-through into your new game. This isn’t an innovative feature at all but considering how often it gets omitted nowadays, it is refreshing. There are also additional difficulty settings, unlockable games, and tons more for you to do on a second, third, or maybe even fourth play-through.
All things considered, I thank Yakuza: Dead Souls for making my first zombie game experience a pleasant one. The progression is solid, the game world is developed, and the game-play variety is absolutely astonishing. There are tons of weapons, quests, collectibles and just plenty of content in general. However, the controls can be infuriatingly bad, and there’s no form of online multiplayer, save for leaderboards found in different mini-games. These are just a few blemishes on the face of what should be a must-play for zombie game junkies and sandbox action fans.