Developer: Studio Yakuza
Platform: Playstation 3
Release Date: Out now
ESRB: M for Mature
In the past few years, zombie games have swarmed throughout the market like a horde of... well, the obvious. Now Sega has given us a zombified spinoff of its popular Yakuza series, but does this oddity make it worth revisiting a genre that's become tired to the point of being obnoxious?
Yakuza: Dead Souls is a sandbox zombie game in which various characters from previous Yakuza titles, such as the cyclopian psychopath Goro Majima and the gun-armed Ryuji Goda, are thrown together and introduced to sudden zombies. Our mafioso main characters are given a bunch of guns and a zillion bullets and sent out to drive back Tokyo's undead infestation, teaming up with new characters and amassing newer, stronger guns along the way. If traditional weapons aren't your deal, you always have the option of beating up zombies with things like sofas and milk crates in order to avenge humanity. It's not much of a concept, but as we shall soon see, the idea is much lazier than its execution.
Dead Souls marks a departure from traditional Yakuza gameplay in that it is primarily a shooter rather than a brawler, which is unfortunate, as the shooting is average at best. Although purging the zombie menace like a grain harvester through a field of wheat is fun at first, it becomes repetitive a little too early in, and control issues soon become obvious. It can be very awkward moving the characters around within the oddly cramped environments, and the auto-aim system eliminates much of the potential challenge; one simply needs to face a group of targets and fire away, and the character will automatically lock on to the nearest enemy. Conversely, this makes things infuriating during certain boss battles and other situations that require hitting a specific target among a sea of zombies.
My biggest complaint about the game is its abominable amount of backtracking. You'll have to return to the same areas multiple times, making it seem like you're making no progress in liberating the city from the zombie menace. Tokyo is a big and sometimes confusing place, and so much backtracking does instill a sense of familiarity after a while, but it would be nice to have a faster means of transportation, or better yet, to not have to return to the same areas over and over.
If you think this sounds like an already-existing franchise from Capcom, there“s not a lot here to convince you that Yakuza: Dead Souls isn“t just Dead Rising Japan. Both have hordes of unrelenting undead, both have protagonists in slick suits, both have killing zombies with bicycles. Yakuza does have a few things over other zombie titles, however: for one thing, it boasts a high amount of upgrades that are unlockable via an RPG-style level-up system. The more enemies you destroy, the more you can learn new moves, carry more items, use heavier weapons, and become an all-around stronger undead-killing underworlder. If the gameplay can get repetitive, the level-up system makes up for it, and these upgrades keep the game from getting stale.
Mediocre gunplay and extreme instances of deja vu aside, Dead Souls has another thing that many similar games don't: personality. This is not a "horror game," it is a Yakuza game with horror elements, which is to say there is plenty of Japanese wackiness and fun distractions to experience. The already outlandish characters can shop, sing at karaoke bars, chat it up with hostesses, play pachinko, and partake in many other time-wasting activities as Tokyo falls apart from the zombie scourge. The city is also rife with sidequests, and although many of them are of the standard "go here, shoot things" fare, a few quests are silly or interesting enough to stand out. These things all help to significantly flesh out a 10 or 15-hour game to twice that length. The dialogue and cinematics are often hilarious, and the fact that the game never manages to take itself too seriously makes it very accessible and easy to enjoy. The combined effect is a fairly mindless, very fun game that is by no means typical of the genre.
Yakuza: Dead Souls not a deep, intricate game, but it is a fun arcade-style romp that feels a little like Resident Evil meets Streets of Rage, and the level-up system is pleasantly engrossing. While little of this would entice true zombie enthusiasts (and if that's how you describe yourself, I implore you to reconsider), fans of Japanese culture, the Yakuza series, and anyone who can still appreciate a simple, fun game will not regret this purchase.
+ Fun arcade-style gameplay
+ Lots of upgrades
+ Enough personality to distinguish it from similar titles
- Shooting is imprecise and problematic
- Too much backtracking
Overall: 7.0 (Out of 10)
The Japanese flavor makes this game a fresh foray for fans of zombie games, and this is a no-brainer for enthusiasts of the Yakuza franchise.