Yakuza: Dead Souls Review

Yakuza: Dead Souls (PS3)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
MSRP: $59.99

In video games, the list of things that hate the undead seems to increase daily. Plants hate ‘em, soldiers hate ‘em, photojournalists hate ‘em, Little Red Riding Hood hates ‘em, black southerners hate ‘em, and now the Asian mafia hates ‘em too. While they all hate zombies, gamers cannot get enough of the ghoulish walking dead. Popular franchises, like Call of Duty and Red Dead: Redemption, have capitalized on this fad by adding optional modes that prominently feature them. Yakuza: Dead Souls is more committed to its conceit, as it repurposes established characters, settings, and mechanics into a non-canonical story that attempts to please the enormous demographic of Yakuza fans who are also partial to post-apocalyptic, zombie blasting thrills. A select few may enjoy this unexpected adventure, but most will see through its counterintuitive structure and extremely simplistic and repetitive gunplay for what it is—a poor excuse to hop on the undead bandwagon.

Kazuma Kiryu, Goro Majima, Ryuji Goda, and Shun Akiyama comprise the Yakuza: Dead Souls all-star cast. Much of their interactions and nods to previous games were lost on me, seeing as how prior to Dead Souls I was a Yakuza virgin (and I don’t need you to tell me that I started with arguably the worst title.). Majima’s outlandishness perfectly suits the campy aspects of the story, but the game more often sways towards serious situations that try too hard at selling its zombie-mafia drama earnestly. Flashbacks are used to flesh out characters’ relationships to garner sympathy, like Goda and his father and Kirya and his daughter, but these come off as forced. The bigger letdown is how little these already established guys interact with one another. While often melodramatic, Dead Souls does craft a uniquely interesting, if predictable, explanation for why these zombies act the way they do, even if the reason for unleashing them on the city is ridiculous.

Slaying zombies, the core action of the game, is so easy that it makes Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead look like an ineffectual, moronic imbecile for being even remotely timid around the living dead. As long as you are looking, not aiming, in the general vicinity of a zombie, pressing R1 will automatically shoot at it. Strafing provides a better perspective, and pressing the aim button, L2, instantly snaps the crosshair to the head of the nearest zombie (for the times you do need to manually aim, it awkwardly requires you to use the left stick). To reduce any and all difficulty, one really strong pistol can take down a vast majority of foes in one shot, and even has unlimited ammunition. My fifteen hours with Yakuza: Dead Souls was a consistently tensionless affair.

The game occasionally puts you in narrow corridors filled with undead, making essential maneuvering impossible. You will be repeatedly knocked down, and the few unlockable melee attacks provide little support. Worse yet, when you are being attacked and recovering from attacks, the game will not let you switch weapons or pause the game. Considering the pause menu is the only way to access health potions, this decision is nothing short of despicable. During these moments, when a multitude of terrible design choices appear at the same exact time, you will wish the game never existed.

Positive variation comes in the form of enemy variants that require thought to defeat. Skater-boy zombies jump and slide at you; Aggros (brooding men with hoodies and headphones) assault you with a flurry of punches and kicks; screeching chick zombies attract additional foes upon each successive yell. These and four others comprise the more interesting baddies, and succeed at adding variety by occasionally asking you to aim your gun. The game’s boss fights are genuine highlights, requiring you to aim and dodge in ways that no other encounters do. Some do suffer from tight environments though.

The open-world aspects from previous Yakuza games are incorporated in a way that provides an illusion of freedom. What used to be a nonlinear structure now translates to a far more restricted experience. Each of the game’s chapters is broken down by character, meaning that in order to do everything, you must complete every side mission available before progressing to the main narrative. Often times you only get one or two chances to explore the city before progressing to the next character, so leisurely switching between the main content and side content is not possible. That said, the optional content involves killing more zombies and playing Yakuza mini-games, like billiards and bowling, which make for uninspired, inessential distractions. Acquiring new materials and extra cash to purchase and upgrade weaponry and armor is beneficial, but not at all necessary to beat the game. These possible enhancements simply make the gunplay easier.

The right side of the screen displays your total kill count, mine reaching over 4,500. I killed thousands of zombies, but in truth I only worked for and earned a couple hundred of them. The rest were handed to me. Winning a game of pool, or getting a strike while bowling, were more rewarding accomplishments than mowing down the hoards of zombies lurching around Yakuza: Dead Souls.

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