Yakuza: Dead Souls

August 12, 2013

The Yakuza series’ popularity in Japan is reaching the point where the sky’s the limit. Product endorsements, the usage of real-life adult movie actresses and a fair range of merchandise aside, it’s no surprise that a series this huge has a few spin-offs in its stable. The trend started off in 2008 with the Japan-exclusive releases ofKenzan and Black PantherKenzan was set in the early Edo period and starred main character Kiryu as a swordsman for hire, while Black Panther, for the PlayStation Portable, featured a brand new cast of characters.

It’s not really a surprise that Sega picked the latest of the spin-offs, Yakuza: Dead Souls as the one to be localised. In terms of familiarity to fans, it’s still set in the good old red-light district of Kamurocho and the characters could be regarded as old friends. What makes Dead Souls unique is that it takes the game’s classic brawler gameplay and enemies and turns it into a third-person shooter with zombies. The story sees Kamurocho under attack by zombies and the four protagonists trying to stop whoever (or whatever) is behind it. Dead Souls certainly has more intrigue than a House of the Dead title, but has a very straightforward storyline compared to the other games. I felt at times that the story was making a mockery out of the series as a whole, but in its defense, the way it presents itself is rather serious. That being said, there isn’t anything emotionally stirring as with the previous games (except for one particular scene) and if you’re a newcomer to Yakuza you may find yourself questioning why you should care about the characters.

Taking its cue from Yakuza 4Dead Souls has four playable characters: series main Kazuma Kiryu, his friend and rival Goro Majima, the loan shark Shun Akiyama and Yakuza 2 antagonist Ryuji Goda. Each of the characters’ sections takes place chronologically, starting with Akiyama, where only a few areas are cordoned off and citizens are still oblivious to the zombie threat. By the time you reach chapter four with Kiryu, there are hardly any safe zones. It’s a great way to link story progression to an ever-changing game world. In terms of differences between the characters, there are hardly any at all; each of the characters has access to the same abilities and weapons (save for Ryuji’s machine gun arm). It’s a real shame, because after all we’ve been treated to, such as the boss battles with the acrobatic and knife-crazy Majima and playing as the swift-kicking Akiyama, you’d think that it would have been a good idea to add unique abilities in. It would definitely spice gameplay up as well, as Dead Souls’ gameplay of running around and pulling the trigger when anything moves gets a little repetitive.

That’s not to say it isn’t fun though – much like in Dead RisingDead Souls banks on the idea that in a Z-situation you’ll be absolutely surrounded. Crowd combat is the name of the game and for the most part it’s extremely satisfying to dispatch of large mobs with a shotgun blast or a string of machine gun bullets. Heat actions,Yakuza’s version of special attacks, are back too, which involves your character shooting a detail of the environment and causing explosive damage. It could have been taken further, but as it is, it’s a neat change to the Heat system. The game does attempt to add a little more difficulty to such situations with special mutant types, such as the Crybaby, who screams to summon more zombies, or the Fattie, who explodes to turn other zombies into berserkers. However, a lot of the challenging sections of the game aren’t because the mutants take skill to beat – it’s because of cheap mutant placement, the inadequate level design, or both. For example, the game seemed to be fond of throwing me into narrow spaces with both Monkey Boy and Aggro mutants – two fast-moving enemies with attacks that knock you over. Pair them with a lot of zombies and you’ve got a situation where it’s extremely hard to stay on your feet, much less kill something. It doesn’t help that the movement and shooting controls are quite strange and feel unnatural. Dead Souls lets you strafe and automatically locks on to enemies which is useful in situations where you don’t have time to aim, but my character would sometimes spin in the opposite direction and shoot at a blank space. Aiming is weird too as it all takes place on the left side of the controller, whereas most shooters will allow you to use the right analogue stick to aim. Call it convention, but fans of the shooter genre will likely have problems with the control scheme. The AI system is relatively decent at least, although it does seem to take your partner a long time to shake zombies off.

If you’re brave enough to deal with the various problems though, Dead Souls is quite entertaining. As with the other Yakuza games, there is a ton to do in Kamurocho, whether it’s in lockdown or not. This time around, a lot of the sidequests involve your character going into quarantined areas and rescuing survivors or liberating stores. Then of course, there are distractions such as hostess clubs, baseball, karaoke, table tennis and a shmup, complete with an online ranking system. The various bosses you encounter throughout the story are pretty cool too, with some fascinating designs to ogle and battles to be played.

Dead Souls is on the same graphical level as its PlayStation 3 predecessors – it still looks good, but there’s very little in the way of improvement. During gameplay it’s a different story, due in part to the number of zombies that need to be rendered on the screen, which has resulted in a horrendous drop in frames per second on more than one occasion. The music, which I have always felt was one of the Yakuza series’ strong points, seems to lack the personality that made the background tunes something that gave you energy and made you want to brawl to. Moreover, the music loops often, to the point where I wished I could get out of areas just so I didn’t have to listen to the background track. The voice acting is however, once again, of excellent quality. Special props to Majima’s voice actor, who really brought the craziest character of the Yakuza universe to life.

Overall, YakuzaDead Souls is a noble attempt at branching the Yakuza series out into completely new directions, but it falls short due to poor design choices, shonky controls and many missed opportunities. Although I feel the story makes a mockery out of everything the series has built up before this point, it’s quite interesting as far as a zombie apocalypse plot goes, and the game is good value for money considering the amount of play packed in. As it is though, I hope Sega’s zombie spin-off itch has been scratched and they concentrate on making Yakuza 5 an amazing title. Or localising Kenzan.


Decent story | Satisfying zombie slaughter | Range of enemies and bosses | Badass cast of characters


Controls | Gameplay and level design | Repetitive music

Overall Score: