The Yakuza series is very easy to discount as another quirky Japanese one-off with little or no redeeming value. After all, it’s a sprawling tale about the Japanese mafia. Right? Franchise vets will have much to disagree about with that statement (myself included) as the games are a shining gem in a sea of what’s widely considered bargain bin trash these days – they aren’t perfect or innovative, but they offer a flavor Western gamers are rarely allowed to taste. And in a strange bid after the fourth entry into the series, Yakuza 4, Sega saw fit to add in elements that would, perhaps, make the game a bit more accessible even to players who would traditionally avoid Yakuza. The magic word is zombies. And Yakuza: Dead Souls, delivers them in droves.
Yes, droves. The shambling undead have all but infiltrated the world of Yakuza, taking familiar characters and thrusting them into brand new roles as zombie-hunting members of the Yakuza, watching their city slowly fall to the brain-eating masses. We see Kazuma Kiryu knocking a zombie’s lights out and the rest of the gang spun into zombie hunters du jour – but there’s a rather odd twist this time around: hand-to-hand combat has been replaced, for the most part, with gunplay. Of course, that’s the only way to truly eliminate a zombie, right? Shoot it in the head! Destroy the brain. How could you possibly expect to do that with your bare hands? Well, Yakuza’s Goro Majima may be able to. But he’s a special case.
But wait! How are you expected to combat the waves upon waves of zombies advancing upon the red light district of Tokyo without taking up the proper armaments? That’s where Dead Souls truly shines. Much like Frank West’s shenanigans in Dead Rising, you can pick up all types of objects lying around the environment to take on the zombies. Wanna beat one in the head with a couch? That’s your prerogative. If you see something that might be even a little useful when it comes to cutting down the sheer number of zombies that can impede upon your progress through the city, pick it up and get to work. And you’ll want to do this quite often, as Dead Souls’ new shooter roots are about as entertaining as Dead Rising’s Otis is quiet – you know, pinging you via Walkie-talkie every five minutes?
When gunplay lacks excitement or finesse, it’s easy to feel trapped with your back against the wall, especially considering the smaller scope of environments and the frustration of not being able to reload or come back with a proper armament in time before biting the big one. Aiming can be an absolute nightmare, and even though Dead Souls sets itself up as the newest member of the Survival Horror Club, it’s important to remember it’s still a full-fledged Yakuza game, where iffy controls and strange design decisions (like a fussy camera that can’t be tamed) mar the overall experience.
And it’s a shame, as there are plenty of things to do beyond zombie-hunting. Mini-games, side quests, challenges, and a bevy of other features accompany this bizarre departure, which are mainstays of the series that fans tend to gravitate toward most.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is an interesting entry for Yakuza fans to hungrily devour (much like the brains being ingested with each human kill) but, unfortunately, too often falls into the familiar design traps that survival-horror endeavors seem to occupy. Sega’s on the right track in attempting something new and different (at least for this particular series), but their unholy marriage of Japanese gangsters with the land of the undead certainly could have used a bit more polish before being unleashed on the unsuspecting populace. Because when you’re about to pull the trigger on a shambling horde of zombies, you better hope you can aim.
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