Yakuza: Dead Souls Review
Zombies are everywhere. They’re in our FPSs and our adventure games. They’re in our hack-and-slashers and our RPGs. Hell, even our racing games are no longer free from the undead menace. Zombies have become a never-ending source of bullet fodder and the go-to in games that need enemies slaughtered, violently and en masse.
Due to this saturation in nearly every genre, it can be difficult to recommend a good zombie game. It may not necessarily be that the game is bad, but rather that it’s impossible not to be burned-out by these shamblers. Their appearance in games is passé now.
Yakuza: Dead Souls manages to buck this trend and provide a surprisingly fun, semi-open-world, third-person shooter/brawler hybrid against the undead. By taking a game notorious for its detailed backstories and characters and putting them in the absurd situation of saving Tokyo from an undead invasion, Dead Souls proves to be a fun, if slightly repetitive, game.
The game stars every main protagonist from the series pre-Yakuza 5. That means series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu and others are fully playable characters with their own abilities and unique weapons. Another big change comes in a complete switch of mechanics. The Yakuza series is known for its brawler-type gameplay in which melee combat is done with fists and items from the environment. Now, players utilize not only environmental items, but the main offensive option comes in the form of firearms.
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Yakuza: Dead Souls has a moderate-sized collection of guns available. The standard assortment of pistols, assault rifles, and shotguns are present, and each of these weapons can be upgraded by crafting new pieces and modifications from items found in the game’s over-world and/or dropped by enemies. Armor and other healing items can also be bought and modified to maximize their effectiveness. Individual characters can level up their abilities, too. Each of the upgrade points can go toward standard improvements such as health and agility, but they can also go for more offensive options such as upgrades to melee combat or increasing the probability of head shots.
What could have been a disastrous switch in gameplay actually works well. Shooting is done from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint similar to games such as Resident Evil 4 and Uncharted. You can also move and fire from the hip, making running and gunning through a crowd of zombies easy. While the shooting mechanic can feel stiff when having to make precise shots, the overall feel is very smooth. Unlike many other shooters, the action simulates a feeling of weight and impact with each gun as zombies are blasted into bloody bits.
Each character has access to a unique ability called heat snipe, which is a meter that fills each time an enemy is killed. Once the gauge is full, players can engage in a quick-time event that, if successful, will trigger a reaction from the environment and have a greater chance of taking out a larger group of enemies as well as more difficult bosses. When playing with another NPC, you can combine your heat snipes to create a bigger environmental chain reaction. While you start the game with only a few NPCs, as you progress and complete more side missions, more will join your zombie-hunting army. These NPCs can be outfitted with a variety of weapons and combat techniques that do everything from heal you to eliminating a wave of zombies in a single blow.
The game progresses linearly with each group of chapters taking control of a new character and a new set of missions. These missions range from escort missions, moving from point A to B, or simply destroying everything without a pulse. While there are plenty of story missions that move the game’s plot forward, there are also plenty of side missions and explorable locations. The various karaoke bars, chain restaurants, and arcades are all present and feature previous installments' mini-games. This includes stat-boosting food items, rhythm-based mini-games, and arcade-style shooters. The idea of stopping in for a bite to eat while the zombie apocalypse continues around you only gives the game more charm, much like in previous iterations.
The Yakuza series has often been compared to an earlier Sega franchise, Shenmue, due to the interactive NPCs and environments found in both. Dead Souls is no different. While the entire map may not be open, the interesting look at specific Japanese locations and the quirky mini-games that go along with them make this a tongue-in-cheek experience most zombie games lack. While games like Resident Evil 6 and The Walking Dead push dread and despair, Dead Souls doesn't bother.
If any flaw exists, it's in the repetitive missions and story. Despite changing characters four times and all the different weapons that entails, it's all too similar. The enemies are also very similar with just a few special ones thrown in. Toward the end, the game stretches out longer than necessary due to this. Even the bosses at the end of each level feature one weakness that is exploited ad nauseum until their demise.
Despite the repetitiveness, there is a lot to like with Yakuza: Dead Souls. The combat is fun, the Tokyo-based location offers some visual contrast to the otherwise post-apocalyptic ruins seen in other games, and the variety of hidden items and mini-games brings a quirky spin to the game. For a series chock-full of melodrama and a sweeping crime story narrative, it’s nice to see it doesn't take itself too seriously and offers a good zombie-killing time.
If you’re not burned out by zombie games, or want to slay the armies of the undead while hitting up the batting cages and the casinos in between (yes, you can do that), then I highly recommend you give this game a try.