As he looked around and lay witness to the chaos that had fostered by his very own doing, he began to understand something he had not yet perceived. That piles of bodies that were only moments ago the undead, that these carcasses were once living people… like him. These now empty shells before him start to show remnants of their past; Doctors, Teachers, Bankers, a Secretary, a Police Officer are now just fragmenting of a world that once was. It was at this point, he decided to get ice cream.
Yakuza over the years has turned from a niche darling to a flagship title, with remakes of the first two games and now PC ports, the eastern answer to Grand Theft Auto has finally broke the western market. And rightly so. Yakuza is a sweet and sour type of game; two opposing flavours combine as one delicious whole. Sandbox design with arcade brawler, dating sim and arcade classic collection, melodramatic story meets self-aware camp comedy genre; the designers want you to be absorbed in the story and world but they -like Kojima’s team- know why you are here… too have fun.
All video game series have black sheep in the family. A game that may have been misunderstood at the time or just didn’t have the right dance moves to stand out from the crowd, leaving it to walks home alone… with a kebab for one. That game is Yakuza: Dead Souls.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is developed and published by Sega exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Initially schedule for release in Japan March 2011 only to be pushed back to June 2011 due to the earthquakes and Tsunami that hit the country. Here in Europe and the folks in North America wouldn’t see the release until the following year in March 2012.
Acting as a spin off/alternate timeline succeeding the fourth game, Yakuza: Dead Souls uses the established sandbox action adventure with RPG elements gameplay but this time adding the genre of Survival Horror with the inclusion of zombies and monsters acting as the threat instead of rival gang members.
As previously stated this an alternative timeline proceeding Yakuza 4, the residents of Kamurochu -the games location/city/sandbox- find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force are called in to try and contain the infection by quarantining sections of Kamurochu. The game has you play as four characters with their own storylines that loosely tie in the events of the game, in addition to each character used as a narrative device to slowly unravel what has caused the outbreak as well as providing character motivations.
The first character you play as is Shun, a loan shark who is trying to save his receptionist and love interest; many of this section has you trying to escape the quarantine section and acting as somewhat of a tutorial. After that you play as fan favorite and general psychopath Majima, whom is delighted by the outbreak as this means he can go on a zombie killing spree. Caught up in the slaying of zombies he finds himself getting bit leading him to search for a cure. Concluding Majima’s story, we are introduced to Ryuji from Yakuza 2, who is now equipped with a minigun on his arm. Ryuji has come to the city due to his ex-gang members being somehow involved with outbreak. Whilst investigating the quarantine zone Ryuji finds out that his father is potentially still within the walls of the infected. Finally, you play as Yakuza’s main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. After finding out his adopted daughter has been kidnapped comes to Kamurochu to rescue her.
Like all Yakuza games you’ll come across a host of different characters to interact with through the main story, activities and substories littered across all four campaigns.
Yakuza: Dead Souls manages to ride the waves of melodrama and comedy, with neither detracting or interfering with each other; it knows what beat to hit and when to hit it. The fact that you don’t play as the series leading man until the very end shows the teams confidence and strength in storytelling. Making it all more the sweeter when he is introduced; a moment the writers and developers absolutely capture fans anticipated excitement perfectly. At the heart of it, the closing moments of Dead Souls leaves you with a tender message. Telling the gamers that life is tough, upsetting and not always fun but we fight through it to see the next day; even after killing thousands of zombies, the game has something positive to say.
Combat in Yakuza: Dead Souls is more weapon focus than fighting, even though you can still beat up enemies with your bare hands, Dead Souls see you have multiple weapons such as Hand Guns, Shotguns and other various firearms to eliminate the undead hordes. And hordes they are, as countless zombies chase you at any given opportunity. By simply pressing R2 acts as a free aim, furthermore, you can manually aim with L2 or use L1 to precise aim. Amongst the hordes you will come across special types of enemies, like the Fatty -a fat zombie that explodes, Screamers- A woman zombie who lures other zombies, Aggros- Aggressive zombie that beats you up and many more all with signature specialty as well as serval boss encounters.
Unlike previous Yakuza games that sees you approach enemies and initiates the battle mode. Dead Souls uses the quarantine zone as the battle zone allowing for a more unrestricted combat experience. Even though some sections still have a restricted combat area, like some story missions or liberating shops in the quarantine zone, however these are few and far between.
Heat mode is still featured in Dead Souls but now its Heat shot. After killing several zombies your heat meter will fill up granting you the ability to shoot various environmental hazards that can potentially wipe out multiple enemies at once. Selecting the option to shoot a fuel tank on a car, to cut to a cinematic view of the bullet flying to the fuel tank and to see the car burst into flames never gets boring.
Killing zombies gains you experiences points that level up the character. Upon leveling up you obtain points which you can use to unlock new moves, techniques and attributes- such a more inventory space or the ability to further upgrade weapons. But don’t worry, the levels carry through each character.
Even though killing zombies is the main part of the gameplay, it’s still a small part of what is on offer; this game brimming with content. You can sink hours into the games many activities, such going on dates with hostess’s, eating at the many fine restaurants, go to the arcades, gamble, karaoke; the list is endless… Oh, you can also train hostesses to fight alongside with you too. And that’s not including the fifty odd sub-stories you can complete. There is something for everyone in this game.
Visually there is not much really to say about Dead Souls. Everything has that grey-washed-out look that was popular during the seventh-generation games. It does seem to fit the zombie apocalyptic ambience though, as the washed-out look matching the skin of the undead.
It’s the enemy design were the game shines. The aesthetic design of the specialist enemies translated through their unique property; like the aggro wearing a hoodie, zombies on rollerblades, the screamers being hostesses; it creates a charm to the design rather than trying to scare.
One thing I must add is that the game features the best reload animation I’ve seen. When you are playing Ryuji with his minigun arm, if you fire to the point of zero bullets the arm opens and slowly spins a couple of times and then closes as the reload animation. But it’s the noise as it makes as it spins, this machine piston sound, it’s incredibly satisfying.
I doubt we will see a Kiwami remake of Dead Souls as it is the weakest game in the series, but that doesn’t mean its bad. You have all the content you would normally get within a Yakuza including its usual level of quality storytelling. Even with the addition of gunplay, the game does not loose that arcade feel too the gameplay. I hate referring to other games in a review as I feel like it’s a copout, nevertheless I couldn’t stop being reminded of ‘Zombies Revenge’ on the Dreamcast when playing Yakuza: Dead Souls.
Just on content alone this game is worth picking up, despite that it’s has a pick up and play vibe, yet it’s layered with a surprisingly engaging story. Will this game blow you mind? No. What you do get is a enjoyable experience throughout.
Guest Blog Post by Jack @ThePnutbean and YouTube
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