The Yakuza series is no stranger to the gaming industry. With four titles already under its belt here in the US, the series has a small, but loyal following. Dead Souls takes almost everything you know about the series and puts it on its head. Gone are the beat ’em up aspects of the previous entries, replaced with some truly mediocre shooting mechanics that would feel out of place five years ago. What we are left with is a generic zombie shooter with the Yakuza name.
The story is broken down between four main characters, each one with their own narrative. Eventually they all culminate to whoop serious amounts of zombie ass, but the journey is far from exciting. For a game based on action and impending zombie attacks, the pace is dawdling at best. The cut scenes are drawn out and overbearing, and frankly not that interesting. Characters are boring at best and annoying at worst. These cut scenes also really drag out the seemingly simple story. This zombie game lasts anywhere from 15-20 hours, and frankly, that is entirely too long.
The length of the game would be fine if there was actually meaty content behind it. It appears like things are looking good once you get past the initial zombie wave. Once you gain access to Kamurocho, everything functions like a traditional Yakuza game. You can visit hostess bars, massage parlors and arcades much like the previous games. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last. As the game progresses, more and more of the city becomes closed off, making leisure time less and less frequent. Eventually, all you end up doing is mowing down zombies while entertaining some overly long cut scenes.
Again, I could look past all of this if the game was actually fun. Unfortunately, the shooting mechanics here are some of the worst I have played in a long time. Most of your shooting is done through an auto aim, and thank goodness for that. Manual aiming is slow and cumbersome, and the camera is the stuff of nightmares. You have to face an enemy to lock-on to them, and half the time your character simply doesn’t want to turn in that direction. You can go into a focused aim where you stop and manually acquire your target, but it is so slow that it feels almost useless.
Much like Dead Rising, you can also use items scattered around the levels as melee weapons. Don’t bother. They are ineffective and slow. Bullets are the way to go, even if the controls are truly awful. There is a gauge that fills up called the Sniper Gauge that allows you to focus shots on things like gas tanks and exploding barrels. These are really just glorified cut scenes with screen clearers. The bad part is that they deplete if you take a hit, and trust me; you will take more than a fair share thanks to the poor camera system.
Things continue to pile up against the game, and I spent much more time frustrated with it than having a good time. Zombie games are usually mindless mixes with hidden depth, but Yakuza fails at delivering any of that. There is an upgrade system that allows you to beef up your armor, reload speeds and such, but grinding is worse than Dead Rising and not even half as fun. Boss battles are an exercise in frustration, as well. The game throws plenty of enemies at you during these fights, and getting the camera to cooperate is definitely not in the cards. Oh, did I also mention several of them get regenerating health? Yeah, most gamers will never see the end of this game for the sheer fact that frustration sets in way before the climax.
OK, I would be lying at this point if I continued to tell you I could look past this or that if this was better, but come on, even the visuals are troublesome here. The frame rate during some sequences is downright embarrassing. It slows down so much that, at first, you think it is a special effect. The city is littered with pedestrians and zombies that simply pop-up during gameplay out of nowhere, and the streets are simply bland. The animations are stilted and pre-programmed, taking away any sense of realism. I know this is standard for the series, but it stands out here as the focus shifts more towards action.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is not a good game. In fact, I had almost no fun while playing it, and I love me some zombie slaying of almost any variety. The cumbersome controls, broken camera and poor design really took away the bright spots the game managed to shine through on occasion. Fans of the Yakuza series will likely balk at the removal of its trademarked features, while fans of zombie shooters will fight with the disadvantageous controls. It is a no-win situation, and I am still trying to figure out who this game was made for. It is a long adventure with plenty of content, it’s just a shame most of it just isn’t any fun.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.