Japan’s game developers seem to be heading down a strange path in 2012. Several beloved game franchise sequels coming from the Land Of The Rising Sun this year have not only turned out to be disappointing, but disappointing in a way that defies conventional explanation. Ninja Gaiden 3 is one example, a title that had everything that made the series famous stripped from it and replaced with “features” so bizarre and confusing it made you wonder what was going on during those development meetings. Yakuza: Dead Souls, unfortunately, falls into this category as well. The gameplay presented in this latest outing feels so broken and janky that any fan who may brave a purchase will likely end up feeling disgusted and cheated. Considering the battle that the Yakuza series went through in order to even be released stateside, it is confusing how Sega saw fit to show this franchise such little respect.
The Yakuza series has always been considered to be the spiritual successor to Shenmue, filling the kung-fu RPG void left by Ryo Hazuki’s confinement inside a Hong Kong tomb of stone. The series has taken place in a sprawling, artistic version of Tokyo, teeming with merchants, citizens and street toughs. It has always centered on warring factions of Japanese mafia families kung-fuing it out in the streets of Tokyo. While the general idea of a zombie outbreak in this version of Tokyo doesn’t sound like a totally bad idea in and of itself, the execution presented here in Yakuza: Dead Souls couldn’t have missed the mark more if the developers themselves had turned into zombies.
The main problem seems to be that the core concept for this title would have been enough for a really sweet downloadable content pack for, say, Yakuza 4. If they had done it “Red Dead Redemption” style and made this zombie outbreak in Tokyo a cautionary tale told by ‘Uncle Kaz’ to the older children of the orphanage, it may have even been a fun ride. Instead they chose to pad this concept out to an entire top-tier release and, since you cannot have zombies without guns and headshots, changed the core gameplay from a kung-fu beat ‘em up to a frustrating, broken “we’re out of our element here” shooting gallery. If it were strictly a cash-grab on Sega’s part, one could understand the why… but since the Yakuza series doesn’t generally sell outside of its fan base in America, the whole motivation is just downright puzzling.
Keeping with the “four main characters” theme of Yakuza 4, Dead Souls tells the tales of “Uncle Kaz” Kazuma Kiryu, loan shark Shun Akiyama, gangster Goro Majima and retired Yakuza Ryuji Goda. In typical George Romero fashion, the four characters’ story arcs will eventually come together and they will join forces to fight the hordes of undead now taking over the city. While the last couple of sentences read like a fun time, the fun is immediately curb stomped by the god awful shooting mechanic they hobbled together. Aiming in the first-person mode is so awkward, slow and inaccurate that players will find themselves overwhelmed by a herd of undead before they even manage to get a single shot off. The camera is not your friend, and the struggle to keep anything in front of you is a constant one, particularly during boss battles where players spend as much time fighting the camera as the boss itself.
If the auto aim is turned on, you are likely to have the pleasure of finding yourself aiming at the fire escape of the building in front of you rather than the two dozen zombies coming up behind you. This leads to the next point… it’s clear that the game’s engine wasn’t designed with the idea of hordes of enemies being on screen at once. Every time a group of zombies appear in one place the frame rate begins to suffer.
When players reach the moment (and they will) where they attempt to abandon the shooting mechanic and try to fight the zombies using objects you can pick up on the street, they will realize that zombies require brain damage in order to be put down permanently and that storefront mannequin just “aint makin’ it.” To its credit, the game does manage to keep some semblance of the humor and overall weirdness the series is known for, but there is not much else to recommend here at all.
The whole game is about as much fun as a zombie outbreak.
Yakuza has always been known for its high-standards, weird humor and, most of all, insanely fun brawling. All of that is gone here. One could safely say that the zombie outbreak of Dead Souls has decimated Kamurocho of everything that would make anyone want to travel there, both literally and metaphorically. Spare yourself this dreadful misstep and play through Yakuza 4 a second time.
This review is based on a retail copy of Yakuza: Dead Souls for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sega.