Yakuza: Dead Souls Review (PS3)




Much like its zombie antagonists whom infest the Japanese district of Kamurocho, Yakuza: Dead Souls is a title that exists within a strange dichotomy. One minute it shambles and stumbles about, teetering on the edge of being dysfunctional; the next minute it is nimble and vigorously fast, a fluid and entertaining gameplay experience. Yakuza: Dead Souls is perhaps the very epitome of a modern Sega developed game, an analogue for its parent company’s long, frustrating history of providing the pinnacle in arcade style gaming fun for an audience of patient gamers who are willing to get past the many bumps and hurdles along the way.




In Yakuza: Dead Souls players take control of one of four main characters including loan shark Shun Akiyama, Tojo Clan patriarch Goro Majima, former Omi Alliance Chairman Ryuji Goda, and series protagonist and hero Kazuma Kiryu, all of whom play mechanically identical to one another, minus the inclusion of character specific weapons such as Goda’s prosthetic Gatling gun arm. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a non-canonical sequel to Yakuza 2 set in an alternate timeline where the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho has been besieged by a zombie outbreak. Kazuma is lured back to the city and life he left behind after receiving a phone call informing him that his adopted daughter, Haruka, has been abducted and is being held hostage in the city. What follows is a serviceable yet enjoyable narrative that effectively provides the player with a platform for zombie killing mayhem as we follow our heroes’ intersecting journeys while they fight to survive the expanding threat of zombie mutation. Both absurdly hilarious and, on occasion, unexpectedly dramatic, the story of Yakuza: Dead Souls culminates in a workmanlike climax which, unlike other modern zombie themed fiction, gives a reasonable explanation for the biological disaster.


gameplay3Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fully featured Yakuza game which replaces the franchise’s traditional martial arts combat with third-person shooting. Although it may appear to play similarly to games such as Dead Space or Resident Evil, in actuality it is very different. Yakuza: Dead Souls is perhaps best described as a sandbox action-RPG, complete with a fairly deep leveling and crafting system, dozens of optional side quests and challenges, a vast world filled with eccentric characters to meet and places to visit, and a myriad of mini-games with which to keep players distracted. If you want to go bowling, shoot pool, sing karaoke, or try your luck at the casinos, go right ahead. If you want to enter into the quarantine zone to level grind, find crafting materials or complete side quests, you can do that, too. Players will want to complete these side missions because every little task, including eating at restaurants to restore health, confers either valuable experience, cash, or crafting items. Upon leveling up their characters, players earn skill points which can be used to purchase new abilities such as adding new inventory and equipment slots or increasing the chance to score head shots. Money and items are used to purchase new weapons and armor or upgrade equipment to transform your character into an even more proficient instrument of zombie genocide. Defensive equipment can be improved upon by combining them with crafting materials or new equipment can be created after players discover rare recipes after completing specific missions. Yakuza: Dead Souls offers players a huge world to interact with and discover. The main quest will take most players about 20 to 30 hours to complete, but completing optional side quests and challenges and playing mini-games can easily add over 100 hours of additional content for those persistent enough to overcome the game’s most glaring obstacle, the non-intuitive control scheme.


gameplay4HulkDifficult to learn controls can certainly pose an intimidating barrier to entry for many gamers. Although Yakuza: Dead Souls uses a control scheme that presents players with a steep learning curve, they are not mechanically bad, just awkward. In fact, as players acclimate to the game’s design over time, the purpose of the controls starts to make sense. Yakuza: Dead Souls exemplifies the phrase “run and gun” as players frequently find themselves running from the zombie hoards while attempting to carve themselves a path by simultaneously shooting down enemies. During exploration and ordinary traversal, the camera follows the player from behind, allowing camera rotation using the right analogue stick. During combat the camera sometimes pulls back slightly, giving players a better view of approaching enemies which literally spawn from everywhere. Here is where Yakuza: Dead Souls feels like an old style arcade shooter by allowing players to run around freely while shooting in the general direction they are running. By holding down L1 on the PS3 controller, the camera locks behind the player’s character which allows for strafing and better aiming control. However, aiming is still imprecise as fired shots automatically hit enemies positioned in the general direction you are aiming. Shot effectiveness is more dependent upon leveled up abilities and weapon stats than aiming. While most enemy encounters involve cliché zombie types which are easy to dispatch, monolithic level bosses and mid-tier bosses, such as the rollerblading Monkey Boys and hulking Meatheads, have weak points to target or require head shots to summarily defeat. By holding L2 on the PS3 controller, an aiming reticle appears at the expense of locking character movement, allowing players more precision aiming control. Unfortunately, reticle movement is mapped to the left analogue stick requiring players to use the same hand to hold down the L2 button, completing the recipe for awkward control design. Despite these foibles, the control scheme generally works well and proves conducive to zombie extermination after a little practice. The flaws in the control design are best exploited when players find themselves in tight spaces surrounded by droves of enemies. Here the camera can become spastic and difficult to control. This issue is compounded upon by enemies that have a penchant for knocking the player’s character to the ground. When this happens, the camera typically swings away from the enemies, making it difficult to re-establish aim upon getting up. Enemies then proceed to hover over the character, waiting to time their next attack to knock you to the ground repeatedly. Although this happens infrequently, it happens enough to be the most frustrating aspect of the game, and an issue that the developers should address in future iterations.





gameplay2For the most part, Yakuza: Dead Souls technically performs competently while handling dozens of enemies on screen simultaneously, but as the game’s story progresses and the zombie infestation spreads, enemy spawn rates dramatically increase, setting the stage for massive slow down and frame rate drops. This issue serves to aid enemy A.I., enabling them to catch up to the player’s character during large scale battles. Thankfully, this problem can be remedied by taking out large groups of enemies at a time. This process for mass destruction is facilitated by the inclusion of the Snipe Gauge, which fills up gradually over time. The zombie infested quarantine zones in Kamurocho are replete with exploding barrels and tanks, electrical boxes and vehicles, which become targets when the Snipe Gauge is full. Upon successful completion of a brief quick-time event, players can shoot these environmental objects resulting in large scale destruction. The Snipe Gauge’s recharge rate and usage frequency are also dependent upon purchasing skills after leveling up, incentivizing players to concentrate on side quests in exchange for reaping rewards to get an advantage in difficult battles.


The quality of the presentation in Yakuza: Dead Souls falls somewhere in between a last generation PS2 game and a modern PS3 game. Main storyline cut scenes are graphically impressive, characterized by large, detailed character models with distinctive and expressive facial features. Spoken dialogue is exclusively in Japanese with English subtitles, embellished with solid voice acting which appropriately represents the characters on screen. In game zombiegraphics, however, are less impressive. Character models are noticeably less detailed and barely exceed the standard of a last generation game. Environmental detail is good in the uninfected, glitzy, and colorful areas within the city, but in the dilapidated quarantine zone, the graphics are repetitive and become boring over extended play. Most side quest cut scenes involve minimally animated character models gesticulating silently as dialogue text scrolls at the bottom of the screen. Sega has apparently opted to adhere a little too closely to the principle of sticking to the same formula, offering gamers little improvement in the game’s overall presentation since the franchise’s inception on last generation hardware.




Yakuza: Dead Souls is a difficult game to define and recommend. On one hand it is a vast, activity filled world, full of replayability that even allows completists to continue their adventure and tackle unfinished side missions after the ending credits. It is a game filled with likeable characters, absurd and memorable humor, satisfying and addictive leveling and upgrading, and, most importantly, mindless zombie killing bliss. On the other hand, Yakuza: Dead Souls is technically unrefined, characterized by controls that are difficult to master; a game capable of pulling it’s players into the depths of volatile frustration. Yakuza: Dead Souls exhibits a perplexing duplicity, not unlike the zombie trait of being both alive and undead, which unfortunately, establishes an impediment for the gaming masses to playing this title. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a quintessential Sega title, filled with charm and unpolished arcade style fun that should not be dismissed upon cursory examination by both Sega fans and hardcore gaming enthusiasts.








Lasting Appeal




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