Yakuza: Dead Souls

Yakuza:Dead Souls is the fifth Yakuza game released in the West and it sticks out dramatically from every other game in the series in many ways. Most obviously is the fact that it’s a shooter.  So does it still feel like a Yakuza game when brawling with street punks while intoxicated with Glenfiddich as a series staple? Well, no.

Dead Souls is broken up into four episodes. Each episode sees you take one of the four protagonists through their own mini-story one after the other in chronological order. Unlike every other Yakuza the majority of that time will be spent killing thousands of zombies with handguns, shotguns, rifles and even gatling guns.  As well as zombies there are much stronger mutants to dispose of most of which are poor facsimilies of the Tank, Witch, Boomer and Hunter from Left 4 Dead.  The military has set up giant barricades to create a Quarantine zone in an attempt to contain the zombie outbreak. However, the mysterious Hasegawa informs you of ways into and out of the Quarantine zone.  Along with the main story there are substories which will have you traversing the increasingly hostile and ever expanding Quarantine zone to complete them and in-so-doing killing hordes of zombies to level up and learn abilities.  This brings up so many issues I have with the game. Not least of which is the shooting itself.

The best thing I could say about the shooting is that it isn’t broken. Yakuza has never been about shooting. As mentioned previously the series is well-known and well-loved as a modern day take on the classic Brawler that is so unique and enjoyable, so Dead Souls introducing such a heavy emphasis on guns feels both bizarre and jarring. The gunplay is at best clumsy and at worst infuriating. Aiming is utterly pointless as you may be able to squeeze off a few rounds before being tackled or grabbed and having to stop and aim slowly at speedy zombies who surround you in a matter of seconds is just maddening. Add to this the frustration of slow reload times, the fact you don’t auto reload upon emptying a magazine and, if you’re hit or grabbed mid-reload, you need to start again and you have a recipe for disaster.  The gameplay ends up as a catalogue of howling shooting-mechanic failures the likes of which I have never experienced and is a far cry from the hilarious, cathartic and satisfyingly challenging street brawling of Yakuza 3 and 4.  Dead Souls tries in vain to emulate the effectiveness of the Heat attacks from earlier games, which were always the highlight of any action sequence, by introducing a kind of Quick Time explosion but instead of punctuating the fight sequence they instead actually kill stone-dead any kind of momentum you’ve been fortunate enough to build up with overly-long repeated animations, complete lack of diversity and worse still, a complete lack of originality or humour that sadly extends throughout the entire game.

The experience constantly feels at odds with itself as there’s a real schism between the urgency and panic of a zombie breakout and the belligerently casual atmosphere of the uninfected areas. Similarly, the urgency of the main story makes it difficult to focus on the pedestrian substories. For example, having casual conversations and accepting missions/requests from complete strangers feels really odd when your adorable female assistant is helplessly trapped, hiding and terrified within the Quarantine zone.  Yakuza games have always done this; they combine hilariously banal substories such as following a cat or fetching a drink of water for an old woman who is feeling rather queer, but they have always been in-keeping with the feeling of the world and feel right as part of the experience. In Dead Souls it just doesn’t fit.

There are glimpses of the magic that makes Yakuza games so brilliant. Akiyama’s philanthropic and charismatic persona is fighting to come through and Majima’s maniacal, nihilistic bent comes through quite well but his more interesting sentimental, honourable and human side doesn’t get an opportunity shy of a rather blunt scene.  Ryuji, the hulking blonde with a gatling gun for an arm, has the makings of a great character: a reformed, forlorn ex-yakuza whose life mirrors the classic Mafia line “Just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in,” – once you’re Yakuza, you’re Yakuza for life!  The same is true for the series frontman Kazuma Kiryu whose peaceful post-yakuza days are spent running Sunflower Orphanage in tropical, laid-back Okinawa but is impelled or coerced to resort to old ways. You play the whole game under his shadow just waiting for him to arrive and when he does it’s completely underwhelming. He gets very few lines of dialogue and the epic climax of previous games is absent as it culminates as little more than a limp ending.  I wouldn’t be so entitled to suggest Yakuza fans deserve more – we are certainly used to better, that much is certain – but these characters deserve much better because they are utterly fantastic, well realised, believable, hilarious and totally endearing but in Dead Souls they aren’t given enough time in the limelight which is a real shame.







2 responses to “Yakuza: Dead Souls”

  1. Danny avatar

    You made Nagoshi-san cry :'(

  2. Paul Rooney avatar
    Paul Rooney

    He made me cry!!!

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