PS3 Review – Yakuza: Dead Souls

Sega’s newest entry in the Yakuza series is the PS3-based spinoff Dead Souls, formerly known as Of the End. So how does the Kazuma Kiryu gang handle shooting thousands of zombies?

This review is technically of Yakuza: Of the End. Sega has stated that the only change it intends to make is the removal of Japanese trivia game “Answer X Answer,” and the game is therefore the same as what will be called “Dead Souls” internationally. For that purpose, we will refer to it as such in the review.

The biggest change from other Yakuza games is that Dead Souls battles feature gun shooting almost exclusively. Guns in this series were a rarity prior to this, but now, they’re the stars of the show. There’s a small variety of weapons to choose from to keep things interesting and accommodate various situations; this gun selection grows for gamers energetic enough to go about the city doing more than just the main story. This exploration and quest hunting, while decent, doesn’t offer the depth that Yakuza series enthusiasts may be accustomed to. Too much of the game’s content — both in the main story and side quests — boils down to there being a lot of zombies, and the only solution being to shoot them. The lure of Yakuza games is the adventure as a whole. With the exception of perhaps Black Panther, you don’t play Yakuza games specifically for the combat, but more what happens outside of it. Dead Souls, however, puts an increased emphasis on fighting than previous entries in the series, which is unfortunate, because it also starts to get stale even faster than it did in Kenzan.

The exceptions here are the intense boss battles. Since this game can do things other Yakuza games couldn’t really get away with, the boss possibilities were off the charts by comparison. From an obvious homage to the Licker of Resident Evil, to a giant octopus, to a demon bigger than the roof of a building, and more, the bosses and mid-bosses constantly provide exciting fights.

Regular enemy variety gets better as game goes on, but the basic task doesn’t: shoot zombies until they die. Even with varying guns and the four characters switching up as the player progresses through the plot, the experience always has that faint flavor of same-old-same-old hanging around. I’m not saying we need constant friggin’ fireworks, unicorns shooting rainbows, and bear cavalry in here, but the formula just seems to rely too heavily on you being the only guy in the country who has figured out how to shoot a gun.

That said, it’s also increasingly hard to ignore all the plot holes that keep popping up. Dead Souls not only plays its Fiction Card constantly, but it apparently has a Defy Logic Card. A barrage of bullets from a half-dozen mafia guys can’t kill a single zombie, but when any of the main characters picks up their exact same gun and fires it, things die? The army with its machine guns and tanks can’t kill these things, but when G.I. Jane comes along, she can take ’em out with no problem? There’s a zombie apocalypse happening on the other side of a wall, and nobody has, y’know, left town? Fiction and fantasy are keys in nearly any video game, but boldly defying common sense is a little bit silly.

Despite the logical loops, however, the story is Yakuza: Dead Souls‘ strongest aspect. Franchise fans get to see an amusing side story starring the characters they’ve come to love over the last half-decade, doing things they’ve never done and interacting in new ways. There’s also something entirely too fun about controlling series madman Majima and blasting things with a shotgun. At times, it has something of an identity crisis, like the creators couldn’t decide if they wanted to stick to Yakuza or bring in some serious survival horror, by and large, it’s a surprisingly entertaining, mostly serious story. The characters are as good as ever, and their interactions and dialogue are enjoyable.

Dead Souls should not be confused with survival horror games. There’s a touch of that, sure, what with it being about killing zombies and all, but it’s much more of a shooter/adventure game than survival horror. I say this only so that you don’t go in with confused expectations. There’s no element of surprise after Akiyama’s chapter (the first one). The first time a zombie fell from the ceiling, I jumped. The next 400 times, it was wholly expected, to the point that it became a joke. I’d walk into a room and say out loud to my wife “I’ll bet you a zombie drops from the ceiling in the next area,” and a lot of the time, I’d win. The first time I saw a zombie waiting for me around a corner, it was a little startling. By the end of the game, I was convinced that zombies hung out exclusively near corners and on ceilings. Talk about going back to the well. It’s almost like the team tried to create scares and atmosphere on par with Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but didn’t realize that the great things about those games is that the fright and tension are near constant. There is little comic relief, minimal zaniness, and even less karaoke to conflict with the feelings of those games. Having a zombie or two or nine drop from a ceiling would have been great, but this game overused it, as well as a few other tricks.

At several junctures, the main character will be accompanied by a computer-controlled ally. These characters handle themselves pretty well, and the majority of the time will impress with their AI. There are the occasional moments when they’ll cause frustration with the way they sit around doing nothing while the player gets stomped into the pavement, though. One instance in the latter stages of the game will have two characters just looking at Kiryu on the ground and saying stupid things like “He went up!” Yeah, I know, wanna take a shot at him or is that just me? The pistol has the range to hit him if I want to use that, and you’ve got a rifle, sport. Wanna chip in a bit? The complaint is lengthy, but thankfully not too severe.

As part of a series that has only so rarely included a gun, Yakuza: Dead Souls does an admirable job of being playable by people who are terrible at shooters. At any point in the game, practically any gun can be used with success — even the boss fights. Certainly, some guns are preferred to others, and there are definite times life will be made easier by using an advanced weapon, but the player constantly has a pistol that, slow as it may be, can eventually kill anything. This is a nice fallback, because the Yakuza fan base (especially the Japanese chunk of it) might not be too familiar with shooters.

Where Yakuza has made its money these last five years is being a solid action-RPG series with oddly realistic, deep exploration opportunities. In this game, however, removes too much of that. The opportunities to explore are few and far between, and what’s there is definitely gimped compared to other entries. Obviously the reason for this is, oh yeah, the zombie infestation and impending doom, but as Final Fantasy XIII taught us, the plot providing an excuse for something doesn’t magically make it more fun. Gamers will indeed get a fresh look at Kamurocho in all its apocalyptic glory, but don’t expect side quest opportunities quite as abundant or as appealing as they were in parts 3 and 4 of the series. Sticking strictly to the main plot will run a gamer about 14-18 hours, but one can more than double that with the side stuff. It’s just kind of demotivating knowing how much of it leads to simply repeating the task of shooting 200 more zombies in the head.

Yakuza: Dead Souls isn’t going to bring in any new blood to the Yakuza series, but for its existing fans, it provides an interesting story and gameplay elements that haven’t been explored previously. Combat against the common zombies gets old fast, but there are some great boss battles to balance it out. As a huge Yakuza fan myself, I somewhat enjoyed the game, but wish there would have been a little better pacing and more chances to explore. Dead Souls ends up being OK for what it is.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Awesome boss battles

+ A great side story for Yakuza fans

– Regular combat becomes boring, demotivating to progress

5 out of 10