Yakuza: Dead Souls isn’t your typical Yakuza title. It does have some familiar elements, but gone are the beat ‘em up, random encounters that populate the first four titles released in the West. Dead Souls opts instead for action heavy, 3rd person shooting in a zombie ravaged version of Kamurocho, the popular stomping grounds for the Yakuza series.
And unfortunately, the heavy focus on shooting doesn’t make this particular entry a winner. Camera controls are a mess, forcing you to constantly babysit your desired angle, and often getting hung up when entering tight corridors or confined spaces. There’s an option to turn on an auto-reset that’s meant to keep the camera behind your back when shooting, but that seems to have little effect most of the time.
You can reset the camera behind you with a button press, which is somewhat of a solution, but you’ll find yourself constantly needing to do so because you’re generally being attack from all sides. The only real “fix” the game gives you is auto-aim, meaning if you’re close enough to an enemy and facing their general direction, you’ll probably hit them as soon as you start to shoot. There’s also the ability to lock-on for head shots for a limited time, but it doesn’t work consistently.
And it’s a shame that the combat is such a mess, because everything else about the game will feel instantly familiar to Yakuza fans. The storyline picks up after part 4, and gives you control of four characters from across the series, including main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, the ever popular Goro Majima, Ryuji Goda from Yakuza 2, and the more recent Shun Akiyama from Yakuza 4.
Like Yakuza 4, the game splits each character’s role for different chapters in the game. You’ll start off with Akiyama, and end with Kazuma, getting different perspectives for the zombie invasion that’s plaguing Kamurocho. As each character’s story advances, Kamurocho becomes more and more infested, splitting off the “normal” sections of the city with infested areas that you’ll be tasked with exploring by both the main story and sub-stories found throughout the city.
Dead Souls is chock full of side content, with lots of optional quests to go on that are located by looking for waypoints on your city map screen. There’s also a lot of familiar content in the form of Mahjong parlors, Casinos, Club SEGA, Hostess Clubs, Batting Cages, Bowling Alleys, and more. There’s really so much to do here that you’ll probably spend more time playing through all the side content than you do the main storyline, which is fairly short when compared to the previous games.
Visually the game isn’t particularly striking, but retains the style of the previous entries. I suppose part of this could be in my head, but I remember Yakuza 4 looking better than Dead Souls. Also, Dead Souls has some serious frame rate issues, it will chug along with multiple zombies or monsters on screen, and if you introduce elements like fire into the mix, it becomes a literal slide show.
Also, I found the story to be fun up until the last chapter of the game, which came off as a pretty big disappointment. It managed to make me feel as if the entire game had been a waste of time from a plot perspective, with no real impact on the characters or world around me. I realize that this is supposed to be more of a spin-off, and might not be considered canon, but because of that I was expecting a bit more out of the conclusion, which the game failed to deliver on.
I don’t feel like Yakuza: Dead Souls is a game that anyone really needs to play, even if you’re a pretty hardcore fan of the series. The action is such a departure from the series, and handled so poorly, that it literally turns you off of wanting to do anything but the non-combat side stuff found throughout. Even the story does little to satisfy that itch I had for a new Yakuza game, and if you stick with it you’ll most likely leave a little disappointed. It’s not enough to sour my taste for the series, absolutely not, but I’d rather SEGA stick with the main series from here on out, or maybe give us a little bit of the long-awaited Kenzan action.