Yakuza: Dead Souls
Yakuza: Dead Souls is stupid. I spent a huge amount of time running around, pumping bullets into an endless stream of zombies, stopping only because I’d run out of ammunition. After I got bored of shooting waves of undead I went to an encircled spa where I could have a bath and play table tennis against a young prostitute. It was a simple timed prompt game, but between strokes I could stab the triangle button to stare at my opponents bouncing chest to fill up my ‘heat’ meter. After I’d ogled her enough I could unleash a devastating finishing shot, knocking her to the floor and opening her dressing gown so I could peek down her cleavage. The game ended with her in a state of undress and looking forward to seeing me again. Then I shot some more zombies.
It would be far too bold to say that Yakuza: Dead Souls is a particularly deep title. The option to play a host of mini games set within a playground of sub-quests gives it breadth as opposed to depth, but if you’ve played a Yakuza title before, you probably know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Structured similarly to Yakuza 4, the narrative is shared between four likable protagonists and is, incredibly, quite good. The franchise has always worked hard at breathing life into its characters and creating scripts (and translations) that whip along at a decent pace. It’s also refreshing to see a developer not shy away from laughing at its ludicrous premise and enforcing an outrageous suspension of belief upon its characters.
Gameplay is tricky, a recognised hallmark of the Yakuza games, but the dodgy targeting system becomes plain unfair during corridor sections; a problem not so easy to laugh off considering the oddly distanced checkpoints. Platoons of shambling, grey/blue bodies tumble lifelessly under the magnitude of your arsenal, and only the peppering of ‘hit my weak spot’ mutants add any form of variety to the carnage. Experience points are accrued to unlock physical bonuses and chunks of gear and tools are gathered in order to make even more impressive ordinance… you know how it goes.
It’s the spaces between the ‘game’ that I enjoyed the most. Gallivanting around bars, infested or not, in order to unlock the tasting notes on a wide range of whiskies, gins, vodkas and brandies became more important than completing the main quest. Teaching myself how to play Pachinko took two whole days, but I felt like I achieved something resembling real world knowledge by the end. I saw the hostesses and I wanted to date them all. All. Of. Them!
It seems slightly unjust that Sega have spent such huge swathes of money on writers and actors when all I want to do is eat ice cream and buy girls hand bags, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
Whether Yakuza: Dead Souls is Sega’s attempt to introduce its killer franchise to the Western masses (because a game without guns is like ping pong without prostitutes) is debatable, but the inclusion of such unfamiliar Japanese references will likely put off the uninitiated. You can play Mahjong and a variety of other Japanese parlour games in an underground gambling den, not an easy thing to get your head around if you’re looking for a Dead Rising clone.
As fate would have it, I quite like all that stuff. I’ve played most of the other Yakuza games, and returning to Kamurocho is a bit like returning to a fairground I went to when I was a kid. Its sounds and smells are all still there and it’s still fun for a bit, but the helter skelter looks much smaller than it used to, and the candy floss pulls at my teeth.
Yakuza is such an oddity that you’ve probably already decided whether you like it or not. By including zombies and guns, Sega have provided something new to its cumbersome, juggernaut of a franchise; but it’s been done much better elsewhere. If you like wasting time collecting things to give to digital girlfriends then this game is for you, but if you like doing that I’d suggest you’ve played too many videogames and should get some sun.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is dumb fun, but fun all the same.