The Yakuza series originally started out as the spiritual successor to the Sega Dreamcast's Shenmue, a critically acclaimed game that involved a deep storyline, slight RPG elements and a bunch of fun mini-games.
Insanely popular in the Japan, the series has gone from strength to strength due to its wonderfully told storylines and meaty melee combat. Yakuza Dead Souls brings a departure to the series in the fact that it has zombies in it.
Traditionally, the series had storylines involving Japan's yakuza culture (hence the title) so this is quite a departure indeed.
The city of Kamurocho is host to a zombie outbreak and it's up to our four heroes, money lender Shun Akiyama, crazed yakuza Goro "Mad Dog" Majima, ex-yakuza boss Ryuji Goda and series star Kazuma Kiryu to save the day.
During the campaign you will play as all four characters, starting with Shun Akiyama and ending with Kazuma Kiryu, at different times and with different weapons. The four stories ultimately combine to reach a conclusion. Anyone who has played Yakuza 4 will know what to expect.
Truth be told, the zombie storyline is not as good as the previous games' stories due to the fact that you have nothing to look forward to in terms of story progression. Gone are the yakuza rivalries or secondary characters you can care about. It all eventually becomes a third person shooter - something that the Yakuza series is not known for.
But at least the shooting mechanics are decent right? Wrong!
In what must be the biggest oversight in recent gaming memory, Sega has implemented the worst shooting mechanics to ever grace a game. Slow first-person aiming. Check! Slow turning movement. Check! Bad action camera allowing cheap hits from unseen enemies. Check!
You can name every bad game design related to shooters and I bet that this game has it. One of the highlights of the Yakuza series has always been the awesome melee combat, allowing you to pick up everyday items such as chairs and bicycles to bash your enemies with.
This feature is still used in this game, but since the zombies are practically immune to anything but bullets, the game forces you to use its horrible shooting mechanics instead.
To make matters worse, the fact that you can buy quite a number of guns in the game, such as meaty shotguns and assault rifles, is cool as it adds a nice variety to your death dealing. But alas, your dual pistols have infinite bullets, making the other weapons obsolete. And yes, you can get quite far on your pistols alone (if you manage to aim and shoot anything that is). So disappointing.
What else does the game have to offer? Well, you can still explore the city, at least the parts that are not infected. And like previous games, there are lots of distractions like table tennis, arcades, the infamous hostess clubs, etc. Some of these mini-games will keep you busy for quite a while. All good then? Not really, I'm afraid.
You see, due to the rapidly increasing zombie outbreak, more and more areas become infected as you progress through the game, limiting your areas to explore and to interact with the mini-games. Eventually, all that is left is the wonderfully tedious zombie shooting with the broken mechanics.
A special mention must be made of the archaic graphic design used in this game. Everything in this game, from the low-resolution textures to the simple design of the buildings and the streets just screams Playstation 2. The main character models are the only things that has been given attention to in this game.
With sandbox titles like Grand Theft Auto IV or Sony's own Infamous 2 showcasing marvellous graphics for sandbox titles on the same console, Yakuza's graphical shortcomings are painfully obvious. You would think that the people responsible for three previous Yakuza games as well as this year's good looking Binary Domain, would at least put in a bigger effort for their biggest franchise (in Japan at least).
As a Yakuza fan, I really tried to like this game. The weak storyline, broken shooting mechanics and repetitive enemies really bring this game down. You could always say to yourself that Dead Souls is not really a Yakuza game, but a quirky spin-off. Unfortunately, Sega considers the game canon in the series, which is disappointing indeed.
Still wonderfully acted, language barrier considering (all Yakuza games have a Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles), the weak story is well told.
You'll have some fun for the first half of the game at least, but once the zombie outbreak is in full effect, the fun ends. I hope Sega learns from its mistakes and makes the inevitable Yakuza 5 a return to form.
Overall : 5 out of 10