If you have already played a Yakuza game, you may want to skip to the "Summary" section, but for those of you who have not played a Yakuza game, and want to know more, please continue reading.
Yakuza: Dead Souls is approximately the 6th console version in the series (there have been 2 other PSP games that never made it to the US), the fourth Yakuza title on the PS3, and the third to make it to the USA. Traditionally, Yakuza games are a mixture of the sandbox, action RPG, and brawler genres, all wrapped up into one massive experience. I've only started playing the series on the PS3, since I did not own a PS2 (Yakuza 1 and 2 were on the PS2), so Yakuza 3 was my first entry into the series; it's been one of my favorites ever since.
To summarize the backstory, you play as Kazuma Kiryu, who is more or less a "Godfather" in the Japanese mafia. There's a huge crime family, and he was the 4th chairman of the Tojo clan. You have since then retired, and now run an orphanage in Okinawa. However, as things go with the mafia, you keep getting pulled back in.
The fun of this game is that you're in an immersive world of Tokyo, people walking past you, running into you, flashing street signs, and music come from the bars as you walk down the street. Then, the occasional punk decides to run into you and pick a fight, or try to mug you, but that is a very bad mistake on their part. From then, you turn around, a crowd gathers around, cheering, while you beat the ever-living crap out of the punk and his friends. You can use your fists, feet, a bicycle that's just sitting over to the side, a beer bottle on the ground, etc. to teach these punks a lesson. Then, typically, you have a grand finishing move on the last of your enemies. My favorite is you knock the guy to the ground, you plant your hands on either side of his face, and you kick your feet up high in the air (almost doing a handstand on his face), and come down on his face with the full force of your knee. Blood shoots everywhere as he groans in pain. The funny part is that after all that, he's not dead; he's covered in blood and apologizes profusely to you, and gives you money or other items for your trouble. This is the kind of quirkyness that really captivated me--the animations, and the fighting techniques you unlock, are really fun and it's just hilarious to watch.
Aside from the main story and side-quests, you are allowed to do everything at your own pace (save for certain sub-stories that only occur at specific points, or sub-stories that you miss because you advanced the story too far). If you get the urge to just explore, there's no pressure--you are free to try the local fare at a bar, order drinks until the point of inebriation (as the bartender gives you a brief history of what you just ordered). There's sub-stories, strip clubs (no nudity, but pole-dancers in bikinis), tranny bars, etc. (one sub-story in Yakuza 3 had you being chased by a tranny and your objective was to get away; if you did not get away, the screen goes dark and it's left up to your imagination as to what took place). Then, there are the fun mini games: bowling, billiards, slots, pachinko, poker, blackjack, baccarat, a video arcade with this really cool "shmup," and many, many others.
In other words, you get a huge bang for your buck with these games; I have clocked over 220 hours in Yakuza 4 to platinum it, and I still was not able to complete each objective in all of the mini-games.
Yakuza: Dead Souls switches things up a bit with the series. This game really isn't "canon," but a side story, or a "what if" parallel story.
Dead Souls starts out with Kazuma Kiryu at the Sunshine Orphanage in Okinawa; the phone rings, and a mysterious person is on the line with Haruka (one of the older children at the Orphanage), holding her hostage. So again, you need to go back to Tokyo; this time to rescue Haruka. Meanwhile, you start out as Akiyama, the money lender of Sky Finance, from Yakuza 4. A mysterious person kind of shambles into a local Yakuza office and turns out to be a Zombie. He bites the guard at the door, and suddenly, all the Yakuza jump out of the 2nd story window onto the street. Long story short, the infection spreads and the Special Defense Force (SDF) start cordoning off the section of Kamurocho.
Certain aspects of the gameplay in this entry into the franchise have been completely altered, mainly involving a new shooting mechanic. Previous Yakuza games did have guns, but you would normally hold down the left trigger to lock on, and the right trigger to fire at your enemy--you didn't really need to aim at all. Also, in this game, you're only allowed a certain number of slots to hold items and ammo. The rest of the total slots are locked until you gain enough experience and choose to unlock them or not. Many times, you're faced with tough decisions on whether you should use your special points to learn about new, more powerful weapons, better armor, learning new techniques, or increasing your item, equipment, or weapon slots.
In previous Yakuza games, the gameplay was divided into your normal roaming activities, where your weapons are not accessible, you can't pick up bikes and traffic cones or destroy the environment. Only when a random enemy encounter occurred, you would enter the fighting mode, where you can pick up objects in the environments, use weapons, and use the melee combat mechanics. However, in this game, the gameplay is essentially divided by the regular city zone and the quarantine zone. When outside the quarantine zone, you do not have the random encounters or punks to beat up; you have to explicitly go into the quarantine zone, and then you are in action mode the entire time until you exit the area.
The action mode, that is in the quarantine zone, is completely different, from the previous games in the series. In this game, your primary weapons are guns and grenades. You can pick up objects on the ground and use them for melee, but you do not have the punch and kick combo mechanics from the previous games. There is no "Heat" bar, but it's replaced with a sniper gauge. I did notice that some of the unlockable skills do contain melee fighting, and it appears that once you unlock all the abilities, you have the option to unlock regular fighting (I won't be able to confirm this until I get that far). However, as stated previously, you must gain levels to gain upgrade points, so you have to choose wisely what to unlock.
So, once you get into the quarantine zone, there are zombies and other monsters (called mutants, which are mutated zombies) all around. You do not necessarily have to kill every single zombie, and in many rooms, there are monster closets where an unlimited number of zombies spawn. Many times, you just need to take out the zombies in your way, and run past them.
The quarantine area is totally wrecked, with cars in flames and bombed-out buildings. Once you are in the quarantine area, your guns are drawn and you can switch between equipped weapons using the D-pad. Each character is given his own weapon; Akiyama starts out with twin pistols that have unlimited ammunition. You also get a heavy side arm that has 6 shots, but unlimited ammo. Most of the guns so far in the game are upgradeable. You level up by gaining experience points after fighting zombies, eating food, or completing sub-stories and missions. Once you level up, you are awarded points that can be used to unlock new abilities for upgrading weapons, armor, and learning new attacks or defense tactics. As with previous Yakuza games, you collect different materials, and bring them plus your weapons, to the weapons dealer so he can use them to enhance your weapons and armor.
This is probably the more controversial part of the game. The control scheme is less than desirable, and you only have a choice of two control schemes; neither of which really change anything. You're not given the option of mapping the controls, which really is unfortunate. I did find a setting that will move the camera behind the character when he goes into aiming or L1 firing mode. The controls are the biggest complaint I have about the game, but it's not a showstopper. Once you get used to the controls, it's not that bad, but it really makes the game more frustrating at times.
So to summarize the controls in the action mode, the L1 trigger is used to strafe, and the camera adjusts behind you. When you move the left analog with L1 depressed, your character will focus on the point in which he was facing when you started holding down the L1 trigger. Then, there's an alternate aiming mode, if you hold down L2, a red reticle appears on the screen, and you use the left analog stick to move the reticle. You may have already noticed the problem--the left analog controls two different functions depending on which trigger is held down. This is the source of much aggravation, because as hoards of zombies are coming for you, you've most likely got the L1 down and you're moving away from the zombies while firing at them. If you hit L2 without stopping your movement, the reticle will appear, and will immediately start moving up on the screen (because you're already pulling back on the left analog).
Very early in the game, you can upgrade a skill that allows Akiyama to target, and track, the head of your attacker so you can pull off a headshot. So far, all zombies go down in one headshot, so it's a very handy trick. So it's easy to want to just quickly hit L2 while you are already holding L1, which then causes the issues just mentioned. It seems to me that a simple remedy would be to map the reticle movement to the right analog, which isn't used, so you can still move your character while aiming; but unfortunately, the controls cannot be fine-tuned. After 23+ hours of play, I'm getting the hang of the controls; I normally am able to automatically stop and hit L2 to pull off headshots without having to think first. It's pretty nice to be able to rapidly hit L2, then shoot with R1, and rinse/repeat to pull off almost unlimited headshots. The reticle will choose the next available target after your initial target goes down. If your target does not go down, your head tracking will expire, and you will have to let up on the L2 trigger and press it again to acquire a new lock.
Another main mechanic of the game is the sniper functionality. You now have a sniper gauge, which replaces the "Heat" gauge in the other games. As you pull off headshots and take down enemies, your sniper gauge will fill slowly with each shot. Once your sniper gauge is full, you will see green circles around explosive objects in surrounding areas. Some special enemies have weak points that will get a green circle when your sniper is full and they are about to do a special attack. Once you see the green circle, you hit triangle to enter sniper mode. Here, there is a countdown indicator that gives you a limited time to choose your target. From there, you hit R1 to fire, and a Quicktime Event (QTE) will come up. If you pull off the QTE, your bullet will hit the target, and depending on what you're aiming for, will cause something to explode or hit the enemy's weak point, amassing more damage. I'm playing in hard mode, and these QTEs are very difficult for me to pull off. The gauge just pops up, and you almost have to be lucky had have guessed the right button that it's going to be. I'm guessing that it's slowed down in the lower difficulties, but I'm not certain. Nevertheless, I rarely use this tactic, because I am not skilled enough to pull them off.
Side-missions, sub-stories, and Partners
Another new addition since Yakuza 3 and 4 is the introduction of partners. At various points in the game, you meet different Non-player Characters (NPCs) that are willing to go with you to fight in the Quarantine zone. You can also purchase weapons and upgrades for your Partners, and also increase their experience with training. Training exercises include a shooting range and field combat courses (and probably more later). I got a chuckle out of these field combat courses because they use that old movie trope where the cops go into a fake crime scene, and cardboard cut-out "bad guys" pop up and they have to shoot them. You can also take your partner on several of the sub-stories that involve going into the quarantine zone. I have not gotten this far yet, but apparently, once date a hostess and fill her heart meter to maximum, she can become one of your partners that you can then train and take with you into battle. I have started one of the hostess stories, but have not maxed it out yet, so I may update this with my findings.
Just like in other Yakuza games, you have optional sub-stories and side-quests. These are normally kicked off by speaking to NPCs, or various other ways. Granted I am not far into the game, but I have not encountered "Mac" to introduce me to any "Revelations," but you do have a cell phone with text messages, so I'm sure that's coming. For those of you who are new to the series, there's a part of the game where you see certain hilarious scenarios and have "Revelations" that give you new ideas for fighting techniques. You'll get a text message from Mac (the photographer who is looking for the perfect shot, and tells you about Revelations) that tells you the general area for your next Revelation. Once you get to the area, you look around with your viewfinder until spot something sort of odd, and the camera will zoom in to a scenario that is about to occur. If you flip to the 1st person view mode, and hit X to trigger the event, you will watch the event play out. From here, 2 or 3 QTEs will occur, and if you hit them, you will see the finale and then you will learn the new technique.
Dead Souls adds a new twist on the sub-stories and side quests; several of the shops and game parlors, that you normally frequent, get trapped inside the quarantine zone. Several of the side quests involve going into the quarantine zone and "liberating" the store. After you liberate it, you will gain experience and also be able to access that location at any time when you are exploring the quarantine zone (this is useful for buying supplies while you're in there).
Another component is similar to Yakuza 4 (possible spoilers), where you meet a Korean cop who is trying to track down some criminals that have fled to Japan. In Yakuza 4, she sends you on various missions to track down these criminals before they do any more damage. In Dead Souls, you meet the same sort of person, but she gives you a variety of different tasks and missions related to the zombie and mutant infestation. I've found this part of the game a very effective way to make money, because each time you do a task (e.g., make 100 head shots, kill x-number of zombies, etc.) you rack up points. You can exchange these points for items from her, or you can trade it in for gold plates, which are worth ¥100,000 at the pawn shop. At first, I was wondering how to get money, because it seemed like I was really short, but quickly found that this is what replaced the loot from the random battles, since not all zombies drop loot.
Another possible spoiler is another type of mission inside the quarantine zone, you find a mysterious cursed manhole. You end up speaking to a guy who wants you to go check it out, and as it turns out, it's a series of underground areas that are infested with zombies. Each level, your objective is to find a ladder down to the next level; once you reach it, you can either choose to head back up (which exits the dungeon), or you can proceed down. The place is crawling with zombies and mutants, and every certain number of floors, you need to fight a "boss." Another component of this special dungeon, is that it's dark, and you need to bring batteries with you to keep your LED flashlight running; otherwise, you find yourself flailing around in the dark getting attacked by zombies. If you die in this area, you lose all of the experience, and possibly items, you have gained while you were there, so it's always a tough choice whether to proceed on down or cash in your spoils and head back up. This section is entirely optional, but it does give you clues as to what is going on with this whole story.
I am sure there is much more to the game than this, since I've been doing all of the sub-stories, I'm 23+ hours in, and still in the first of four parts, which is Akiyama's story.
Also, with the Yakuza series, you can do subsequent playthroughs and keep your experience and money. Also, if you have a completed save of Yakuza 3 and/or 4 on your PS3, you are rewarded with special items. There is also a premium adventure mode where you basically can choose any character, dress up in various costumes, and use special weapons available in a particular location.
The Yakuza series is famous for its many mini games, and Dead Souls is no exception. One new mini game that was added to Dead Souls is a more-traditional slot machine, where you can play in the Pachinko parlor. Also, all of the Japanese mini games are back from Yakuza 4, including Shogi and traditional 4-player Mahjong. Some of the other mini-games include bowling, pool, darts, fishing, karaoke, table tennis, UFO catcher (iron claw arcade game), Boxcellios 1, 2, (and I saw reference to 2 Turbo, but haven't found it yet) which is a pretty cool arcade shooter. There's also a casino where you can play poker, baccarat, roulette, and blackjack. Below the casino, there's a traditional Japanese gambling games (some are pretty tough to learn the rules, but I've managed to figure out a few of them, and a few are pretty fun). One neat part of the mini games is that for the casino, pachinko, and gambling games, you can get special accessories that will allow you to cheat and win lots of money.
The visuals have not changed very much since Yakuza 4; I'm fairly certain that this game uses the same engine as the Yakuza 4 game did, but with some overhauls to add in the new mechanics. There are subtle changes, such as menus seem have been updated to look more stylized from Yakuza 4; although it appears to use the same game engine from Yakuza 4. But all-in-all, the layout of the menus and the graphics are mostly the same.
If you're not familiar with Yakuza 4, the textures are pretty good in the cut scenes, but overall, it doesn't have Uncharted 2-quality graphics, but it's still very appealing to look at. The water effects and such are really good, and when it's raining, it really looks cool. The colors are really bright and cheery in the non-quarantine zone, but that's normally a hallmark of many Sega games.
The game does have surround sound, but the audio isn't anything outstanding. Most of this game is about story and the RPG elements. Although, it does a pretty good job at immersing you into the setting. You can hear all the sounds of the city; people walking by talking, music coming out of a bar, pots and pans clanging, and food sizzling when you enter a restaurant. When you pass by people, you can hear them go from your front speakers to the back ones, but I wouldn't say that it's the best surround sound I have ever heard, but it's not bad at all. The soundtrack is fitting for the game, it goes from 80's style electric guitars to different Japanese music in some of the shops. I've really grown to like the music, especially when you get into the action scenes.
There is no online multiplayer, however, there is a 2 player local co-op mode where you can play pool, darts, golf or bowling with a friend (this mode needs to be unlocked by meeting certain criteria in the game). The online component of the game includes an online leader board for a few of the mini-games: bowling, Boxcelios, Darts, Batting cages, and Table Tennis. As you play the mini-games, your scores can be uploaded to the servers, and from there, you can see the worldwide leaderboards and score-chase with your PSN friends.
At first I thought this was going to be a very small, possibly watered-down spin-off of the Yakuza series, but it really is a full-fledged Yakuza game. If I were to do an estimate, it will probably give you a solid 100 hours of gameplay, if you do all of the sub-stories, and if each of the four characters has roughly the same 23+ hours that the main character did (granted, I have not advanced the main story much, so my guess it is easily a 200 hour game to complete everything).
Even though the controls needed a lot more work, and it's lacking a customization option, it's still passable. Personally, I was worried about the whole zombie aspect of the game, because scary games freak me out too much; however, I am really surprised that this really isn't scaring me at all, and I'm really enjoying the experience.
If you have never played a Yakuza game, but like mindless zombie shooters, but don't mind a little action RPG thrown in, Dead Souls may be your entry into the rich world of Yakuza. The story line is quirky and cheesy at times, other times it's really top-notch; the mini-games and the diversions are almost full game in and of themselves. I really think that if more people would just try these games, they would discover what they've been missing.
If you are a fan of the series, like me, this is definitely a must-have. It really is a great diversion from the main series, and gives you completely brand new sub-stories and it includes everything you love about these games, plus a little more action than you would expect.
My Score B+