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Yakuza: Dead Souls review: What a twist!


I've got to hand it to Yakuza: Dead Souls. It resurrects an old antagonist with a prosthetic gun-arm, unleashes a zombie apocalypse on Tokyo and still manages to take itself seriously. The only real difference between Dead Souls and Yakuza 4 is some thoroughly mediocre gunplay and, well, the living dead.

It's not a terrible idea when it comes down to it. Half the fun is seeing how Yakuza's eclectic cast deals with being recast in what amounts to a Resident Evil game. It has resident psychopath Goro Majima waging a one-man war against the undead horde. It has Kazuma Kiryu punching out a zombie for heaven's sake. It's all good fun, particularly for existing fans of the series.

Gallery: Yakuza: Dead Souls (PS3) | 13 Photos

The political machinations are back as well, as are many of the familiar secondary characters. By the second chapter, it all starts to feel eerily familiar for those who have played the previous Yakuzas. There are clandestine meetings and renegade gangsters, all culminating in Kiryu returning to Tokyo (again) to take out the proverbial trash and rescue his adopted daughter. It's less a wacky sidestory than a full-blown Yakuza adventure with a unique twist.

There is one very big difference though, and it's impossible to ignore. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a full-blown shooter, replacing the Fist of the North Star-style fisticuffs of the previous games, though it still retains some of its brawling roots. In the grand tradition of Dead Rising (and previous Yakuza games), everything from couches to motorcycles can be used to combat the advancing waves of zombies. Unfortunately, also like Frank West's adventure, the shooting is average at best.

The one thing that jumped out at me again and again throughout the adventure is just how tiny the environments can be. I don't know if it's a limitation of what is clearly a heavily modified variant of the Yakuza 4 engine, but there's frequently little to no room to maneuver. And it only got more annoying as Dead Souls went on, which at one point locked me into a narrow alley with two powerful mutant creatures. I think the worst moment may have been a "hold the line" segment in which I had to fight against waves of zombies in the sewer system -- and found that I couldn't get up and reload before getting knocked down again.

The other problem is the auto-aim, which can be twitchy as hell. I can't count the number of times I've tried to take aim at a specific part of a powerful mutant, only to have the muzzle of my gun track a few degrees to the right in order to target a different mutant nearby. It's an imprecise system at best, and I would almost rather that Dead Souls had left it out entirely when aiming manually.

Dead Souls seems to want to exempt itself from any criticism by positioning itself in the survival horror genre, but that argument doesn't really hold any water given the complexities of some of the boss fights. One fight in particular had me fending off unlimited waves of zombies as I tried to snipe a winged creature swooping around above -- a bit of a nightmare given how fidgety the controls can be. It just doesn't work that well when you have to stand still and hold L2 to aim manually.

All that said, Dead Souls has it moments. When the shooting mechanics aren't causing trouble, it's more than a little satisfying to send a pack of zombies flying with a well-placed shotgun blast (or explosion). The weapons have a satisfying pop to them. And with its large number of sidequests, challenges, and mini-games, there's never a shortage of things to do. It is, after all, still a Yakuza game.

Mostly, I see Dead Souls as a fun curiosity. Having lived in Japan for three years myself, I've always enjoyed the Yakuza series for the nostalgia; and with a few major exceptions, Yakuza: Dead Souls is more of the same. It's just as raunchy, absurdist, and most importantly, Japanese, as always. And that makes it a welcome addition to the marketplace, warts and all.

This review is based on a retail copy of Yakuza: Dead Souls, provided by Sega.

Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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