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Yakuza: Dead End
on January 10, 2013
"Yakuza" is one of the most wonderful series to come out of Japan. It has several lovable characters, and some of the most tight fighting mechanics in any game on the market. Not only that, but it has a breathtakingly accurate depiction of several real-world locations in Japan. Sega was certainly in the right to bring over the third and fourth entries in the stellar series, and I sincerely hope we get to see more in the years to come. But just like some of the lesser "Pokemon" spin-offs, there are some things that should probably just stay in Japan. "Yakuza: Dead Souls", an unfortunately mediocre zombie game masquerading as "Yakuza" fan service, is one of those sad cases.
In a side-story that takes place after the events of "Yakuza 4" (limiting its appeal right off the bat), series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is forced out of the beachside orphanage he runs due to his stepdaughter of sorts Haruka being kidnapped by a shady businessman-type villain. Concurrently, secondary protagonist Shun Akiyama is desperately seeking medicine for an illness afflicted his lovable and rotund assistant, Hana. Other playable characters include the unhinged Goro Majima and the legendary gangster Ryuji Goda. These are all characters that fans, like myself, know and love, but an average gamer hoping to pick this up and have a good time will be left out in the cold. Many in-jokes and references are dropped with little to no explanation, and without any context, none of the character dynamics will make any sense. Keep in mind this is a review strictly for people who have never touched these games before.
Oddly, the same thing applies to the gameplay. Players of the older games will understand instantly what the developers were trying to do, by blending the series' traditional exploration, side-missions and mini-games with zombie-shooting action. But anybody else who picks it up won't understand why there are humorous asides and quirky things to do outside of progressing the plot. Those being lead to believe this is a spin-off with different gameplay will surprised that this is a "Yakuza" entry with zombies and guns, nothing more, nothing less. For some, this sounds thrilling. For others, it won't make a lick of sense.
The crippling flaw here, though, isn't the confusing approach to the gameplay. It's the fact that the shooting mechanics are absolutely awful, a lazy mash of brawling mechanics and sub-par shooting. Players who don't want to use accurate aim will quickly realize that the character will run around in circles like an idiot, firing randomly. If that player were to use the aiming mechanic, they'd discover that the game does all the work for them by locking onto every enemy, oftentimes guaranteeing easy headshots. But if they were to want to work for those headshots with the fine aiming, they couldn't, because the fine aiming is one of the worst mechanics I've suffered through in a game. It automatically allocates control to the left analog stick, and doesn't lock in place like most games, so if you're walking backwards and start using fine aim, the camera jerks around 180 degrees and leaves you vulnerable to attack.
What's really annoying here is that the brawling mechanics, the one thing "Yakuza" should be good at, are essentially broken. Sure, you can pick up a lot of objects and use them as weapons, but why would you? Your character is just going to get stuck in a combo and not able to get out of it, meaning that if the object you're swinging misses its intended target, you're going to be left vulnerable to getting flanked. Plus, the control scheme allocates brawling to the R1 button, and it feels incredibly odd to start a session of beating things up with a trigger.
So, your combat "options" are essentially running down corridors and letting the aiming mechanic do all the work for you. Sometimes, it's so cripplingly simplistic that you'll be aiming straight ahead on a staircase, pull the trigger of your gun, and hit a target that is several feet below you vertically. That's right, folks, bullets travel vertically when you shoot straight in this game. Take this into consideration when you think about the fact that within the first 2-4 hours, you'll have taken out an upwards of 800-1000 zombies, and that this is a game that, at its very shortest, is reported to have 10-12 hours worth of gameplay, side-missions excluded. This means that, at a minimum, you could be fighting through 4000+ zombies with mechanics that aren't conducive to doing any aiming on your own. Is this really how you want to spend your life?
The graphics don't make a compelling case for the product, either. Usually, I'm pretty impressed by what this developer has to offer, but this time around I can only say "eh." Sure, the depiction of Japan in ruins is certainly cool and all, but the edges on everything are jagged, and the environments are incredibly limited. Not only that, but be prepared for some lag when there are a lot of zombies on an outside street. It doesn't help that when you're not outdoors, the dev team decided to lift templates from every zombie shooter ever. Brace yourself for some gray and brown sewers, followed by some grey and brown hallways, all tied together with some grey and brown basements. Seeing these worn level designs rendered with graphics that are already unremarkable makes for an experience that is none too pleasing on the eyes. Oh, and the zombies look pretty lame too.
What's really disappointing is how exceptional the acting is. It's a bummer because the incredible Japanese vocal cast is obviously trying their best to deliver compelling performances, and they succeed in doing so. The dialogue is sharp and funny, and the acting is some seriously great stuff. Not only that, but the soundtrack isn't half-bad either, albeit a little filled with generic techno and rock. So why is this disappointing? Because the rest of the game doesn't hold up at all. The actors and the composers have to hold together the gaping, bleeding wound the rest of the game is, and all they've got is some old duct tape.
While I've played worse games than "Yakuza: Dead Souls", this is no defense for something that is, at the end of the day, a really mediocre game. Many reviews on Amazon seem to be based solely on the reviewers' love of the franchise, and frankly, I don't think that's fair. Given that this is something Sega is now selling in a double-pack with the far superior "Binary Domain", it's obvious they think it can marketed to an average shooter fan or zombie lover. This is simply not the case. As a fan of the "Yakuza" franchise, I feel that this game is a really terrible thing to foist upon somebody expecting a zombie TPS, and could only be enjoyed by people who were really invested in the franchise.
As a piece of fan service, "Yakuza: Dead Souls" is good for some brainless slaughter while laughing with (and at) characters you've grown to know and love. But as a game for everybody else, it's a graphically inferior product with shoddy mechanics and challenge based on poor design as opposed to genuine difficulty. Overly simplistic and as brain-dead as one of the zombies in the game, Sega's latest entry into the franchise is a bit like decaffeinated coffee: a weaker derivative with too many differences from the source material to truly recommend purchasing.