As a long time fan of zombie games, I figured now would be the time to jump on the semi-popular Yakuza series with the latest entry, Yakuza Dead Souls. Given that this is a departure for the series with the potential to bring in new audience, it should show how good the game is, not how far back in time its mechanics are stuck. Unfortunately, Sega forgot to make sure the game was playable, or even enjoyable, for new comers. The sad part is, there is only one major flaw with the game. It just happens to be the most important part.

Seems good.

Before I get to the bad, let me go over some of the successes Yakuza Dead Souls sees. The title will make you feel as if you are in a real world. It is living and breathing, but after the zombie apocalypse happens, reactions are actually very believable. In the opening scenes you’ll watch the outbreak happen, surrounded by mystery. After killing a few of the poor undead, fear of legal repercussion sets in. After all, like most zombie games, no one understands what zombies are. I’m ready for a game where the characters in the story are zombie fanatics and see their reactions when it happens in their reality. Instead, Yakuza just doesn’t acknowledge zombies at all for the first bit of the game.

Interaction with other characters is enjoyable, and the voice acting is serviceable. Unfortunately, for newcomers at least, there is no frame of reference to base these characters on. During install, the game will explain a good deal of who each playable character is from previous titles, but without playing previous entries in the series, I had no connection to each. I did learn a bit about them over the game, but it almost seems as if Sega expected players to have played previous titles before this game.

When killing zombies, golf is still just as boring as ever.

Another enjoyable part of the game comes from the sheer lunacy in the title. With any zombie outbreak “sim,” survival takes a back seat to happiness. Letting off steam can be handled by playing ping pong with “hostesses” or helping out in a bath house. The whole time I played, I had a little grin. It is all so tongue in cheek you can’t help but just giggle a bit. That being said, it would almost make more sense to experience some of these diversions early on in the story and let the outbreak occur a little slower. The current pacing has the outbreak start with just a few people before suddenly taking over your area.

The soundtrack, like so many for games of this style, was simply “there.” That is about as detailed as I can get about it. It never stood out, but I never had to mute the music. Guns, zombies, characters and all the other sound effects that bring the game to life were fantastic. Bad audio design can seriously break my immersion, and I have seen it happen countless times in games that fall in line with Yakuza’s b-grade style of gaming. Yakuza did not fall into this trap, and the world came alive because of it.

See, there are zombies in the game.

Unfortunately, not everything about the game is as strong as the sound. Controls. Oh man, these controls are terrible. You might eventually get used to them, but that is just supporting Sega’s choice to not worry about how Yakuza controlled. Aiming is handled by the same analog stick as movement, with a button pressed to toggle between walking and aiming. I don’t get it. In a zombie game, I want to run from zombies as I shoot at them. I don’t want to stand in place and try to aim with the thumb that is normally used for movement. My left thumb has been hardwired to move my character through the world, my right thumb is hardwired to handle tasks that require more precision. By making my left thumb do all the work my right thumb spent the time playing the game in a sad and lonely place.

Yakuza Dead Souls does include a leveling system, and it offers perks that can help you overcome the control issues. Take any skill that aims at a zombie’s head as early as possible. The system is great and gives plenty of reasons to keep plugging zombies in the back of the face, but the fact that I have to take perks to be able to control the game more fluidly is a pretty huge issue.

Not zombies (yet ?); still fun.

For fans of the series, there is a ton of fan service here. Popular characters are back, and seeing each react to this new world will be pretty exciting for series fans.

Shooting the zombies is fun enough once you adjust to the terrible controls. Besides the typical aim and shoot options that you should expect, special shots are offered. Some of these will do crazy things like throw five grenades into the air then start shooting them over a zombie horde. You may zoom in on the gas tank of a car and blow it up. All of these special shots are handled with quick time events and careful timing. These attacks can also be used in tandem with your followers. Throughout the game you will find people that will stick with you, mainly for survival reasons. As they follow you through the world and fights break out, they will team up to perform special tandem shots that can decimate hordes or do significant damage to special zombies.

The Gap crew makes sure it comes out in style.

Yakuza Dead Souls found a great way to bring players unfamiliar with their popular world into the fold. Unfortunately, most newcomers will turn away solely because of the terrible controls. Simply including an option for traditional aiming on the right stick could have saved this game from this dismal fate, but as it stands now it is far from a showcase of Sega’s gaming prowess. The plot shuffles along at a decent speed and gives players plenty of options to keep them entertained, but when cut scenes become a welcome break from the game, you know you are in trouble.

Here’s the Rundown:
+ The world is alive and entertaining.
+ The characters all bring a great deal of personality.
+ Watching your kill count rise is much more rewarding than you would expect.
– I would rather sit on an ant hill than control a game like this.
– Or have to snuggle a zombie.
– Great game, except when you play it.

5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just doesn’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.

Yakuza Dead Souls was developed  and published by SEGA for the PS3. It was released on March 13, 2012 at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for review.


Follow Chris on Twitter @TheCGravelle for constant updates on video games, Magic: The Gathering, and his daughter, and @RipTen  for the latest news and more.