To put it bluntly, it's a load of 糞
Y'know what the Yakuza franchise could do with a little more of? Zombies! And while we're at it, how about we exchange the visceral melee combat with the shooting from Dead Rising! Finally, to top it all off, let's recycle all of Yakuza 3/4's Adventure elements and call it a day.
I'm willing to bet that's not actually how the sit down for conceptualising Yakuza Dead Souls played out, but it's certainly how I imagined things after finally putting my time with undead Yakuza to rest. The Yakuza franchise until now has very closely stuck to its proverbial guns and has never deviated very far from the norm (including outright recycling content into sequels) which, for me, has always made Yakuza sequels feel more like large expansion packs. Some damn good expansion packs mind you, but after completing Yakuza 4, the formula was well worn. Adding zombies and deciding to switch to literal guns isn't exactly what I was asking for in return, however.
Dead Souls follows the recent trend set by Festival of Blood and Undead Nightmare, giving fans of the franchise a horror twist to its otherwise less horrific origins. Dead Souls of course offers up a stock pile of the undead, dumping them into the once vibrant red-light district of Tokyo that is Kamurocho.
The concept of zombies is well worn at this point, but adding in zombies to an otherwise zombie free environment I still can't help but find appealing. Revisiting so many of the series notable cast and witnessing how they'd react to the zombie invasion often makes for a good source of fan-service. Unfortunately, besides that singular notion, Dead Souls is otherwise a poor example of how to do a horror spin-off right.
So what is Dead Souls? Besides a terrible subtitle, it's primarily what I briefed before hand. A thoroughly tedious and mediocre shooter, mixed in with practically all of the Yakuza 4 adventure elements - no more, no less. The story is at least a joyful diversion within the franchise, making good use of some notable personalities across the series and giving what fans may believe feels... genuine, in regards to how these characters may respond to a zombie apocalypse. They're all so larger than life to begin with, so placing them in a significantly larger than life tale doesn't feel so out of place.
The story begins yet again with Shun Akiyama, who is as almost aggressively likeable as he was during Yakuza 4. Unfortunately, much like Yakuza 4, Akiyama is primarily there to lead you along for the tutorial, and his playable part during the story is easily the most uneventful. The day when Akiyama gets his own full fledged Yakuza game can't come soon enough.
It'll then move onto Majima, where things simultaneously start to pick up and just about hits its peak. Goro Majima is one of the most colourful characters amongst what you could say is a rainbow of a cast within the Yakuza series, and finally being able to play as the crazy bugger was a dream come true. He exhibits nothing but joy surrounding the outbreak, having just enough fun shooting hordes of the undead to help counter the very little amount of fun I had. Everything to do with Majima is easily the bright spot of what is otherwise a pretty dull experience.
Once you're unfortunately forced to move on from Majima, you'll switch to the newly revived Yakuza 2 antagonist, Ryuji Goda, who has certainly altered his outlook on life from what you may remember. For starters, he's alive, that changes things a little. But then there's his new occupation as a chef specialising in octopus, and, oh, his right arm that can now transform into a gatling gun. Despite this radical change in everything, Goda isn't particularly distinctive over series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu besides, judging from what the localisation is trying to convey, a less so sophisticated style of dialect. Goda isn't that bad of a character, but it's hard for him to stand out against such personalities as Akiyama and Majima when we already have ourselves a grimacing ex-Yakuza badass. The Gatling Gun is pretty much the one defining characteristic he has to show for himself, and personally I would have preferred if they brought back Saejima instead for some zombie maceration.
Finally, the story then ends of course with Kazuma Kiryu once again returning from his life working at the orphanage back to Kamurocho. Now more than ever does it feel like Kazuma's here just to fill in the obligatory ''Kazuma Kiryu'' slot that every Yakuza game seemingly can't do without these days. His introduction does make for a pretty clever justification as to why the characters are specifically using guns rather than their Dragon/Tiger/Over9000 fists, though.
Unfortunately, that still doesn't stand in the way of the shooting completely sucking. As I abbreviated earlier, Dead Souls' shooting feels very reminiscent of the shooting found in the original Dead Rising. Ordinarily, Dead Souls is a run n' gunner, but you can also aim over the shoulder for a more precise view. Unfortunately, that also limits you to not only standing on the spot, but using the left analogue stick to aim. It's madness!
Though even when it's played like it's meant to, as a run n' gunner, despite all the bullets I shot none of them managed to hit anything resembling 'fun'. All of the guns have incredibly weak sound effects and even when you're tumbling over a small group of zombies, the guns almost impressively still managed to feel underwhelming. It only gets worse when they throw in the ''mutant zombie 101'' cast list, containing a shrill woman who shrieks, a big monstrous brute, a tubby fellow who'll explode when you shoot him enough, and a raving hipster who primarily likes to keep to himself. The last one is pretty unique, but a large portion of the 'special' enemies you encounter are shamelessly ripped right out of the Left 4 Dead series. Resident Evil is also given the sincerest form of flattery with a boss monster that highly resembles one of those tongue lashing wall crawlers you may recall.
These additional mutants don't exactly spice things up a lot, however, and instead poses the idea of zombies that'll take longer to kill. Oh sure, there's some strategy to it; killing the shrill screamer will stop her from causing the undead to rain from the sky, and you also have to make use of the fine-aim to shoot the big brute just so you can actually dish out some damage to him. But it's still not very fun, and they only add an additional layer of hassle unto what is already a dull shooting experience to begin with. As the game goes on and they introduce more rip-offs, it'll start to get pretty frustrating. Not difficult, just frustrating. More and more will you find yourself continually being knocked over again and again by the growing masses of the undead, and we all know how much of a joy that is.
To ease your pain of slogging through the undead-fested streets, you can utilise HEAT moves similar to previous Yakuza games by killing stuff to fill up your meter. They primarily centre around you shooting explosives, but their effectiveness varies from mildly entertaining to downright useless. There's nothing that quite matches the creativity and brutality of the melee orientated HEAT attacks of its predecessors. More often than not you'll be seeing your character shoot an explosive barrel; even the ones that do prove to be entertaining (such as shooting the gas cylinder of a petrol tanker) quickly get worn down to the ground as you'll find yourself relying on them so much. They'll always respawn and your HEAT meter is pretty much always full as well.
When you're not killing yourself with tedium, you can opt to peruse Kamurocho and play at the batting centre; visit a hostess and listen to her prattle on about her problems while making arbitrary dialogue choices; play bowling, pool, darts and everything else that you may have already done plenty of during both Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4. That's it. It's all quite literally copy & pasted right from the previous two, offering up nothing new to the fabled city district, which potentially eliminates half of the appeal for the entire game.
As the main story goes on, more and more of Kamurocho will be enveloped in the Quarantine Zone. Though this won't limit the amount of activities at your disposal; once you enter the Quarantine Zone, you can choose to 'save' the establishments that have been left stranded. It's simple enough: just kill the zombies outside and wulah, you can now continue to play Pachinko! Or in my case continue to be completely baffled by it. While it is pretty funny to see a lot of the shops completely nonplussed that they have the zombie apocalypse right at their doorstep, the increasing size of the QZ makes getting around it a hassle. There's only the one place to go between the QZ and what remains of the HUB, and because of how strictly cordoned a lot of the QZ still is because of the chaos, getting lost trying to figure which path will take you back to the entrance becomes annoyingly prevalent. You also can't save during your time in the QZ, and should you find yourself right in the thick of it as Kiryu when the zombies have stretched across around 70% of the district, it can become aggravating as you slog your way through select paths to the exit - whilst trying to avoid the hordes in between of course.
Sub-stories--small, optional self-contained narratives--are still present, and while the stories themselves have some pretty decent writing, their consistently poor presentation making them appear like they were made out of some 1990s mission creator, and the fact that they always--always--culminate in you heading into the QZ killing even more of the undead douses their appeal considerably. Which is unfortunate, considering there are some entertaining narratives weaved within, such as one that transpires across all 4 of main characters as a pair of unlucky film makers attempt to bank on the outbreak and make a real life zombie flick.
What adds to the zombie killing repetition is the fact that each of the four characters all play the exact same, which is in stark contrast to the highly distinctive fighting styles during Yakuza 4. They each have their own unique weapon (a custom shotty for Majima, Goro's gatling gun arm), but they all play more or less the exact same regardless. You will once again level up via experience (which is gained by the requisite means) and each character's progress will carry over into the next. Unfortunately, this also means that each character has no unique, discerning abilities. Mind you, the abilities themselves aren't even all too exciting anyway. There's one very early ability--that might as well as been apart of the standard moveset it's so cheap--that allows your fine-aim to snap straight to a zombies head, but otherwise I was investing towards increasing my inventory most of the time.
Instead of bearing through the torture on your own, you can bring a friend along. Of the artificial intelligence variety unfortunately (or fortunately, for your friend's sake). As the game goes on, you'll meet the hilariously baritone Gary, a black drill instructor who'll round up whatever allies you'll gain during specific sub-stories. You can also train under his wing to gain some added experience, but the courses are so easy (and Gary forces you do each one twice with no deviation for some incomprehensible reason) the fine-aiming ones so annoyingly finicky and dull, and you'll earn more than enough just going through the main story/sub-stories that you're best pretending they don't exist.
The partners you can bring along with you don't really add much to the overall formula either As mentioned previously, maybe a couple of times now, the game is exceedingly easy. Dead Souls does imply to have some sort of 'complex' relationship mechanic between you and your partners, like how they won't follow your orders when their health is low if you don't have enough affinity, but the orders are so limited, vague, and have such little of an effect anyway that none of it even matters. They will at least level up earning them buffs like increased health or what have you that you can equip them with--only two may be equipped at once, however.
Regardless, the entire partner mechanic is significantly more shallow than it appears and is only approachable for the idea of adding a little more life to the monotony of drudging through the combat scenarios. Or in most cases at least. You can't bring them during the main story segments and in fact, certain sub-story events may not even trigger if you have a partner with you, and to relieve yourself of one, you have to exit the QZ--which brings me back to how frustrating it is regarding the size of the QZ. In essence... like Gary himself and everything he puts on the table, the entire partner system is best given the silent treatment and ignored. It really doesn't add anything substantial, and as alleviated earlier, may even hinder your progress within some scenarios.
OK, so putting aside the mind-numbing combat and copy pasta adventure elements, I can at least say with confidence that what little story there is (yes, the main story is also pretty short just to add to things) was pretty entertaining. The graphics, while again giving the impression that this is more of an expansion than any sort of full priced sequel, still look impressive and the characters animate fluidly and exude personality. The jarring transition for cutscenes randomly reverting to text now at least has voiced dialogue to go along with them, though given that it's of course in Japanese and the animations are still as heavily recycled and generic it doesn't exactly ease the annoyance of reverting away from the actual cutscenes. When meeting with the Hostesses, you can now skip the introductory smoking/drinking segments. So there's that too, I guess?
If it weren't for the larger focus towards Majima and his antics, I'd write Dead Souls off completely and spit a 1 star on this mess. But Majima's portions are a wonder to behold, as is the man himself whenever he shows up. The sub-par shooting and the heavily recycled adventuring contents made me feel like the game was purposely trying to push me away. The concept is a sound one, but the high degree of sloth that permeates so much to do with Dead Souls left me mentally exhausted trying to get through it all; by the time it was Kiryu's turn to walk the long trodden road of the undead, I was quite literally rushing past all encounters besides the mandatory boss battles.
There is sure to be some kicks for franchise die-hards, but by and large, Dead Souls is still damn near irredeemable across all fronts. A shining example that the Yakuza series needs to buckle up and make some serious advancements within its foundation. Even discrediting the shooting, this will be the third game to have Kamurocho more or less untouched, with little besides an additional character here and there to show for any sort of growth. Dead Souls stands as both a step back for the franchise, and as a worrying proclamation regarding the care Sega have towards what was once a defining gem within the limited cache of heavily Japanese-inspired video games. It's frankly going to take a lot of work and a lot of adjustments for me to ever get excited about a Yakuza game again.
PS: Oh, and the frame-rate is pretty terrible too.