April 2, 2012

Rolling With The Yakuza

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 10:57 pm

Yakuza Dead Souls
I’m reasonably sure Dead Souls is the only game about the zombie apocalypse where I’ve spent ten minutes at an arcade trying to win a toy Chihuahua from a claw-game. There was absolutely no reason for doing so, except that I really wanted it.

As a zombie epidemic spreads through the streets, large barricades are quickly deployed to seal off the infected area of the city, and the result is two very different realities – one in which life appears to carry on, and another where the infected are eager to feast on your delicious brains. The ability to walk the safer of these two streets while still enjoying the mini-game distractions and other interactions Yakuza has to offer probably makes this deviation the videogame most in line with the political commentary of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and more recent Land of the Dead.

Players will find themselves in Akiyama’s shoes as the outbreak begins, the chaos quickly engulfing the streets around Sky Finance while he works to keep his faithful assistant safe and absorb the events unfolding. After a brief bout of linear direction, Dead Souls cuts players loose to pursue the main narrative or slip into the infected areas of the city to tackle side-quests that involve clearing areas and rescuing survivors. This creates two zombie filled environments in the same setting, with players combating zombies while working toward a narrative goal, or using entry points to simply run around and fill the endless hordes full of lead.

Yakuza Dead Souls
While pursuing the story offers specific challenges with set amounts of zombies, the side-quest route ensures a steady supply that makes it harder to stop to catch a breath. Dead Souls isn’t subtle when it comes to adding fresh zombies by any stretch of the imagination – they will literally pour out of open windows, alleyways, and holes in the ceiling to keep you moving.

Tackling endless waves is made easier by a very loose and casual bit of gunplay that allows players to hold down a single shoulder button to fire freely at targets while running. Players can also hold their aim straight and steady while firing, tilting the analog stick up to attempt headshots. And occasionally it becomes necessary to target something with a reticule, though thankfully not very often because this proves the most sluggish method. The flow entirely encourages a run and gun approach that is broken only by the occasional arrival of tougher enemies that can move more quickly or hurl projectiles.

On the flipside, Dead Souls also offers a very rigid experience. The separation of the primary story from side-quests at times insists on players committing to one or the other based on how they enter the contaminated part of the city. The best example of this was early on while I was still playing as Akiyama, when the story direction necessitated reaching Sky Finance again – which I did, only to find that the way inside was blocked off by fire because I had entered the area via the side-quest route. The solution was to return to the unaffected area of the city and enter the contaminated zone the way the game intended, in order to hit the narrative points it had waiting along that route. I grasp why this is necessary, but it hurt my brain none-the-less.

The flipside to that complaint is that I was soon following Goro’s story and having too much fun with the narrative to worry about side-quests at all, though this did cost me some experience points, and leveling up characters is essential for bringing more items and skills to this zombie party.

Yakuza Dead Souls
Dead Souls certainly provides an easy invitation to those curious about the series, using the zombie lure while still providing the experience that will send some newcomers searching for earlier entries in the series. But in thinking about what the game brings to the zombie genre, I’m hard pressed for satisfying answers if you’re looking to primarily feast on the mechanics of dealing with the undead. The zombies are never really the focus here, rather flies to be swatted between points, with most boss encounters simply asking players to run circles around larger enemies while holding down the trigger.

Where Dead Rising was about killing zombies in ludicrous ways, Dead Souls is about clearing the path forward, aided by a sniping ability that helps target exploding objects – though I did find a front-end loader that provided a bit of fun running through the horde.

I’d like to suggest that Dead Souls is a far better story driven zombie game however, though that doesn’t seem like an overwhelming achievement given the pedigree of the zombie genre on average. What Dead Souls offers is a character driven story that can switch perspectives without losing a connection to the player, with charm, humor, and a superb level of voice-acting that perhaps makes the lure more filmic in nature, certainly allowing the strongest narrative elements of the franchise to shine.

As ridiculous as it sounds, Dead Souls offers a more realistic idea of the epidemic we’re so accustom to seeing in videogames, with a dramatically different pace that will best serve those willing to linger in the smaller details that create a convincingly complex world. For all the games that offer a plethora of ways to contend with the zombie apocalypse, Dead Souls’ narrative-minded focus and encouragement to explore and play as if nothing were out of the ordinary offers a legitimately different experience. If zombie-stomping is your core concern, your bloodlust will likely be better served elsewhere, but the way in which the undead provide a surreal layer of white-noise to the Yakuza experience is earnestly interesting and not simply the attention grabbing trickery it might appear to be.

1 Comment »

  1. Yup, I would try to win everything in Yakuza 3 claw machine games. Where it would be completely empty and you had to ask the attendant to fill it back up/reset the prizes.  Reminds me of the time I did waste all my money in the original Shenmue buying capsule toys.  It was at a certain point where you actually needed money.  Somehow  The grandmother/housekeeper gave me a larger allowance than usual in order to continue the game’s story.  Good times.

    Comment by Win Umali — April 9, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

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