The Yakuza series is more than just an RPG crossed with a beat-'em-up. It's a simulation for living the ultimate life Japan's red-light district has to offer and mastering every aspect of it. When you sing karaoke, you're not just another young punk who had too much to drink. When you hang out at a hostess bar, you're not another overpaid chump who leaves with empty pockets. Also, whenever somebody picks a fight with you just because they don't like the way you walk, you respond by making them wish they never left their mother's womb. You're the best at everything and everyone knows it. Even then, you're also the epitome of virtue and only fighting to protect those you care about. You are a man of honor whose integrity will light the way for those on the wrong path. As far as pure, harmless escapist fantasy goes, the Yakuza series is unmatched.
As far as pure, harmless escapist fantasy goes, the Yakuza series is unmatched.
In a couple weeks Sega is hoping you're going to make plans for another trip to Kamurocho with Yakuza: Dead Souls.
What's different this time around? Just look at the cover: guns, guns, and zombies. Even typing the word out gives my mouth the bitterest of tastes; I can't stand zombies. All they do is wander around, moan and groan about brains, and for whatever reason hundreds of games a year are released that revolve entirely around them. Thankfully, rather than take control of some faceless taskforce or a lame-duck hero with an infinite supply of terrible one-liners, it's four of the baddest men in fictional Yakuza history. They're Tokyo's last hope against the undead crisis . . .
. . . provided you're willing to drag them away from the bath houses, karaoke bars, arcades, and golf courses long enough to save the city. A quarantined city and a couple of hundred thousand zombies aren't going to stop you from enjoying the pleasures of gambling and throwing money away just to get a girl's attention. Besides, there are benefits to pursuing these side activities. Expect to win crafting materials and equipment, and if you're particularly good with the ladies maybe they'll even join in the fight and help you deal with the zombie hordes. Put all of your extra cash into upgrading guns for more destructive force or blow it all on crane machines, your call. Each of the four playable characters has lengthy side quests to get involved in as well. Plus, you have to be at least a little curious as to why guys like Ryuji Goda and Goro Majima are involved in this story.
The core combat in Yakuza: Dead Souls is similar in some ways to previous Yakuza games. Yes, there aren't any back-alley brawls, but the focus on heat still remains. Heat is like a mixture of adrenaline and testosterone. If these games are any reference to go by, you can get it from doing manly things like beating people up, staring at cleavage, or from just standing around looking cool.
You can use this built-up heat to perform a special maneuver known as the "heat snipe." Everything slows down and you decide the perfect target for your next shot. Old standbys like exploding barrels are prime targets to snipe, but you can also perform more interesting shots, like sniping grenades out of the air. Think of it like using the environment to deal with a nameless thug. Instead of hitting him in the face with a bicycle, you're blowing his face off with an exploding motorcycle.
There are a handful of physical moves for when creatures get too close, but for the most part your goal is to stay out of their reach and shoot them in the head. Also, you have to be wary of unique boss monsters. Fans of Sega's House of the Dead may find some of these foes rather familiar in terms of concept and design. It almost makes me wonder if the main villain of this game is actually Goldman and he's going to once again decry humanity for disturbing the life cycle of nature.
What will likely be the most worrying aspect of this game are the controls. As of this preview, the only demo available is through Japan's PlayStation Network. It features a questionable control scheme that takes a bit of time to get used to, especially for veterans of traditional third-person shooters. I guess it's just as well, since the Yakuza series has a tradition very much its own, and Dead Souls has been billed as anything but a third-person shooter. All the same, a few tweaks have been made in the version hitting our shores this month. I have my reservations, but as long as Yakuza: Dead Souls retains everything that made the previous games unique, I figure it'll be worth a visit.