Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima and one of the most respected and feared men in Tokyo, receives a phone call that his stepdaughter Haruka has been kidnapped. This is the sort of story that's supposed to get your blood boiling, your anger to overwhelm your entire being, and next thing you know you're one man standing against many. This is how Yakuza: Dead Souls starts off and, really, if that was the entire plot it'd be a very short game. Because, you see, Kamurocho has been a little lifeless as of late.
Yakuza: Dead Souls cannot be approached like any other shooter made in this generation.
Shun Akiyama, debt collector and layabout, is out making his rounds when he spots the most curious sight: a man falls out of a high-story building and survives. In fact, he gets up like nothing happened. Unfortunately, he is actually a zombie and does what they do best - namely, biting everyone nearby and spreading his terrible disease. Sensing the danger, Shun picks up the nearest gun and kills all of the undead. He returns to his office to get some rest. The next day, he wakes up to discover that zombies have already gotten to work destroying the city. Seriously, just how do these guys move so fast? People with functioning brains couldn't wreck Kamurocho in such a short amount of time.
Goro Majima, fiercely loyal but with the temperament of a mad dog, is enjoying zombie movies when his underlings burst through his door. When the zombies follow and start munching on them, Majima's reaction is disturbingly joyful. For Majima, Kamurocho has become the kind of playground only he can appreciate. While the SDF works to contain the undead presence through the usage of high-powered weaponry and barricades, Majima is liable to find himself on both sides of the wall seeking the pleasures of gambling, women, food, and gratuitous violence against the undead.
Ryuji Goda, who was the Dragon of Kansai, now seeks to become the Dragon of takoyaki (grilled octopus). Unfortunately, he is tied to the events surrounding Kamurocho and must become involved in order to put a stop to them. Goda's right hand has been modified into a Gatling gun, which makes him quite a bit more prepared to deal with the undead than any of our other three heroes. Still, it is up to you, the player, to take control of all four of these men in order to figure out the reasons behind the zombie outbreak and put a stop to it. Failure means the end of Kamurocho - and where would we be without our hostess clubs and massage parlors?
As with the last Yakuza game, Kamurocho and all of its amenities are open to you at almost any time. As the story progresses, the SDF will quarantine more and more of the city to combat the growing zombie population. Still, that won't stop businesses from re-opening if you take the time to deal with the fiends that are threatening them. Also, like in the previous games, you'll discover sub-stories where the solution tends to be shooting anything that moves . . . well, as opposed to punching anything that moves, I suppose. Gambling, golfing, fishing, bowling, dining, drinking: your options for entertainment are endless.
But you're not here to read about the similarities this game holds with previous titles. In fact, if all you wanted to do was explore Kamurocho and play mini games, you'd likely be perfectly all right sticking to last year's Yakuza 4. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a very different game because it is a shooter instead of a brawler, where survival is dependent on your weaponry, aim, and zombie-handling skills. Whenever the undead sense the presence of a living person, they move quickly and in a swarm. There are ways to break free, but you're better off blowing their heads off before they get close. One of the first skills you can learn allows you to lock onto a zombie's weak point as soon as you press the lock-on button - take advantage of it. Still, their numbers are countless and sometimes you just have to keep moving if you hope to progress.
Aside from zombies, you can also expect to find mutants. These abominations are more freakish in appearance and have maneuvers that extend past "grab'n'chomp." Their appearances also tend to be very unique, like the rollerblading mutants that attack with flying headbutts and slides, or the beefy mutants that use shockwaves and massive fists to take you out. Prototypes serve as the boss monsters of this game, and their twisted forms offer a full range of tactics and abilities. But you'll deal with them like you would anything else, with your growing array of upgradeable weaponry and heat-snipe technique. Yes, this is very much unlike past games, where the only reason most players upgraded their weapons was so that they could boost their completion percentage.
As the heat meter fills, more and more targets are going to appear. These can include gas cans, fire hydrants, combustible barrels, and anything else that can explode if you shoot it just right. After firing a shot, a QTE takes over and whether it succeeds is decided upon your button press. Think of it like in the Michael Bay movie Bad Boys
The ruins of Kamurocho comprise much of the exploration in Dead Souls. In order to reach your destination you'll have to survive various quarantined portions of the red-light district as well as occasional trips through the sewers and a handful of buildings. Also, while this is entirely optional, you may want to dive into the subterranean. Apparently, zombies originally came from the center of the earth, or at least it'll feel that way when you're seemingly miles underground and buried by zombies while your last source of light flickers out. However, if you're the type of person who has to do everything and obtain the most powerful weapons, these depths must be explored. They're pretty entertaining at least, since they focus entirely on blowing away zombies while managing precious limited resources like ammo and healing items.
While for the most part it's all on you to save Tokyo, there are opportunities to hook up with a partner when completing sub-stories or just killing some undead. These men and women can level up, acquire skills, and you'll be able to perform special heat-snipe abilities as long as they're standing. There are a handful of moments where you can team up over the course of the story as well. Good partners are unfortunately few and far between, since some are limited by their choice of weapon. You're more likely to come across one who is so good that you'll forget about everyone else. Even the hostesses, who require the most effort to join up with you, probably aren't worth it. In the interest of completion, you'll still want to take everyone along at some point or another.
The main thing I should point out throughout this adventure is that it cannot be approached like any other shooter made in this generation. So forget Gears of War, Uncharted, and - hey - even Binary Domain. Instead, you should be thinking about games like Crimson Sea, Gungrave, and most anything else made last generation. Dead Souls harkens back to a different era, when the third-person shooter wasn't so clearly defined and every developer had wildly different ideas on how it should work. Everything about this game from its controls to its mechanics gives it an identity of its very own, and if you approach it as part of the genre you've become accustomed to, you'll likely dislike it. I think it's very refreshing, even if more work could have been done to improve it.
While moving around, you'll find that the four heroes are very adept at gunning down zombies. The annoyance sets in, however, when using the lock-on ability only to discover that you're aiming at air. Usually, it's just a nuisance, but when dealing with certain prototypes or particularly bad situations where health is low, you'll gnash your teeth when you're shooting the wrong way just because you were ever so slightly off. A skill acquired through training at Gary's Boot Camp improves the lock-on somewhat, but even twenty hours into the game I'd still run into these situations. Also, this game features a couple of vehicle sections that are among the worst that I've ever played through. The idea of taking them on in the harder difficulties is not appealing in the slightest. Through the rest of the game, the difficulty can be alleviated by upgrading armor and weapons, but what about the vehicles? I can't merely drape my combat armor over them can I?
Behind it all, Yakuza: Dead Souls is a game dedicated to the fans. They are what made the series one of Sega's most successful, and while shooting zombies isn't quite the same as punching deadbeats, we are all tied together by Kazuma Kiryu, Kamurocho, and everyone that resides in it. While it hurts me to say this, I hope the next game does away with it all and instead follows a new city. Honestly, I've seen enough of Kamurocho, and Kiryu deserves a break so he can focus on his orphanage. Maybe we'll see the baton passed to a new generation of Yakuza. Until then, while the terribly overused quote "not for everyone" does apply, Dead Souls is competent enough at what it does to warrant a look.