SEGA's Yakuza series of video games is something that hasn't fully caught on in North America as it has in its home market of Japan, so it might come as some surprise to American gamers that PS3 exclusive Yakuza: Dead Souls is the fifth game to be release in the franchise. That stated, this fifth game is a departure from the first four -- making it a good title to introduce newcomers to the series and a pleasant (though imperfect) change of pace for franchise fans.
Previous Yakuza titles have focused gameplay around hand-to-hand melee combat, courtesy of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Dead Souls switches things up in a supernatural way that places an emphasis on gunplay. Dead Souls' gunplay mechanics will be something that players will either love or hate depending on their preferences towards auto-aim systems a-la Capcom's early Resident Evil games. Yes, manual aiming is available, but playing in this manner removes the character's ability to move -- a handicap that just doesn't make much sense in a video game. Then again, when facing a more formidable foe (such as a special mutant or boss), being proficient at manual aiming will prove quite the advantage.
The controls, though, aren't as irritating as they might seem in the paragraph above. In fact, Dead Souls' controls (as a whole) are better than expected. The same can be said with its leveling system, allowing for players to increase their zombie-slaying skills and gameplay bonuses. Furthermore, upgrades are available across characters, so players won't feel like they will be starting over from scratch when characters change. Players will also discover that there is a good assortment of weaponry with which to halt the zombie threat.
Outside of the good ole' slaying of zombies and zombie-like opponents, Yakuza: Dead Souls also has its fair share of humour and fun. Much of this comes from the game's writing -- which is surprisingly good for this kind of a game. This touch of personality also allows the player to get in touch with the characters and their individual motivations for diving head-first into a zombie invasion. The Goro Majima character motivation, for example, is simply to act-out scenes from his favorite survival horror flicks (other character have more serious impetuses. But while the game's writing may be a pleasant surprise, it can't hide the fact that many of Dead Souls' cut scenes are a tad long.
Players will endure a number of missions both storyline and side. Not all of them are all that appealing. One such side mission had the player accompany a group of rather perverted guys as they hunt down a woman who's in need of saving (their motivation is that she's potentially nude). Many actions the player will perform, however, require a good amount of backtracking -- something very few gamers actually enjoy doing. Some might argue that fast travel mechanics found in games such as Skyrim and Dead Island have spoiled gamers, but some sort of a similar fast travel system would have been nice for Yakuza: Dead Souls.
This game has its problems to be sure, but they are the kind that more dedicated players will be able to either overlook or simply play through and ignore. The auto-aim/manual aiming systems could use an overhaul and character movement can be clumsy at times, but an above-average presentation including good writing and sometimes humorous situations add an appeal that similar games do not offer. Feeling at times like an interactive Hollywood "B-movie", Yakuza: Dead Souls is a prime example of the whole being better than its parts.
Final Game Guys grade: B-
(SEGA provided a copy of this game for review.)