The Japanese crime syndicates are not fans of zombies either.
I think it's fair to say that popular culture has bitten off more zombies than it can comfortably chew. People just can't seem to get enough of the grumpy little bastards. "Oh man," they seem to say, "I love zombies! I love how they walk like there's a single drop of piss working its way down their leg and how they look like us but not quite, so I can slaughter them in their thousands without shame or consequence, and I love how they satirize the dumb sheep-like consumerism of modern humanity. I love it so much I'm going to blindly buy everything with zombies in it with no perception of irony whatsoever."
And now zombies occupy a similar role in popular culture as salt does on a dining table. There is literally nothing they won't try to sprinkle zombies on to appeal to a broader palette. They did it with Red Dead Redemption, they did it with Call of Duty, they did it with Resident Evi - oh, wait. But now they're doing it with Yakuza, a series about stomping the faces of very specifically alive people into the neon-lit streets of Tokyo and then looking at them with a really stern face. So here's Yakuza: Dead Souls, a world turned upside because evil can no longer be purged from men with a good honest Cuban heel to the bridge of the nose.
After doing Yakuza 4 last year, I found myself surprisingly enamored with the franchise. Yes, the cutscenes dragged on like all the talky episodes of Game of Thrones strung together, and the gameplay and story were kept separated with an electric fence, but how can anyone dislike the spectacle of very serious-faced angry men in seventies disco suits hitting each other with bicycles like John Travolta got caught up in a serious road rage incident on his way out of the Botox clinic? And I actually found some appeal in the idea of throwing zombies at characters I already like and am familiar with. It's like how The X-Files broke up all that conspiracy garbage by doing a cute, silly, off-canon episode just the occasional sixty or seventy times.
So I was going into this with a sense of "Fuck yes, it's Akiyama again. I love his horrible mauve blazer, and now he's dual-wielding custom pistols like a boss. I just want to take him home and mount him to my kitchen wall so my kids will have an appropriate role model to look at over their Honey Nut Cheerios every morning." But even putting Brian Blessed in there as an optional boss fight wouldn't make me overlook that this is blatantly an expansion of Yakuza 4. It's the same arrangement of a four-act story mode with four different playable characters, culminating in them all joining forces to each kick one half of a buttock belonging to whoever the evil mastermind will turn out to be, all taking place in the same Shenmue-esque sandbox with the same brick-chewingly psychotic level of detail.
The story's hardly worth mentioning, since these things tend to write themselves. A zombie shows up in fictional district of Tokyo Kamurocho and swiftly turns into a whole bunch of them, as tends to be the case. And the authorities quarantine off increasingly large sections of the district as everyone else tries to get on with their daily lives, with every shop and restaurant still plying their trade mere yards from the ever-encroaching barricade. It's that same Japanese attitude that had the trains back up and running on the same day the bomb hit Hiroshima, I suppose.
Secondary protagonist and recurring series mad person Goro Majima really comes into his own as a character. It's so rare to see an action game protagonist who seems like he's enjoying himself, not in a dry, cool, unflappable badass sort of way but giggling like a schoolgirl who's just found the headmistress's secret collection of erotic birthday cakes.
Rest assured, you can still beat your enemies over the head with a random object. In fact, I made a game of coming up with a different dry, cool one-liner for each one I used. "Hey baby, what's your sign?" "Fancy a hit on the pipe?" "You must be the town bicycle!", etc. But what Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty have in common is that their non-zombie combat related gameplay already involved guns, whereas Yakuza has always communicated in the language of face stomping, and guns only existed in cutscenes for characters to hold and agonize over firing for forty-five fucking minutes. Henceforth, shooting mechanics have had to be added to Yakuza's combat, and the person who did so has apparently only ever heard of shooters from the myths and legends of far off lands told to him by drunk sailors.
To stop beating about the bicycle, the shooting controls are a load of piss. If you go into aim mode - that's the second aim mode. For some reason there are two aim modes. One's slightly less aimey than the other, so why the fuck would you bother - then the camera switches to where your character is aiming rather than the character turning to face the camera angle like how the regular, boring, well-designed shooters work. And I wish I had a sewing needle for every time I got teeth marks in my mauve blazer while intimidating a wall two feet to the right of the guy I was trying to aim at, because I'm going to shove them all under my fingernails.
Also, when you're not aiming you use the right analog stick to look around, but that's what it's good at. It's like a faithful hound trained to fetch the grouse and nothing else. That's why, in most shooters, when you go into aiming mode you continue using the right analog stick to adjust your aim, because you're still looking at things, but now in an edgy, masculine kind of way. Yakuza is of an innovative mindset, however, so adjusting your aim in aiming mode is done with the left analog stick. Why the scrambled eggs on fucktoast would anyone do that? It means if you hit aim while running in the heat of battle, you'll soon be intimidating the stucco ceiling. Truly, a bad game to be part of the architecture.
Eventually I figured out that equipping a shotgun and running around in circles vaguely firing in the direction of the enemy was the best approach, even against most of the boss fights, although that does make the occasional boss fight that requires accurate shooting on par with playing darts while trying to prise the jaws of an enraged lioness off your elbow.
I suppose dismissing Dead Souls as a mere expansion may be unfair, since it completely alters the core combat mechanic, there's a whole new story (albeit considerably shorter), and instead of wandering around the city occasionally getting interrupted Final Fantasy-style for a random encounter from a passerby with an insatiable thirst for shoe leather, gameplay now splits between desperately gunning your way through the quarantine zones in search of survivors and wandering about in the unconquered streets looking for side quests and playing the UFO testers for toys to give to the hostesses who secretly hate your guts. But you can't half dismantle a game like Yakuza 4 and try to squeeze shooting into a combat system built for up-close brawling. It's like selling a rottweiler as a guide dog and then being surprised when it bites off a blind person's leg.
The crux of the matter is, if I want to shoot zombies with guns I can go pretty much anywhere, generally places with higher concentrations of twats, and it'd probably be a lot better designed. But there's only one place I can go to if I want to kung fu someone's kneecaps in and smash them over the head with half a bicycle while dressed for Saturday Night Fever, and that's the alleyway behind the convention center. Sorry, two places. Also the Yakuza games. And that's what makes Yakuza: Dead Souls a waste of time. More so than games usually are, I mean.
- Runs a successful shoe polishing business: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- It'd be a cool mechanic if as you neared 100% completion Kazuma Kiryu's face gradually shifted into a warm smile
- Zombies don't care about their faces so why should I