Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Yakuza: Dead Souls is Pretty Interesting
Ever since it was announced, I really just had no idea of what to think about Yakuza: Dead Souls (Formerly subtitled "Of the End") because it was just so out there. Taking a franchise that was so steeped in attempted realism (granted, the stuff is Over-the-top, but it's at least Spy-Fiction possible) and brawling, and then throwing guns and zombies to the mix seemed like madness. That's like making Zelda a racing game, or making Pokemon an RTS; it's just on no level what you would think of, associating the game with the genre. But it happened, so the thing to ask at this point would be "Does it work?". From what little of Dead Souls that I played today, I'm leaning very heavily towards "Yes" because, while it's a Third-Person Shooter (at parts) with Zombies, it is very much a Yakuza game at its very core, and the Shooting and such works more as a twist on the approach rather than that dramatic of a shift.
My primary concern was how the game would maintain the feel of a Yakuza game, and it has done that in a way I never would have even considered. For all intents and purposes, Kamurocho is now two different worlds entirely, divided by a giant steel wall put in place by the Special Defense Force. On one side, the quarantined area of Kamurocho where zombies, mutants and survivors thrive (though the last bit, not so much) and spread, causing destruction to the city and tearing it to ruin. On the other side, Kamurocho as it was; pristine (on the surface, at least) and populated, with the majority of the people going about their lives as if nothing were different at all. It's a little jarring at first, but I suspect that is part of the point. It's functional as well, however, since it's in this section of the city where you get the main feel of a Yakuza game, aside from where the story comes into play.
The 'clean' half of Kamurocho is where you'll do the majority of the Mini-games, search for most of the substories and just -explore- the city, unfettered by the possibility of being grabbed by some street punk, up-and-coming spit-shine Yakuza or drunkard and forced into a brawl. This is the downside of the game, I feel, but it definitely makes sense. Dead Souls is based around ranged combat and the existing engine was probably tweaked to just accommodate this, rather than having two different engines completely. As well as mechanically, it probably just wouldn't fit thematically considering it's highly unlikely that you would get some punk trying to bum 5,000 yen off of you by threatening to smash your teeth in when, in theory, the wall that holds the zombies back could come down at any point. While the argument could be made that using that logic means nobody should be working at Kanrai or playing at the Yoshida Batting Cages either, but shut up.
So, how does the Quarantined half of Kamurocho work, you might ask? Well, surprisingly decently really. The story looks as if it will take place in both halves of the city when appropriate, but you can pretty much go into the Quarantined zone whenever you feel like it by using 'Back Door' locations scattered around the city. (That are unlocked by playing the game, they're not open to you right away) Entering one of these Back Doors takes you into the Quarantine where you can shoot as many Zombies as you wish, explore however much you want, and look for the things that are there. On top of many substories requiring you to go into the Quarantine, you'll find that several old locations in the zone have been shuttered, just waiting to be saved. Upon getting to these areas, you'll fight off a few waves to 'clear' the area (really, zombies seem to infinitely respawn so it's a bit moot), letting them open back up for business, despite the area still being in ruin.
The first of these such locations was Club Sega in Theater Square, which, predictably, allows you to play around in it as if it weren't in the middle of the infestation. The only reminder of that fact is the visage of the employees wearing hardhats and wielding baseball bats while offering to switch out the prizes in the left-hand Crane Machine. Similarly, I can only assume saved restaurants will allow you to eat and drink there which will prove handy of course since doing so restores fantastic amounts of health, meaning that there is a real, true function of the mechanic besides adding a little depth and being somewhat silly, given the circumstances of the game itself. I can forgive it, of course, since I'm at least an apologist, but it does far more good than it does bad, even if you try to psycho-analyze it. Without those types of things, there wouldn't be a whole lot to do while you're running around killing Zombies, so having that helps.
I'm still early into it, but I'm very much enjoying it so far. It doesn't quite scratch the itch that a traditional Yakuza game would for obvious reasons, but it gets the job done sufficiently thanks to being very, very Yakuza-like. My opinion could very well change between now and finishing the game as the controls are not quite as good as they should be. They most certainly did not tweak the controls to match Binary Domain's as they said they would (unless Binary Domain is fairly tanky as well), but they're not absolutely bad by any standards. You can still run and gun, which puts it a step above Resident Evil 4 and 5, even though precision aiming (for, say, reliable headshots) does rely similarly on standing still and aiming instead of the walk-while-aiming strategy every other TPS has rightly assumed. Regardless, it's definitely a game I'm going to enjoy, as I have enjoyed it already. And I haven't even played as Majima yet. Oh man.