Like a Dragon: Ishin might have taken eight years to get remade, but there’s an even older Yakuza game that should be resurrected. Yakuza: Dead Souls took the already over-the-top series and threw a zombie apocalypse into the mix. And yet, delisted from the PlayStation Store, it deserves better than to be forgotten.
Yakuza: Dead Souls takes place after Yakuza 4 and sees the district of Kamurocho fall foul of a zombie outbreak. That, in turn, sees the district quarantined as the undead — and a few other Resident Evil-style nasties — make their presence known. As Kazuma Kiryu and three other characters, you’ve got to not only survive but get to the truth about the outbreak.
If that sounds a little familiar, you’re not wrong. The Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare expansion did something similar. As Rockstar’s Dan Houser put it at the time, they wanted it to feel like “by day people shot a serious revisionist Western, and by night some maniacs invaded the studio and filmed a somewhat insane horror movie using the same sets and cast.”
The same is true of Yakuza: Dead Souls. Kamurocho is still the Kamurocho of Yakuza 4; you can still participate in activities like karaoke and billiards. But there’s some magnificent post-apocalyptic set dressing, and the game only dials the mayhem up from there.
Buildings explode, tanks roll into the city, boss monsters rise to challenge the game’s four playable protagonists. Speaking of which, one of the four, Ryuji Goda, has a metal arm that turns into a machine gun. Didn’t he die in an earlier game? Yes, but Yakuza: Dead Souls is considered non-canon, which allows the game to get away with absolutely anything.
But like all the best zombie movies, it’s the characters that make it shine. Goro Majima started as series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s rival, before eventually becoming an ally. While there have been glimpses of something else, he’s usually portrayed as violent and unhinged.
In Yakuza: Dead Souls, the first game to let you play as this ridiculous character, we see another side to him. He steps up to take charge of a group of survivors, not just organizing them but serving as their protector. There’s a beautiful moment where a little girl thanks him for his efforts, and for once, this motormouth is utterly speechless.
If you’re a follower of the Yakuza series, a zombie aficionado, or just a fan of bottom-kicking action games, you might be thinking this all sounds pretty amazing. But there’s a good reason I’ve barely touched on Dead Souls’ gameplay, because it’s the gameplay that a remake sorely needs to overhaul.
Putting zombies in Yakuza (or as it’s now known, Like a Dragon) should theoretically let you take brawling to the next level. Forget just smacking people with a bike — think about all the stuff you could get away with without 17 “Kazuma Kiryu never killed anyone” videos popping up. Just imagine decapitating the undead with a road sign, pile-driving them into the ground, or using them to bludgeon a bigger monster. Dead Rising 2, released the year before Yakuza: Dead Souls, featured those sorts of activities and was a big success for Capcom. But that’s not what publisher Sega and its developer, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, went with.
Instead, they gave the characters guns. You don’t even get the option to pummel a zombie with a restaurant sign — guns are compulsory. Leaving aside Japan’s strict gun laws, (We are talking about the fictionalized Yakuza here.) the game just isn’t built for firearms, and it absolutely shows.
It’s not that you need to make headshots; you can blast away with or without aiming and still make a kill. But it often feels like you’re fighting against the controls. It’s a little like the original Resident Evil but with a much larger number of zombies to take on. In Resident Evil, you’d have to reposition yourself, but you were only taking on, at most, a handful of enemies. Here, the more the game throws at you, the clunkier it feels.
Is Yakuza: Dead Souls still fun? Yes, but it could be so, so much better. Assuming Sega didn’t go full RPG, as Yakuza: Like a Dragon did, one option for a remake is to use an entirely new engine, one that can handle third- and first-person shooting. But given the expense and effort involved, I can’t see that happening.
What we really need is a Yakuza: Dead Souls remake that ditches the shooting, outside of cutscenes, and goes all in on hand-to-hand combat. Does taking zombies on with your fists make sense? Not really, but when did Yakuza / Like a Dragon ever need to make sense?
After all, this is a series where adult babies are a regular fixture. The last main-series entry has a protagonist who imagines every encounter as a turn-based RPG battle, and another has an actual battleship that’s just been sitting there since World War II.
So how about a remake, Sega? Yakuza: Dead Souls may not have nailed the combat, but it was spot-on with the concept, the characters, and the story. It took Yakuza’s silliness and ran with it — it just needs a chance to rise from its grave.