Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Oct 312022
 

Happy Halloween!

Our final Celebrating All Things Spooky review this year is an entry in a series that has become near and dear to my heart, Yakuza.

That’s right, Yakuza has a “spooky” entry.

I’d been playing Yakuza 5 and hope to finish that before the end of the year, but when October came around, I decided to put that on hold to try the zombie shooter spin-off, Dead Souls.

Yakuza: Dead Souls is a non-canon spin-off set after Yakuza 4. A zombie outbreak sends Kamurocho into chaos, and our characters find themselves at the center of it all as they try to survive, help the people of the city, and learn the truth behind the outbreak.

The thing that struck me the most about Dead Souls is how sincere it feels. I didn’t expect much from the story of a zombie Yakuza game, but it doesn’t feel like an excuse plot or something quickly thrown together. It feels like a genuine Yakuza story exploring what would happen if zombies overtook Kamurocho. To some degree, it comes across as Yakuza Resident Evil, but it uses these elements in a way that makes sense for the series.

It also has great character interactions and some surprisingly emotional moments.

Click for Yakuza: Dead Souls spoilers
Ryuji’s third chapter, when they turn his boss from the takoyaki stand into a monster and you have to fight him, and then Ryuji deals the final blow while flashing back to his boss showing him how to kill an octopus cleanly to avoid causing it to suffer… that was a heavy scene.

And then the start of Kiryu’s chapter, when he refuses to shoot zombies until he’s finally forced to accept that there’s no other choice, that hit hard. It makes perfect sense for his character, so I’m glad they actually did that instead of having Kiryu just go in guns blazing.

Then there are the substories. In true Yakuza fashion, Dead Souls is filled with optional substories that are often hilarious and occasionally heartwarming. Some are ridiculous even by Yakuza standards, and then there are others that involve minor characters from past games, part of the attention to detail that makes it feel so sincere.

If you’re wondering if Dead Souls is worth it, I’d personally recommend it for the substories alone.

We do have to consider the gameplay, however.

Unlike the rest of the series, Dead Souls is a third-person shooter. You get a variety of guns, with each character having a main type. Handguns have infinite ammo, while the rest require you to have ammo in your inventory. Heat is replaced by the snipe gauge, which lets you use things in the environment to wreak devastation upon the zombies.

The shooting does not feel great, especially when you aim. You can aim by going into first-person, but you can’t move while aiming. That would be fine, except it also decided that means the left stick should control your aim instead of the right stick (which controls the camera in third-person). Going into first-person also sometimes swung me around so that I was facing a different direction; I never figured out what caused it or how to avoid it. Aside from fights with bosses and certain types of special zombies, I found it easier to shoot without aiming, since there’s some sort of auto-aim in place.

I’m not the biggest shooter fan, so I can’t really speak to whether it’s fun or not. Combat was the game’s weakest link for me, but not enough to stop me from playing it.

(Chases were also rough and felt clunkier to me than Yakuza 3’s chases despite this game coming out after Yakuza 4, but fortunately they don’t occur often.)

Now, all of this zombie shooting occurs in the quarantine zone, which gets larger and larger as the game goes on. Outside of the quarantined area, life in Kamurocho goes on like usual. Between that and the ability to liberate businesses within the quarantine zone (at which point they act like things are totally normal despite zombies swarming outside), all of the usual Yakuza side activities are here. While it might feel surreal to eat with a hostess, enjoy some karaoke, and then blast your way through a legion of zombies, I appreciate how Dead Souls is a complete Yakuza experience.

Click for minor Yakuza: Dead Souls spoilers
And since Ryuji’s return itself isn’t part of the plot, just a retcon, I choose to believe Ryuji survived in canon as well and is just happily making takoyaki without drawing any attention to himself.

…Maybe without the gun-arm.

(It would be ironic if Ryuji is alive and just successfully managed to do what Kiryu’s been trying to do for half the series now – drop out of sight and live a quiet life away from the Yakuza.)

It’s the shortest game I’ve played in the series, with my playtime coming in at a little over 30 hours. However, while I did all the substories, I skipped a chunk of side content – like the procedurally generated underground dungeons, which I did one floor of and then left – that could make a playthrough much longer.

So, is Yakuza: Dead Souls worth playing? If story, substories, and side content are the main draw for you, I’d say it is, although finding it is another matter. Dead Souls is only available on the PS3. You can buy a digital copy for $19.99, or hunt down a physical copy like I did. Since PS3 games are region-free, I imported a PAL copy since they’re easier to find.

Will they ever remaster Dead Souls? I don’t know, but I think it deserves it.

Yakuza: Dead Souls is a strange spin-off that has a lot more good in it than you might expect. It turned out to be the perfect way to end this year’s Celebrating All Things Spooky celebration. Happy Halloween, and don’t forget you have until midnight tonight to participate in the contest!

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Oct 282022
 

Last year, one of the games we looked at was the first chapter of Higurashi When They Cry.

I enjoyed it quite a bit and mentioned at the end that I might not wait long before starting the second chapter.

…Well, I got distracted by other games and didn’t get around to it.

But then, with the idea already floating around in my mind that I should play Chapter 2 this October, the Silent Hill news came out. The exciting surprise that Ryukishi07 is writing Silent Hill f spurred me into action, and I began Higurashi When They Cry – Ch. 2 Watanagashi.

This chapter doesn’t pick up where the previous chapter ended, but instead starts at an earlier point. Once again, it begins with a lengthy few hours of lighthearted slice-of-life antics. It felt to me like that section actually lasted longer here, but that might just be because my knowledge of the first chapter already had me on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Sure enough, things in Chapter 2 eventually take a dark turn. Both chapters of Higurashi do an excellent job of building up a pleasant atmosphere and then twisting it with unsettling events. Both also involve the same core elements – murders and disappearances rumored to be part of a legendary curse. However, they take these aspects in a different direction.

While the first chapter built up a terrifying sense of paranoia, Chapter 2 almost feels more like a mystery, with piece after piece of the unsettling incidents coming to light.

It’s still very creepy, and the later parts had me invested in what would happen next. The more I think about it, the more interested I am to see what Ryukishi07 will do with Silent Hill. His writing has that blend of occult and psychological horror that Silent Hill did so well with.

Higurashi When They Cry – Ch. 2 Watanagashi is another interesting read, and I don’t think I’ll wait quite as long this time before starting the next chapter. In the meantime, don’t forget that you have up until Monday to join in the conversation and participate in this year’s Celebrating All Things Spooky contest!

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Oct 262022
 

For today’s review, I decided to turn to another short horror game that’s been in my backlog for a while: Bonbon.

Bonbon is a short adventure game from the perspective of a child. The gameplay mainly consists of simple tasks, like carefully carrying your toys to a box and putting them inside.

And dealing with the giant rat called Bonbon.

It’s a short game that lasts roughly half an hour or so, and while it’s pretty simple, it has an unsettling atmosphere and a few scary moments.

However, I found the story to be a little too ambiguous.

Click for Bonbon spoilers
The store page says the subtext is about child abuse, except it doesn’t really give many clues about what’s really going on aside from a creepy fairy tale – and the fact that if you’re playing a horror game about a child and there’s a giant ambiguous monster causing trouble, being a metaphor for abuse is a reasonable guess. My problem is that those sorts of stories usually have a context where you can take the implied meaning and say, “Oh, so that scene was actually…” but I can’t figure out how to do that here.

If I were left to my own interpretation, I’d probably say it’s about mundane things coming across as scary through a child’s eyes, but it feels like it’s missing something.

Nevertheless, while I might not be entirely sold on Bonbon’s story, I can’t deny that it was a creepy game to play, with good audio designs and a lot of little moments that kept me on edge.

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