Like a dragon: Ishin! evolves into a safe but humane journey into the past
Like a dragon: Ishin! stands in a somewhat strange position. It is the first release in the series to drop the Yakuza title. It’s a remake of an almost 10-year-old game, but new to audiences outside of Japan.
After playing through a few hours of an early chapter, I can safely say that Ishin keeps the core of what Yakuza fans love about the series, all with a fresh coat of paint.
The familiar open world full of side activities remains. There are several restaurants, side quests, and mini-games scattered throughout Kyo City for you to get lost in. During my time with the game, I was often distracted from the main quest to explore every alley and as many sub-stories as possible.
The side stories make Kyo’s world feel truly inhabited. Through these, the player is immersed in the politics and attitudes of 1860s Japan. A sub-quest requires Ryoma to teach children about global geography, showing how cautious Japan was about the threat of foreign lands up until the end of the Bakumatsu era. Another sees Ryoma coming to the aid of a western scholar named Creek, who is being attacked by a group of locals enthusiastic about enforcing the edict expelling foreigners.
While the humor of a yakuza game is still present, Kyo’s setting is very different from today’s Kamurocho and Yokohama, which have been the settings of the mainline games so far. The Kyo of the 1860s was bloodier and more brutal as it was a time of political and social instability. Where terms have been left as romanizations of the Japanese words, RGG Studio has added a glossary feature that explains the term in a popup. It’s always accessible from the in-game pause menu, making it handy if you’re struggling with a knowledge gap in Japanese history, and while I found it a bit bothersome when unfamiliar concepts were brought up on NPCs, it was greatly appreciated . I look forward to seeing Ishin’s portrayal of the Bakumatsu period and its social climate as the game progresses.
While side stories provide Kyo humanization and context, minigames are where the delightful nonsense is found. I couldn’t try all the available minigames (and as Yakuza fans will know, they exist a lot in a yakuza game), but the ones I tried were full of absurdities and made me laugh a lot. I went to sing the newly added Baka Mitai at karaoke, rearranged with traditional instrumentation and completed with a moving flute solo by Ryoma. Elsewhere, Ryoma got his ass handed to him in a brothel by Anna, who thoroughly defeated him at the rock-paper-scissors strip.
As I explored Kyo, I inevitably encountered many of the small enemy groups surrounding Ryoma on the map, which allowed me to experiment with the four different combat styles. While not much can be said about Brawler, which is a staple of Kiryu’s styles in the mainline Yakuza games, I’ve enjoyed using the others. Swordsman offers what you normally think of when you picture samurai. Using a katana is best when you need a solid block paired with precise strikes. Gunman turned out to be my least favorite, although it’s a good choice for long-range combat.
Wild Dancer, which uses both a katana and a weapon, was certainly my favorite. It is extremely noticeable in its combos, including one that has Ryoma swinging around his sword while firing multiple shots at the same time. You don’t have to worry about being too good at blocking either, as his side step allows you to easily dodge attacks. Switching between combat styles is seamless, so you can easily change your style depending on the situation. As always, Heat Actions are dramatic and bloody, allowing you to perform special moves like a parry once you’ve unlocked them.
Combat is scored based on offense, defense, and technique, and you get a quick look at your stats. I felt that the regular open-world enemy encounters were too brief to fully appreciate the fighting styles, but in the longer one-on-one boss fights against Shinsengumi Second Division Captain Shinpachi Nagakura and the mysterious Man in White, I was really able to focus on improving my technique with each one.
What keeps Ishin from feeling too dark and heavy is his fanservice. Although many of the appearing characters – including Ryoma Sakamoto and Soji Okita – are based on figures that have shaped the history of Japan, the fictional versions of them are portrayed by characters from the main Yakuza games. Ryoma is based on Kiryu, and he’s just as stoic and driven by his modern-day counterpart. This reimagining of beloved characters from the series in one of Japan’s most fascinating periods was very enjoyable to watch.
The new photo mode, which lets you change Ryoma’s pose and facial expression, is definitely part of that fanservice – silly fun that lets you mess around with Ryoma and get him to pull very atypical faces.
My time with the preview felt too short. There are many side stories and minigames that I didn’t have time to try and could easily have spent a few more hours exploring Kyo. Crucially, while Ishin may be the first release in the Like a Dragon series to drop the Yakuza name, it still has all the hallmarks of a Yakuza game. The dense open world, fun combat, and lovable cast is a formula that RGG Studio has perfected over the lifespan of the series. So far, Ishin doesn’t seem to be reinventing the series, but rather reusing what makes the Yakuza series great in a new, historical context.
https://www.eurogamer.net/like-a-dragon-ishin-is-shaping-up-to-be-a-safe-but-crowd-pleasing-trip-to-the-past Like a dragon: Ishin! evolves into a safe but humane journey into the past