Like a dragon: Ishin! Review

By | May 17, 2023

Ryoma’s story finally crosses the Japanese border, with the Like a dragon: Ishin! be a new version of the popular title. This is a special story, moving away from modern Yakuza gangs, and instead focusing on a period drama with a strong samurai “flavour”.

Before the arcades, the grimy streets of Kamurocho, and the neon signs, there was the age of the samurai. A long time ago, to be exact: a few decades before the end of the 19th century, at the end of the Edo period. Like a dragon: Ishin! is a remake of a game that was originally released in 2014, but was never released in markets outside of Japan. Not only is it now available in Europe, but it’s coming to PlayStation, Xbox, and PC as it was originally a PlayStation 3 exclusive, allowing even more players to time travel with Ryoma Sakamoto.

Ryoma is the game’s protagonist, based on Kiryu Kazuma from the Yakuza games, both visually and vocally. Of course, with clothing, hairstyle and speech appropriate to the time. The same goes for much of the cast, with Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio even “recruiting” actors who weren’t in the original game but in the sequels, for consistency with more recent games. There are parallels between Ishin’s characters and the other titles, so veterans of the series will understand the role sooner or more easily, e.g. by Okita Soji, which is based on the unforgettable Goro Majima. The central story doesn’t stray too far from the series’ standards. Ryoma stands accused of a murder he did not commit, dishonored and persecuted, while the political landscape of 19th century Japan is built on shaky foundations. Soon, the players and Ryoma discover that the murder the protagonist is accused of was intended to destabilize Japan, and cosmogenic shifts are just around the corner.

For lovers of history, period pieces, or Japanese culture, Ishin is masterfully crafted. The city of Kyo, which would later become modern Kyoto, has incredible details in its buildings, gardens, baths, and shops. In its streets, morning and night, numerous residents, dressed in period clothing, animate the city. But the most important thing is in the script and it is the attention to detail that characterizes the time. It takes a few hours for Ishin to get going (about 3-4 out of 25 or so), but it’s not a waste of time, taking care of explaining a lot that, to the average player, will probably be unfamiliar. How do shogunates work? What are the Shinsengumi? The plot is based on true events, with a generous dose of exaggeration, obviously, and it’s amazing how much you can learn just by playing the game.

This is the time when Japan began to get more in touch with the more sophisticated firearms of the West, which is also reflected in the gameplay. Ryoma fights using four styles: Brawler (fists, etc.), Swordsman (katana sword fighting), Gunman (firearms), and Wild Dancer (mixture of sword and gun). Each style works best for different occasions. For example, Wild Dancer is great for multi-enemy battles, covering long distances quickly and performing non-stop attacks. Swordsman, on the other hand, is slower and more cumbersome, but more easily dismantles individual enemies. During a battle, all styles may be needed, and a player dedicated to only one will have trouble in some battles, even if it’s not a boss. It’s not uncommon for a group of samurai to try to corner Ryoma, so combat opportunities aren’t rare at all. To better prepare, the player must equip Ryoma with armor and weapons, as well as invest in the skill tree of each fighting style. By accumulating points using each style or through various missions, Ryoma earns points that he spends on developing each skill tree to obtain e.g. more HP or unlock new abilities.

The freedom offered by this area allows the player to play in the style they prefer, even if it is not ideal in all situations, simply by concentrating on developing the respective skill tree. For example, Wild Dancer isn’t the most powerful or effective for one-on-one boss fights, but developing it quickly made it even more fun and ultimately irreplaceable. In some cases, it was actually necessary to use another style, so the game doesn’t get in the way of the fun. The highlight of each style is Heat Actions, something all Yakuza players will easily recognize. These are devastating attacks that become possible when the heat gauge fills up with Ryoma’s attacks and the opponent is in a certain location or stunned, etc. as impressive as ever, if not a bit more grounded and realistic.

A new addition compared to the Yakuza games are Trooper cards. The player can create decks of cards, one deck for each fighting style, which are used in battles. Each soldier card has different attributes, types, abilities, and powers, so a foursome must have a balance of classes to complement the player’s fighting style. For example, a medic soldier offers powers that replenish HP, while an offense deals attacks or increases Ryoma’s attacks. Everything is necessary and it is up to the player to decide how to use it. The whole mechanism of Trooper Cards is like a mini game in itself, as cards level up, improve their stats, and can even be combined with each other to power up a favorite card a little faster. With over 400 cards, the four-of-a-kind combination options are endless. A major plus point here is the expansion of the mechanics throughout the game, which was not the case in the original release and soldier cards could only be used within battle dungeons (listed below).

In addition to the main story, there are many side quests and, of course, activities of all kinds. It stands out “of all kinds”, since in addition to karaoke nights, fishing and visits to the toilets, there is even a gambling chicken race. In Battle Dungeons, players fight non-stop on a track and when they get out, they earn prizes like Trooper Cards. For a change, nothing more, across the board: there are just as many serious (and heartwarming) sidequests as there are fun. or surreal. And it’s not necessary for the player to “plow” the map to find such quests; very often, they are found in your path, in the form of a passerby or something similar. However, the sprawl of side quests in various parts of Kyo makes the city seem much more alive than in the average game. Any NPC that is not only there to greet Ryoma can have a primary role (eg selling items) but also a secondary one, offering a short or long side quest. Thus, the player can visit the merchant to buy something, but at the same time has the opportunity to develop a more personal relationship with him. It’s not often that NPCs in a game (which clearly isn’t an RPG) work in such an organic way.

The point here is balance. It’s good that there are so many side quests, as someone is more likely to figure out the ones you’re most interested in or the rewards they give out are closer to your goals, but the random side quests can be distracting at times when it shouldn’t be as the story moves on. regardless of side quests, so an important event that’s going on in the background can take a backseat for a while because a side quest that might be of interest to the player suddenly gets in the way. Yes, they’re not necessary, so it’s not a huge drawback, but the average player will definitely be tempted to complete a few and the pacing of the main story could suffer a bit due to its somewhat slow start. All this for a remake, however, and the question arises: to what extent is the re-release justified? For starters, the fact that it’s finally releasing outside of Japan was worth it. Technically, Unreal Engine 4 was chosen and not Dragon Engine (Yakuza 6, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Lost Judgment, etc.). In still images, the result ranges from “fine” to “strikingly beautiful”, especially in dark scenes where lighting “plays” with faces, clothing, etc. The character models are very high quality and detailed, clearly improved compared to the PlayStation 3 release. What hasn’t changed are the animations, so movement, battles, cinematics, etc. they don’t look like they belong in a current generation game. They’re not bad by any means, they’re just not the most modern.

For the rest, the music is not exclusively traditional, contrary to the general aesthetics of the title. It’s closer to the standard of the rest of the Yakuza, with electronics and drum-n-bass playing normally in the bigger scenes. As in the other games in the series, the music here is impeccable, with songs like “Soar” lingering in the memory. The acting is “top notch” as well, as the talented and gifted actors who were loved by friends on the series return and lend their voices once again.

For all those who loved Yakuza, Like a Dragon: Ishin! it is a safe market. A fresh setting, interesting characters and plot, a rich combat system (even if you exclude the very useful Trooper Cards), great music and people – there are not a few positive aspects. The negative aspects, on the other hand, are few but easily noticeable. The crowds and randomness of the side quests don’t help an already sluggish plot, while the animations could have gotten a little more love. In any case, it’s a quality, super-rounded samurai-themed title, and that’s enough in itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *