Like a Dragon: Ishin Review
Ryu Ga Gotoku’s relentless concept in triad-style, fictional escapades have become a massive staple within the Action-JRPG market, culminating in its “Like a Dragon” series re-emerge, with the subtitle returning in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, then following up with a returning Like a Dragon: Ishin! and Like a Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name slated for later this year. For the mainline Yakuza series, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a unique entry that gives players an opportunity to experience the franchise with familiar friends and foes almost displaced in nineteenth century Japan. While its setting may be unfamiliar, faces are with ancestry and history bolstering the lofty narrative of the eastern mafioso, primitively prying for political supremacy within a samurai sunder. Over-the-top personalities are trademark Yakuza, and with Like a Dragon: Ishin! acting as a prequel to the long running crime war series, there’s no shortage of comically self-indulged moments that will leave players chuckling while swinging your blade, or throwing down fists with merciless intent.
It is however a noticeable call back to Like a Dragon: Ishin! on its original platform, the PlayStation 2 with some outdated mechanics that have been carried over, tying the hands of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio from making any deviant changes that would cause any further impact to the foundation Like a Dragon: Ishin! initiated in 2014. However, nine years later the title dispels any quandary of archaic physics, albeit carrying over some questionable design and gameplay choices to its remake. It sits somewhere in the middle ground of a reboot/re-imagining but is definitely reupholstered from the ground up. There’s trials, tribulations, honour and friendly rivalry, but the political world in the eastern 1800’s called for unruly resolve with bloodthirst being atop of its vengeful list.
Touched for the very second time...
Like a Dragon: Ishin! takes place in Kyo, 1860. Before it was the renowned bustling neon-lit central business district it is today, it maintained its reputation for being a patron’s paradise packed with vendor’s and restaurants that were overseen by imperialists, who dictated a plan surrounding the Emperor’s plan to overthrow the Bakufu – the Shogun Military – and reclaim civilisation by banishing all foreigners. This would see a major political war between the Ishin and Bakufu that would result in bloodshed. The fifty hour campaign follows parallel protagonist Sakamoto Ryoma, a Ronin samurai that shares his likeness with modern day Yakuza protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu. Upon saving a young lady from the deathly grasps of the Joshi, The natural swordsmen fends off the army not before being arrested, stripped naked, hogtied while beaten and bruised.
Narrowly escaping death, his adoptive father, Yoshida Toyo, overturns the magistrate’s ruling, seeking to halt any injustice posed by Tosa’s unfair judicial system. Ryoma meets with his brother, Takechi Hanpeita, who inducts Sakomoto into the Tosa Loyalist Party. The pair meet with Yoshida at Kochi Castle, plotting to seize control and discuss matters with its ministers. A brawl erupts with an assassin mortally wounding Yoshida, not before Takechi and Sakomoto make their escape. A year later, Sakamoto has sought refuge in Kyo, where he now leads as Captain of the 3rd unit of the Shinsengumi vowing to return to Tosa, to reclaim his innocence. Now undercover, he changes his name to Saito Hajime, policing the streets while covertly investigating numerous dojo’s asking for any information regarding Tennen Rishin, a respective style used by his father’s murderer, only to come up short.
But it’s not all for naught, as Sakamoto gains a lead to the Bathkeeper of Sai, noted for brokering secrets and rumours surrounding the city after confronting Niibori Matsusuke, who would become one of Sakamoto’s closest allies. The fifty hour campaign consists of a plethora of fighting styles that include melee, ranged attacks, and weaponry akin to its coinciding Yakuza series. While instinctive to brawl it out within dojo settings, Sakamoto will engage with basic attacks that are likened to Kiryu’s offensive strikes. Combination chains become essential, but equate to button mashing for accessible means to newcomers, which are a lot of fun to execute. Grappling enemies will allow Sakamoto to land light or heavy throws, or simply kick them away at his advantage. Counters come in sparse, with only one trademark brawling defence, and simply parrying during swordplay.
Swordsman abilities are conjoint to the basics learned in your melee system, with Basic, combination, parry, grab attacks and counters all coming in with their respective elements while carrying the weapon. It’s great to follow-up with some fluid swordplay, which changes the monotony of simple fist fights that are primary in the Yakuza series. However, its made evident that Ishin’s limitations from past generations have translated somewhat poorly, with some outdated facets rearing its head. While swordplay remains the most fluid choice in combat, there a distinct stiffness that’s hard to neglect while combatting a nemesis, that slows the pace of each altercation drastically. This is where the term remake enters muddy waters, with what could be termed remaster in some fundamentals. Gunplay carry similar attributes to the aforementioned styles, while omitting a Rush Combo for a streamlined rapid gunfire attack as his finisher.
Other attacks such as Heat Actions return, which give Sakamoto signature moves to his repertoire, including the “Essence of Dried Plum”, in which he would shove a foes face into a batch of dried plums before kicking them away as they cringe, or the “Essence of Sumo Slapping” where Sakamoto would taunt his enemy then use an open palm strike, which throws them in the air then topped off with a combination attack knocking out the enemy in unorthodox style. The calamity ensued in each battle showcases the insanity that RGG Studio are renowned for within the overall Ryu Ga Gotoku franchise. Not to mention the Wild Dancer style that see’s Sakamoto utilise his speed and precision to arm himself with both sword and gun, while raining bullet hell while slicing and dicing groups of enemies.
Modern Samurai Guy...
✔️ Fluid movement in swordplay makes for attractive offense.
✔️ Mini-games are a lot fun.
✔️ Farming was my personal highlight of Ishin!
✔️ Century’s old version of Baka Mitai makes the melody canonised.
❌ Kyo can be cumbersome.
❌ Outdated physics are questionable.
A clean and basic UI is unobtrusive while simply detailing your map on the bottom right corner, while detailing any combination strikes above it. Your load out diagram placed in the bottom left corner will highlight if Sakamoto is armed or using good ol’ fashion hand-to-hand combat to initiate a battle. Gauges include your health on the top left corner, while enemies will have theirs hover above them. Boss battles are an absolute slug fest, and a fun way to learn new skills. I loved my encounter with opposing swordsman Okada Izo, while we hacked at each other, spilling blood and parrying respective manoeuvres until the bitter end.
QTE’s highlight cinematics that are poised and nuanced with Yakuza’s trademark over-the-top theatrics, inserting some diverse moments of serious tension mixed with comically enhanced cutscenes. An in-game currency system allows you to spend your hard earned dollars on food, betting on some questionable challenges – they replaced the illegal chicken fight gambling with rooster races – and playing games of Rock, Paper, Scissors with the ability to pre-emptively win using your third eye to predict your opponents choice. Of course, it’s not a Yakuza game without going to a karaoke bar, and belting out Baka Mitai, in the form of a rhythm based input system.
Gamers that love their farming sims, you can harvest your own vegetation, hone your skills as a fisherman, and learn to cook up some delicious meals in Ishin’s side quest known as “another life”, that see’s Sakamoto living in seclusion with his adoptive daughter Haruka, while fending for himself. Crops of fruits and vegetables will earn you skill points, that can be used later to unlock certain elements from your skill-tree. Upon cooking recipe’s you may sell food for money or bank them in your inventory for healing items. A variety of missions that are littered across Kyo, will earn Ryoma reputation and skill upon its natives. Carrying out certain missions will end with being rewarded monetarily. Other quests will see Ryoma, take up brawls for skill points and quirky directives like filling in for a dance recital. Ever been duped by an “injured” old lady? Well, that happened.
Exploration of Kyo itself is quite cumbersome, almost lifeless at points. Certain twists and turns will have Sakamoto run into random fights, which is not any different from a Yakuza game, but with its compacted and constrained environment, there’s less of a commotion when it occurs. The game depicts a tranquil environment, that’s more homely while its business district contains most of its native patronage. While it’s tedious, you will find yourself grinding it out to reach specific levels to progress your game, which are likened to old school bottlenecking. The gameplay loop is definitely mirrored to what was presented in Yakuza 0, and Yakuza Kiwami, which I was confounded by seeing as Lost Judgment should have been the foundation to Ishin’s reprisal. While evident in its noticeable step back in mechanics, Ishin will have players busy lurking through multiple dojo’s to learn brand new skills for its final act, which is the crux of Ryoma’s entire journey.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! entails an embellished escapade through he Edo-Period, that will have devout Yakuza fans, and those that love the original grinning with gratification. It’s not the most polished, nor perfect revival to a remaster-remake, but it definitely carries its worth comfortably within RGG’s key series. While I would certainly had implemented changes seen from later Yakuza entries, along with both Judgment titles presenting some of the most comprehensive improvements that are strangely overlooked, Ishin’s favoured old school approach that sprinkles in small doses of nostalgia that will undoubtedly keep the purist happy. I hope Like a Gaiden learns from Ishin’s oversights, taking facets from recently released titles from its development studio, but with that said Like a Dragon: Ishin! is one punch-drunk action packed blast from the past that promulgates the Yakuza legacy with a delightfully engaging adventure through militaristic mayhem.
Like a Dragon: Ishin Review
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Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin! is an action-adventure video game developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. It is a spin-off of the Like a Dragon series, formerly and commonly known in English localization as Yakuza.