Developer: RGG Studio
Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 21, 2023
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD Available Here
There was a time that fans of the Yakuza series would wonder whether or not they would ever see another Western release of the franchise. Following a less than stellar reception to a zombie spin-off, the silence surrounding the localization of another spin-off followed by a couple year delay on the latest core entries didn’t inspire much confidence. Now years later the franchise has seen such a surge in popularity not only has the latest entry seen an English dub for the first time in years but the series has even returned to its original name, Like a Dragon. Now with Sega bringing the previously Japanese exclusive Like a Dragon: Ishin! to modern platforms, fans in the West get their first chance at this unique take on the past, bringing classic Yakuza gameplay to the streets of late 1860s Japan.
Set back during the Bakumatsu era in Japan near the end of the Edo period players step into the role of Sakamoto Ryoma who has just arrived back in his hometown of Tosa after finishing his swordsmanship training in Edo. Shortly after arriving Ryoma quickly gets into a scuffle exposing the strict class system that runs so deep in Tosa that those of a higher class can cut those below them down with no fear of repercussion and those who stand up to them are treated as criminals. After escaping the situation, Ryoma reunites with his adopted father Toyo Yoshida as well as his sworn brother Hanpeita Takechi and learns that the pair are leaders in a revolutionary group planning on overthrowing the Tosa government and freeing the people of the class system.
When things take a horrible turn, Ryoma finds himself suspected of murdering Yoshida and self exiles himself from Tosa in an effort to track down the killer using only the knowledge of their unique sword style to go off of. Finding roots in Kyo, he takes on the name of Hajime Saito and learns that the elite law force known as the Shinsengumi may house the very man that he is hunting. With a target in sight, Ryoma chooses to join the notorious and ruthless Shinsengumi in an effort to reveal the identity of the man that took nearly everything from him.
After a slower than usual start for a Yakuza game players will find themselves deep in the middle of the political turmoil that reigned over the Bakumatsu period. Not only will players interact with multiple historical figures but they will also play a role in various historical events as well though the game puts its own twist on things. It is also interesting to note that longtime fans of the series will be in for something of a treat as things like Ryoma looking just like Kiryu are only the tip of the iceberg as everyone from close allies in other Yakuza entries to even enemies and side characters will make appearances throughout Ishin only under the guise of a historical figure rather than who fans know them as. That being said, this may be a bit confusing for some newcomers to the series or even those who only started with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It is nice to note that the game also offers a glossary that can be accessed at any time, even in the middle of conversations, should they happen to find themselves confused by an unknown term or faction being brought up. That being said, the storyline for Like A Dragon: Ishin! can occasionally be a little on the predictable side but even then players will find themselves easily entrenched in the world as they try to uncover the secret behind what happened to Ryoma’s family, unexpected twists, and the numerous pieces moving behind the scenes. That is of course, when they aren’t side-tracked with numerous sub-stories and second life activities.
As usual with the franchise Ryoma will find himself turning a corner and stumbling into a new substory quite often. While the zaniness of some of these stories are a bit toned down compared to what happens in modern day settings, players will still find that many of them not only provide some insight into the social elements of the time as well as have their own flavor of humor as well. These substories range from simply bringing items to people or animals, using certain shops enough, and more often are rather interesting but there are periods that players may literally move less than a block before triggering a new storyline. As for the “second life” storyline, players will find themselves eventually given the option of running a small homestead featuring an extremely familiar name as a caretaker where the story may be on the simpler side but provides some nice slice-of-life moments and enjoyable interactions.
You can take the Yakuza out of Kamurocho and even change its name but at its heart it will remain mostly true to what fans have come to expect from the series. Now it is worth noting that while the game has seen some refinements to its various mechanics, Like a Dragon: Ishin! was originally released back in 2014 and it does show its age a bit compared to more recent releases. Players will still find themselves exploring the relatively pared down city of Kyo, encountering countless ronin, bandits, and “Bad Men” to take on in random battles as well as countless side-activities to take part in. Some staple side-games return while others have been modified to fit the game’s setting while other new additions such as fishing, wood chopping, buyo dancing, replace some more modern side activities. Along these same lines, gambling on chicken races or taking part in arena battles and even karaoke remain staple diversions.
When it comes to battling in Like A Dragon: Ishin! players will find themselves with a fairly familiar action combat system, especially found in Yakuza 0 and the Kiwami titles. In nearly every fight Ryoma can swap between four fighting styles take on opponents with the Brawler style resorting to brutal punches, grabs, and use of objects to take down enemies while also parrying their blades using Ryoma’s bare hands, Swordsman being a self-explanatory sword based style that feels a little rigid but is a balanced style best for one-on-one combat and dealing out plenty of damage, Gunman that makes use of firearms exclusively with special ammo dealing extra effects and can deal damage from afar at the risk of placing the player in danger from close foes, and finally Wild Dancer.
WIld Dancer offers the most freedom in action as it merges East and West with Ryoma wielding both his pistol as well as his samurai sword allowing him to deal flowing damage with the blade and work in distant shots as finishing blows or becoming a whirlwind of slashes and gunfire. This style is by far the most enjoyable, especially at higher upgrades, though players can choose to tackle the game as they please. Series staple heat actions remain a tried and true method of dealing plenty of damage and outright finishing foes with each fighting style offering their own unique actions that are incredibly powerful though often require a few quick time events to properly complete. That being said, the game does offer a few Accessibility options such as automatically succeeding all QTEs to make things a bit simpler. It is also worth noting that every combat tree can unlock a special weapon that can be used in combat, ranging from a spear, nodachi, and even a cannon, if properly upgraded. These upgrades come in the form of using certain fighting styles in combat as well as general level-ups. Style orbs can only be used in their matching upgrade grid however standard level orbs can be used anywhere and even replaced for use elsewhere should players choose to use a proper colored orb in its place.
Where Like a Dragon: Ishin! does change things up are Trooper Cards. Eventually players will find themselves as a member of the Shinsengumi and gain subordinates that will be able to not only provide passive bonuses such as health boosts, regenerating health, and more but can also be used to call in various abilities in the middle of combat. Up to sixteen cards can be equipped to the player at a time and recharge as players fight using their equipped style. When fully charged a trooper card’s ability can be activated and some of them can be extremely ridiculous, ranging from throwing fireballs or lightning strikes onto enemies to summoning a tiger to slash away at a foe or having a dancing dog charm everyone in the area. These Trooper Cards can be incredibly powerful to the point that they may make the game’s combat a little unbalanced in favor of the player if used properly so be ready to wipe most enemies as a result of these cards being available everywhere. Troopers themselves can be recruited by battling random foes or completing Shinsengumi hunting missions.
These side-missions see the player entering a number of extremely repetitive looking locations to complete various tasks, defeating every enemy in their way. While players do not need to do these, they are the best source for weapon and armor upgrade materials and a steady source of income. Outside of these, the biggest diversion is the aforementioned “Second Life.” Here Ryoma can manage a farm, adopt cats and dogs, and even cook using ingredients he has grown to complete various deliveries to earn money and improve his relationship with the girl living alongside him. The second life is a fun diversion and one that players can just as easily ignore or spend quite a lot of time on should they please.
It is worth noting that nearly everything players do in Like a Dragon: Ishin! is tracked in some form and players will often be rewarded “Virtue” and reputation boosts for completing various goals. These can range from running a certain distance or drawing water from a well to defeating enemies, catching fish, or even harvesting enough strawberries to earn points as well as completing bond stories. Virtue can be spent on various improvements to side-activities as well as improving aspects such as how long Ryoma can run before getting tired, how much he can carry, and more. All this gives players an absolutely massive amount of side-content to enjoy outside of the main story should players want to see everything the title has to offer.
Visuals & Audio
With Like a Dragon: Ishin! arriving on current consoles the game has seen a rather significant graphical improvement with most character models looking exceptionally detailed. This is great, especially since this is the first time some of these characters are being represented on modern platforms after appearing earlier in the Yakuza series. Of course, there are some rougher areas such as the layout of Kyo being a bit barren in many locations outside of a few key areas and clipping issues from time to time. It is also nice to note that, considering characters wield swords and guns, there is quite a lot of blood involved throughout the game as well, something that the series has previously only used for dramatic effect.
As for the game’s voice work, players will want to note that this game has only been released with the Japanese voice track and considering the game’s origins and setting, it feels completely fitting in this case. It also helps that these voice actors have all returned to reprise their roles of the characters they represent. As for the soundtrack, the game features an exceptional collection of background music that is both thematically fitting as well as impressive sounding, making for some great sound to accompany many of the game’s dramatic moments and even a few familiar themes to match the aforementioned characters.
Although it took nearly a decade for Like a Dragon: Ishin! to make its way to the West the game has proven to be just as solid of an entry in the franchise as ever. The story, while a bit predictable, remains compelling with plenty of side content that delves both into historical themes and slice-of-life moments to enjoy. With plenty of side-content to sink hours into in a less than stellar city and solid combat that has a couple styles that far outperform others, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a great spin-off from the main series that fans won’t be disappointed by.
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