Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review
- Story And Setting
- Visuals And Performance
Like A Dragon: Ishin! may not be the best this series has ever been, but it is still an incredibly entertaining experience nonetheless.
- Developers: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- Publishers: Sega
- Release Date: February 21, 2023
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X & Series S
- Tested On: PlayStation 5
- Thrilling And Branching Narrative
- Sublime Action Combat
- Addictive Gameplay Features And Exploration
- Delightful Characters And Protagonist
- Overly Drawn-Out Tutorials
- Awkward Pacing At Times
I was chosen to write our Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review, because this entire franchise is very near and dear to my heart. And having played almost every single entry, including the criminally underrated Judgment titles, I have a great understanding of its themes and systems.
Ever since the dark days of 2015, the series has come a long way, to the point where a significant portion of the gaming community is actually aware of what the Yakuza games are. Its popularity has actually skyrocketed so much, that gone are those days when we had to sometimes wait years for an entry to be localized. These days, we get new titles translated into English on day one.
So with our review, we will discuss this remaster of a great game that has been rebuilt for a modern audience using Unreal Engine 4. It features revamped character models and cutscenes, as well as tweaks to the general gameplay, and we will be discussing every significant component of it in this article.
Story And Setting
The story takes place during the end of the Edo Period in Japan in the late 1800s, during a time when the entire country was ruled by several interchanging royal families. Our main protagonist is a wandering Ronin known as Sakamoto Ryoma, whom many Yakuza series fans might recognize instantly as none other than Kiryu Kazuma from the mainline games.
And one cataclysmic night, Ryoma happens to stumble upon the murder of his mentor and ends up being framed for the crime. So his journey now takes him on a path where he must atone for his past crimes, as well as uncover the mystery behind the murder of his mentor. And on his quest, he ends up joining a new Samurai clan called the Shinsengumi, where he also ends up going by a new name, Saito Hajime.
Throughout your time with the game, you will end up meeting several new officers of the clan, most of which are based on the characters of the Yakuza franchise, such as the Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima as Unit Officer Okita Soji, and many more. The story is filled with twists and turns, which I found didn’t lose any steam for the most part, aside from a few occasions where the pacing felt odd.
But overall, RGG has done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the original game while introducing changes that otherwise may not seem any different unless you played the original.
For example, veterans might notice that the character models this time around are brand new, and not ports from Yakuza 3 and 5 like the original release had. Tiny changes like these really make the game feel more modern and help the experience maintain its own unique identity.
Having now talked about storytelling without any major spoilers, let’s briefly go over Ishin’s gameplay elements and see how it offers you a ton of side content to pass the time while you’re not out avenging your mentor.
The gameplay format of Like A Dragon: Ishin! might feel familiar to almost anyone who’s played any Yakuza game in their lifetime. Still, even for new players, it isn’t something too complicated to understand. This fictional rendition of ancient Kyoto features boroughs all based on their real-life counterparts, but with slight differences in their geometry to make them more suitable for the game.
First things first, the combat of the game takes center stage here and is by far one of the most important gameplay elements that needs to be discussed in our Like A Dragon: Ishin! review. Similar to Yakuza 0 and Lost Judgment, the game was made before the transition of the series towards turn-based combat, as it involves real-time action beat-em-up gameplay.
There are four different fighting stances that Ryoma can use called Gunman, Swordsman, Brawler, and lastly Wild Dancer, which combines both the Gunman and swordsman Styles. The Brawler stance might seem vividly familiar to most older fans as it is based on the same fighting style of Kazuma Kiryu in the Yakuza games. But only using that isn’t going to do you any favors in the long run. The game incentivizes you to use every one of these fighting styles together, especially Wild Dancer, to take down hordes of enemies or bosses with ease.
These styles can be further enhanced as you progress through the game and use soul points to upgrade them with new combos and abilities. In the beginning hours these styles may seem rough around the edges, but as you slowly unlock more upgrades for them, especially from wandering NPCs such as Komaki who teach you exclusive moves, they became much more fun to use.
While on the subject of combat, it is imperative that we discuss the newly added addition to it known as the Trooper Cards. These cards essentially function as powerups for Ryoma, and they are so strong that they can turn the tide of battle in a matter of seconds as they provide super abilities and other helpful passive bonuses during battles. These cards can be found through different means, such as completing sub-stories (basically side quests for those who might not know), as well as rewards for other mini-games and quests in the open world.
Aside from that, you can also expect a wide range of other activities to immerse yourself in, such as karaoke or even managing your own very own diner too. There is never a dull moment when you’re out and about, just casually enjoying the freedom of what the game has to offer you in order to sidetrack you from the ongoing main story.
One might even call it a tradition at this point to check out every bit of the side content that the Yakuza games have to offer you. RGG has put its creativity and passion into every part of this game, and while the developers have done an excellent job of maintaining the charm of the gameplay from the original with the remaster, how does it fair against it in terms of Visuals and performance?
Let’s discuss more on that in detail in the visuals section of our Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review.
Visuals And Performance
When it comes to the overall visuals of the game, they are a major step up from the original from 2014. As someone who’s played the games that took advantage of the original Ishin’s Dragon Engine, the new transition to Unreal Engine 4 definitely added a fresh coat of paint to not just the world around Ryoma but even to himself. The crisp new graphical fidelity is a sight to behold as cinematic cutscenes look jaw-dropping at certain intervals, especially during the nighttime when the city’s street lamps and corner-lit shops dominate the scenery.
Now in terms of performance, while I did play the game on my PS5, we were also able to test it out on both a GTX 1060 and an RTX 3080. Both GPUs gave great performances, with the older 1060 in particular still managing to maintain a solid framerate and graphical fidelity. In terms of actual performance, you can expect a few annoyances such as some stuttering and the camera behaving awkwardly at times. But aside from that, the game had no major issues to speak of.
The reveal of Like A Dragon: Ishin! At the State of Play just a few months ago was surprised for sure, and one that had many Yakuza fans such as myself excited. Previously, the entire community and player base had been looking to either import the original copy from Japan to play it, or just gave up altogether solely due to the fact that the game would seemingly never going to receive a release due to it not being too appealing to the Western audience.
Thankfully as someone who can’t seem to put it down since booting it up, the game is absolutely impressive to every degree, aside from a few hiccups here and there. While the combat certainly doesn’t hold the same candle to the likes of Lost Judgment (A game I consider RGG’s Magnum opus), it’s still really engaging.
The improvements made the gameplay feel like a breath of fresh air, plus with the trooper cards, it just makes everything feel so fun and lively that this game joins the ranks of being ridiculously enjoyable to play.
This has been our Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review. While you’re here, consider checking out some of our other articles.
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