REVIEW – If you are a fan of the Yakuza series, you might be familiar with its quirky humor, gritty crime drama, and over-the-top action. But what if you could experience all that in a different setting and time period? That’s what Like a Dragon: Ishin! offers: a historical spin-off that takes you to Japan’s turbulent Bakumatsu era, where you play as a young samurai who gets involved in a political conspiracy. With a revamped combat system, a rich open world, and plenty of side activities, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is more than just a reskin of the main series. It’s a standalone adventure that deserves your attention.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is not the first time that the Yakuza series has ventured into the past. In 2008, Sega released Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!, which was set in the 17th century and featured historical figures like Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro. However, Kenzan! never made it out of Japan, and neither did its spiritual successor Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin!, which came out in 2014 for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. That is until now.
Thanks to the success of Yakuza: Like a Dragon (the seventh main entry in the series), Sega decided to remake Ishin! for modern platforms and release it worldwide under the title Like a Dragon: Ishin!. The game follows Sakamoto Ryoma (who looks like Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza), an aspiring swordsman who joins an anti-shogunate group called Tosa Loyalist Party. Along the way, he meets other historical figures like Okada Izo (who looks like Goro Majima from Yakuza), Katsura Kogoro (who looks like Taiga Saejima from Yakuza), and Nakaoka Shintaro (who looks like Daigo Dojima from Yakuza). Together, they try to overthrow the corrupt Tokugawa regime and usher in a new era of modernization.
But don’t worry if you are not familiar with Japanese history or culture. Like a Dragon: Ishin! does not require any prior knowledge of Yakuza games or Bakumatsu events to be enjoyed. The game does an excellent job of introducing its characters and setting through engaging cutscenes and dialogue. The story is also full of twists and turns that will keep you hooked until the end.
A dynamic combat system that blends swordplay and gunplay
One of the most noticeable changes that Like a Dragon: Ishin! brings to the table is its combat system. Unlike previous Yakuza games that relied on hand-to-hand combat or turn-based battles, Ishin! features real-time action with swords and guns. You can switch between four different fighting styles on the fly: swordsmanship (which focuses on quick slashes and parries), spearmanship (which emphasizes range and power), gunmanship (which allows you to shoot enemies from afar or up close), and barehanded (which lets you use your fists or grab objects).
Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on your situation. For example, swordsmanship is effective against single enemies but vulnerable against groups; spearmanship can deal heavy damage but has slow recovery; gunmanship can hit multiple targets but consumes ammo; barehanded can stun enemies but lacks reach. You have to constantly adapt your strategy according to your surroundings and enemies.
The combat system also incorporates elements from other genres such as stealth, platforming, bullet time, quick time events (QTEs), heat actions (special moves that trigger when your heat gauge fills up), weapon crafting (you can create new weapons by combining materials), skill trees (you can unlock new abilities by spending skill points), etc. The result is an exhilarating experience that never gets boring or repetitive.
A rich open world that recreates Kyoto in stunning detail
Another highlight of Like a Dragon: Ishin! is its open world design. The game takes place in Kyoto during 1867-1868, when Japan was undergoing major social changes due to foreign influence and internal conflict. You can explore various districts such as Gion (the entertainment district where geisha reside), Fushimi (the industrial district where sake breweries operate), Yamashina (the rural district where farmers live), etc.
Each district has its own atmosphere and activities that reflect the historical period. You can interact with various NPCs, shops, minigames, side quests, etc. For example, you can visit a geisha house and play a drinking game with them; you can go to a sake brewery and learn how to make your own sake; you can join a farming cooperative and help them harvest crops; etc.
The game also features dynamic weather and day-night cycles that affect the gameplay and visuals. For instance, some enemies might be more aggressive or passive depending on the time of day; some areas might be more crowded or deserted depending on the weather; some events might only happen at certain times or conditions; etc.
The graphics of Like a Dragon: Ishin! are stunning and realistic. The game uses the Dragon Engine (the same engine that powered Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon) to render Kyoto in high resolution and detail. The character models are lifelike and expressive; the environments are colorful and immersive; the animations are smooth and fluid; the lighting and shadows are natural and dynamic; etc.
The game also supports 4K resolution and 60 frames per second on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, which further enhance the visual quality.
A plethora of side content that adds variety and depth
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is not just about fighting and exploring. The game also offers a ton of side content that adds variety and depth to your experience. Some examples are:
- Historical mode: A mode that lets you play through historical events that happened during Bakumatsu era with different characters. You can learn more about the history behind the game’s story while enjoying different gameplay styles.
- Clan creator: A mode that lets you create your own clan of samurai warriors and compete against other clans online or offline. You can recruit members from various factions such as Shinsengumi (the shogunate’s police force), Choshu (a rebel domain), Satsuma (another rebel domain), etc. You can also customize your clan’s emblem, banner, uniform, etc.
- Ryoma’s life: A mode that lets you live as Ryoma outside of his main quest. You can buy properties such as houses, shops, farms, etc., which generate income for you over time. You can also manage your relationships with other characters by giving them gifts or spending time with them. You can even get married to one of four female characters (Oryo [Ryoma’s real-life wife], Haruka [a geisha], Kaoru [a ninja], or Yuki [a shrine maiden]).
- Minigames: A mode that lets you enjoy various minigames such as fishing, gambling, karaoke (yes, karaoke), golf (yes, golf), etc. Some of these minigames are based on real-life activities that Ryoma enjoyed or participated in. For example, Ryoma was an avid fisherman and gambler; he also learned how to play golf from a British merchant.
- Substories: A mode that lets you complete various side quests that are not related to the main story. These quests range from serious to hilarious, and often involve helping out random NPCs or encountering familiar faces from Yakuza games. Some of these quests also reward you with unique items or skills.
All of these side content modes are optional and can be accessed at any time from the main menu. However, they are highly recommended as they add more fun and flavor to your adventure.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a game that deserves praise and recognition. It is not just a spin-off of the Yakuza series; it is a masterpiece of its own. It combines an engaging story, a dynamic combat system, a rich open world, and a plethora of side content to create an unforgettable experience. Whether you are a fan of Yakuza games or not, you should not miss this game.
+ Exciting and twisty story
+ Varied and spectacular fighting styles
+ Tons of mini-games and side quests
– Some minor errors or bugs
– Feels a bit repetitive at times
– Not entirely historically accurate
Developer: SEGA Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release: February 21, 2023.
Like a Dragon: Ishin!
Gameplay - 8.4
Graphics - 8.2
Story - 8.5
Music/Audio - 8.6
Ambience - 8.8
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a historical spin-off that lets you play as a young samurai who gets involved in a political conspiracy. The game features real-time action with swords and guns, a stunning recreation of Kyoto in 1867-1868, and a ton of side content that adds variety and depth. It is a masterpiece of its own that should not be missed.
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