As a long-time fan of the Like a Dragon/Yakuza series, I was ecstatic when I saw the announcement for Ishin. I’m not sure what the term would be, but it definitely falls between a remake and a remaster. Like a Dragon: Ishin is a faithful reproduction of the original that makes some mechanical changes and re-casts roles with the addition of characters from Yakuza 0, Yakuza 6, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It also adds up-to-date graphics and more.
Set in the late Edo period, the story of Like a Dragon: Ishin follows Sakamoto Ryoma, who is accused of murdering someone he holds dear to him. To find the true killer’s identity, he renounces his name and hides by concealing himself among the infamous Shinsengumi. Under the name Saito Hajime and now captain of the Shinsengumi’s third division, Ryoma gets swept up in the political schemes and violence that reshape Japan. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned Kiryu or even Majima at this point. Although the faces, theatrics, and voices that the Like a Dragon franchise is known for are still present in this spin-off, Ishin is a beautiful melodramatic historical fiction that keeps the actions and personalities of each historical figure intact with new faces.
As a history lover, Like a Dragon: Ishin’s original story of the Shinsengumi reeled me in. Even from the original, I found this particular story has a specific charm. Was it because Kiryu was the face of two important revolutionary historical figures at this point in Japanese history? Or maybe it was from the twists and turns and how different historical events unfolded as the story continued. Either way, Ishin’s story had me hooked. Roaming the streets of Kyo was an enjoyable experience in combat, and exploration was an extra benefit.
A part of Ishin’s faithfulness to the original also comes into play with its combat. One of the significant differences in Like a Dragon: Ishin is that trooper cards are available outside of the mini-game in regular combat. When accessible, trooper cards allow players to create and form several squads to provide combat boosts such as healing, defense, special attacks, etc. The cards vary in rarity, bonuses, and skills. Rather than manifesting to fight alongside the player, trooper cards provide players with their ability when fully charged. Another difference is the removal of the multicolored health bar of the bosses. When you get the bosses low enough, they do some out-of-world ability to make you sweat. The trooper cards don’t change or redefine the game’s core combat. They do make things a lot more hilarious. The initial release of this title was shortly after Yakuza 5. With the four different combat styles available, you might notice that the combat will feel slightly different, as weapons are vital to this game’s flair.
There is so much to do when you are not fighting in the streets of Kyo. Kyo is very lively, especially with the use of Unreal Engine 4. The main roads have shops, restaurants, back alleys, and more. Like a Dragon: Ishin still has the over-the-top shenanigans with its minigames and substories. My favorite minigame is still chicken racing, but not for its guaranteed benefits of easy money. Players who have experienced the original Ishin will also notice that blacksmithing got a full rehaul that I am pleased with. As with any other RGG title, getting sidetracked in one of the various minigames or substories is very easy.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is currently the most recent title to use Unreal Engine 4 and not RGG’s primary engine, the Dragon Engine. However, this is more than likely due to most of Ishin’s story taking place during the daytime versus night. The graphics are absolutely stunning and shine through if and/or when you toss on a custom haori. One of my favorite things about Ishin is the wide range of new accessibility options. Players can do the following: select auto heat actions, auto special moves, simplified combo attacks, subtitle customization options, access a glossary for specific terms, and more. The new accessibility options were among the most notable changes. I hope future releases continue to incorporate these options. I did run into some minor bugs, such as the game crashing after extended periods of playtime. No bugs that were game-breaking or unplayable appeared in this playthrough.
Like a Dragon: Ishin has a fantastic soundtrack. New and old tracks create the soundscape of RGG’s Kyo. This includes a strong list of boss themes that players won’t forget. Stylistically, the music samples and mixes in sounds from traditional Japanese music while incorporating sounds from popular music.
Veteran players will not be disappointed with Like a Dragon: Ishin if they have a strong interest in storytelling. For newer fans interested in the series, I recommend trying Ishin for its engaging story, fun combat, and hilarious minigames. Overall, anyone who is itching for a game with the samurai aesthetic should consider adding Like a Dragon: Ishin to their shelves.