A Return to the Basics
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios has been on a hot streak, as of late. Yakuza 0 saw a whole new western appreciation for the series and this gave fans a reason to go back and play everything they have missed. With Like a Dragon: Ishin!, they prove how great the series has always been, whilst showing how far they have come
It holds a few setbacks from the PlayStation 3 era whilst renovating some of the mistakes they originally made. Going from this to Yakuza: Like a Dragon or Lost Judgment may leave you wanting a little more but there’s so much to love in the new setting.
With a Pinch of Salt
Like a Dragon: Ishin! regularly struggles to find the balance between two antithetical stories. You play as Sakamoto Ryoma at the very end of the Edo period. He is a real historical figure and the story parallels many of the places and organizations he joined before his death. Unfortunately, it often struggles to characterize him as it flails to fit parts of his life together like a puzzle piece under the harsh light of the series.
In Like a Dragon: Ishin!, all of the main characters are played by faces we have seen throughout the Yakuza series. This is done both as a celebration of the series and as a way of understanding what all those characters are like. Ryoma is the face of Kiryu and, in turn, is stoic and principled. You know how Ryoma will act because we know Kiryu.
This being said, he is a darker and more vengeful character – someone who wishes for better in a world that is worse. The game is filled with political tension and a changing world but the story itself tells that through a very personal tale.
Adding Layers to the Experience
Ryoma has just returned from mastering how to use the sword. When he does so, he is encouraged to join the Tosa Loyalist party by his father and brother. Witnessing the social and political effect of the current class structure, he joins.
Before any real movement is made here, someone close to him is assassinated by a fighter using a unique sword style. Accused of being the real assassin, Ryoma goes on the run, vowing to get justice for this death. In doing so, you have to unveil a grand conspiracy, search for that unique fighting style and play a cat-and-mouse game with the killer to the end. The individual story beats can be great though it is often overshadowed by the real history of these actions.
This era of Japan led to a very distinctive style of imperial Japan that is partially responsible for many atrocities throughout the 1900s and parts of the story allow for those beliefs to fester. Fundamentally, RGG is at their best when dealing with how interpersonal lives and big plots coincide. They make otherwise inhuman characters feel human. This same rule doesn’t apply to structures that cause pain. There is little value in humanizing a system and it commits to this far too hard.
A Unique Situation
This being said, this is one of many readings you can have on how it plays into the history and it’s not always the place of a game to educate you. If you know how this history works and want a spin on this, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the lens RGG takes.
It helps that the game is divided into many organic sections. You can take on side quests and stories like usual but there’s also a cooking minigame, chicken racing, dancing and so much more. Like a Dragon: Ishin! is split into a handful of main sections of Kyo, where it intentionally shows that class divide. You move from clean upscale restaurants to a slum town in minutes.
Within all of this is that wonderful and weird humor and tone the games are known for. Characters are fun and unique and game modes take advantage of this by putting Ryoma in situations no one else could pull off. It manages to do this mostly quite well. If you have the time, you could spend tens of hours in the walls of that city.
Hangups in the Moment
Unfortunately, its setting and age leave some of the sub-stories not feeling as strong as the others games in the series. They are a few golden ones in there that I won’t forget any time soon but far too much of it doesn’t do anything new and won’t outpace the rest of the series.
As well as this, the combat feels stuck between an older system and what Yakuza Zero gave us. All combat is split into four main sections: Brawler, Swordsman, Gunman, and Wild Dancer. Combining his gun and blade, you must flit in between these to tackle your opponent.
The brawler uses their hands to pick up and punch hard. Swordsman is slow and methodical, aiming the katana at single enemies. Gunman uses only the gun to fire constantly at range. Wild Dancer is a quick and floaty combat style, having Ryoma spin around while firing and slashing. Combat feels a bit slower than other games and there isn’t quite enough depth to make up for it.
From here, all of those combat styles have their own level tree, giving you increased stats and new moves. This is a decent system, encouraging you to swap around and experiment but the Wild Dancer ends up being the strongest in 90% of combat encounters. You do get cards that you can customize fighting with but you are rarely incentivized to do so.
Showing its Age
Unfortunately, Like a Dragon Ishin! is a middling Like a Dragon game with great parts. On the grand scale, it’s still a lot of fun and has so much to offer but pales in comparison to modern Like a Dragon games. It can occasionally look great and some of the story beats are played off brilliantly but the setting leaves so much unexplored and some parts drag down what could be a phenomenal title.
Disclaimer: Indigo Pearl provided the game used for this review.
This review is the critique and thoughts of one writer. If you want to see how other critics felt then check it out on OpenCritic.
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