Before the arcades, the grimy streets of Kamurocho and the neon signs, there was the age of the samurai. A long time ago, to be exact: a few decades before the end of the 19th century, at the end of the Edo period. Like a dragon: Ishin! is a remake of a game that was originally released in 2014, but was never released in markets outside of Japan. Not only is it now available in Europe, but it’s coming to PlayStation, Xbox and PC, having originally been a PlayStation 3 exclusive, allowing even more gamers to travel back in time with Ryoma Sakamoto.
Ryoma is the game’s protagonist, based on Kiryu Kazuma from the Yakuza games, both visually and vocally. Of course, with clothing, hairstyle and speech adapted to the times. The same goes for much of the cast, with Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio even “recruiting” actors who weren’t in the original game but in the sequels, to keep it consistent with later games. There are parallels between the characters of Ishin and the other titles, so veterans of the series will understand the role earlier or more easily, for example. by Okita Soji, based on the unforgettable Goro Majima. The main story doesn’t stray too far from the series standards. Ryoma is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, dishonored and tracked down, as the political landscape of 19th century Japan is built on shaky foundations. Soon, players and Ryoma discover that the murder the protagonist is accused of was intended to destabilize Japan, and cosmogenic changes are upon us.
For lovers of history, period pieces or Japanese culture, Ishin is masterfully designed. The city of Kyo, which would later become modern Kyoto, has incredible detail in its buildings, gardens, hot springs, and shops. In its streets, morning and evening, many inhabitants, dressed in period clothes, enliven the city. But the most important thing is in the script and it is the attention to detail that characterizes the era. Ishin takes a few hours to get started (around 3-4 out of 25 or so), but that’s not wasted time, as he takes care to explain a lot of things that, to the average player, will probably be unfamiliar. How do shogunates work? What are the Shinsengumi? The plot is based on true events – with a generous dose of exaggeration, obviously – and it’s amazing how much you can learn just by playing the game.
This is the time when Japan started to approach the more sophisticated firearms of the West, which is also reflected in the gameplay. Ryoma fights using four styles: Brawler (fists, etc.), Swordsman (katana sword fighting), Gunman (guns), and Wild Dancer (sword and gun mix). Each style works best for different occasions. For example, Wild Dancer is great for multi-enemy combat, quickly covering long distances and performing non-stop attacks. Swordsman, on the other hand, is slower and bulkier, but dismantles individual enemies more easily. In a fight, all styles may be needed, and a player dedicated to one will struggle in some fights even if it’s not a boss. It’s not uncommon for a group of samurai to try to corner Ryoma, so combat opportunities aren’t rare at all. To better prepare, the player must equip Ryoma with armor and weapons, as well as invest in the skill tree of each fighting style. By collecting points using each style or through various missions, Ryoma earns points which he spends to develop each skill tree to win by example. more HP or unlock brand new abilities.
The freedom offered in this area allows the player to play in whatever style they prefer, even if not ideal in all situations, simply by focusing on developing the respective skill tree. For example, Wild Dancer isn’t the most powerful or efficient for one-on-one boss fights, but developing it quickly made it even more fun and ultimately irreplaceable. In a few cases, it was actually necessary to use another style, so that the game didn’t get in the way of the fun. The highlight of each style is Heat Actions, something all Yakuza players will easily recognize. These are devastating attacks that become possible when the Heat Gauge fills up with Ryoma’s attacks and the opponent is in a certain location or stunned, etc. Even though they don’t finish the enemy off in one hit, heat actions do massive damage and still look just as impressive, if not a bit more down to earth and realistic.
A new addition to the Yakuza games are the Trooper Cards. The player can create decks of cards, one deck for each fighting style, which are used in battles. Each soldier card has different attributes, type, abilities, and power, so a quartet should have a balance of classes to complement the player’s fighting style. For example, a Medic Trooper offers powers that replenish HP, while an Offense performs attacks or empowers Ryoma’s attacks. Everything is necessary and it is up to the player to decide how to use it. The whole mechanism of Trooper Cards is like a mini-game in itself, since the cards level up, their characteristics improve, they can even be combined with each other to boost a favorite card a little faster. With over 400 cards, the four-in-one combo options are endless. A major positive here is the expansion of the mechanic throughout the game, which was not the case in the original version and Trooper cards could only be used in battle dungeons (listed below).
Besides the main story, there are many side quests and of course activities of all kinds. The “all genres” are put forward, because in addition to karaoke evenings, fishing and visits to the baths, there is even a chicken race to bet. In Battle Dungeons, players fight non-stop on a track and when they exit they win prizes like Trooper cards. For variety, nothing else, at all levels: there are as many serious (and heartwarming) side quests as there are fun ones. or surreal. And it is not necessary for the player to “travel” the map to find such quests – very often they come to him, in the form of a passerby or something similar. However, the expansion of side quests in various parts of Kyo makes the town much livelier than in the average game. Any NPC who isn’t just there to greet Ryoma can have a primary role (e.g. selling items) but also a secondary role, offering a short or long side quest. Thus, the player can visit the merchant to buy something, but at the same time has the possibility of forming a more personal relationship with him. It’s not often that NPCs in a game (which clearly isn’t an RPG) work so organically.
The point here is balance. It’s a good thing there are so many side quests because it’s more likely that someone will find the ones they’re most interested in or the rewards they offer are closer to their goals, but the Random side quests can sometimes be annoying when they shouldn’t be. The story unfolds independently of the side quests, so an important event happening in the background may take a back seat for a while as a side quest that the player might be interested in suddenly gets in the way. path. Yes, they aren’t necessary, so it’s not a huge inconvenience, but the average player will definitely be tempted to complete a few of them and the pacing of the main story might suffer a bit given how it starts. a little slow. All this for a remake, however, and the question arises: how justified is the re-release? For starters, just having it finally released outside of Japan made it worth it. Technically, Unreal Engine 4 was chosen and not Dragon Engine (Yakuza 6, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Lost Judgment etc). In still images, the result ranges from “fine” to “surprisingly beautiful”, especially in dark scenes where the lighting “plays” with faces, clothing, etc. The character models are very high quality and detailed, clearly improved over the PlayStation 3 version. What hasn’t changed are the animations, so movements, battles, cutscenes, etc. don’t look like they belong in a current-gen game. They are by no means bad, they are just not the most modern.
Otherwise, the music is not exclusively traditional, contrary to the general aesthetic of the title. It’s closer to the standard of the rest of the Yakuza, with electronica and drum-n-bass usually playing in the bigger scenes. As in other games in the series, the music here is impeccable, with songs like “Soar” sticking in the memory. The acting is also “top of the line”, as talented and talented actors who were beloved by friends on the show, return and lend their voices once again.
For everyone who loved Yakuza, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a safe market. A fresh setting, interesting characters and plot, a rich combat system (even if you exclude the very useful Trooper cards), excellent music and people – there are not only a few positives. The negatives, on the other hand, are few but easily noticeable. The multitude and the random nature of the side quests do not help an already slow plot, while the animations could have received a little more love. In any case, it’s a super complete and quality samurai-themed title, and that’s enough on its own.