The “Yakuza” franchise has been around since 2005, and while it didn’t gain much popularity in the west, it has been a smashing success in Japan pretty much ever since its inception. With eight mainline games under their belt and countless spin-offs and side games, a series this good was bound to make a name for itself all over the world sooner or later. That day came with the launch of “Yakuza 0,” a prequel to the mainline series that all of a sudden piqued everyone’s interest outside of Japan and offered so much content in the package that you could play it for countless hours and still only be scratching the surface. That spike in popularity didn’t stay at zero, as all the games that came before and after it also finally started to get the love and attention they deserved. One game amongst the lot was called “Yakuza: Ishin!” that fans of the series were begging RGG to release in the west with just simple localization support and no other fancy bells or whistles. Why, though? Why is there such a high demand for a single game from a franchise that has countless good games already? Honestly, I can’t give you the answer because I myself am a newly baptized “Yakuza” fan who has been spending his time 100 % in every game from the series (except 3, 4, and 5) and has been having a blast doing so. I’ll give you 100% articles for the “Yakuza ” games in the future, so don’t worry. Anyhow, as someone who is new to the series, I had no idea a Japan-exclusive game called “Ishin!” existed until RGG announced the rebranding of the series and a remake for this game, which blew everyone’s minds off.
From my understanding, “Like a Dragon: Ishin!” is a story told through the perspective of a legendary samurai named Sakamoto Ryoma in 1867. From what they have shown, this game looks incredibly cool, and I can see why folks were demanding for this to come out for such a long time. If there is any confusion between my calling the games “Yakuza” sometimes and “Like A Dragon” the other times, let me clear it up for you. The series was known as “Yakuza” until recently when RGG decided to rebrand it as “Like A Dragon,” and “Like A Dragon: Ishin!” will be the first game in this rebranded series. A samurai adventure in Japan’s history where characters are portrayed by our favorite “Yakuza” characters with a crazy beat’ em-up action is reason enough for fans of the series (including myself) to be hyped for this game, but let’s dive a little deeper and allow me to give you reasons to be excited for “Like A Dragon: Ishin!”
The first thing that differentiates this game from the other games in the series is the setting. All of the “Yakuza ” games take place in Kamurocho, alongside other locations like Sotenbori and more, but “Ishin!” is not only going to take us back in time but also to a new location called Kyo. I am not very well versed in Japanese history, so I don’t know much about the significance of this location or what kind of events transpired there, but I do know that much like the west, Japan also had its version of the wild west era and from what I have seen in trailers and gameplay, it sure feels like we’ll be diving into that here. RGG Studios has always set the Yakuza games during the year they came out, with the only exception being “Yakuza 0,” which took us back to 1988, and man, Kamurocho and Sotenbori in the 80s were a place to party. The aesthetics and the vibes were all completely shifting, down to the clothing and sights, so it’d be very interesting to see how they handle an era that is even older and take us all the way back to 1867. In that regard, “Like A Dragon: Ishin!” acts like a period piece more akin to games like “Assassin’s Creed,” and I love that someone else is also finally doing it. Will it be historically accurate and tell the events just like they happened? The answer is out there, but I am not aware of it, so I’ll say that remains to be seen. Whether they stay true to history or not, one thing is bound to remain the same: the tonal dissonance that RGG has learned to masterfully juxtaposes when it comes to the serious plot and then the not-so-serious and downright goofy things that play outside the plot. Despite the difference in its nature, this is and will be a “Yakuza ” game through and through all, be it back in time this time, and because of that, the setting for this game is one you should keep an eye on.
Next up, we have the combat, and if you ask me, the “Yakuza” combat has always been fun, but at the same time, hit or miss. It’s hard to make a beat ’em up combat system that is balanced both in your favor and in your disadvantage, and while RGG has sort of figured out the balance, there is still a lot to be desired in the systems. However, despite its flaws, the reason this combat system is something I am looking forward to is that the mainline series has switched to a turn-based system now, so this will perhaps be the last “Yakuza” game that will feature real-time combat unless “Like A Dragon: Gaiden, The Man Who Erased His Name” also features real-time combat. The “Judgment” series, on the other hand, will continue with this style if the series has a future, that is. RGG has shown us that there are four fighting styles here, just like “Yakuza Kiwami” and “Yakuza 0.” The styles here on offer are brawler, which is your simple use-your-fists style of play. Then we have swordsmen, who, if it weren’t obvious, hand you a sword. Gunmen let you wield a gun, and I feel like this style will be broken because of the long-range capability and the fact that guns are always broken in “Yakuza” games, and finally, we have The Wild Dancer. I don’t fully understand this, but from the looks of it, this style will blend all of the styles together and allow you to hit with your fists, slash with your sword, and shoot your gun all at the same time. Interesting, to say the least. It’ll also be fun to see how upgrades and skill points will bolster each of these styles and how heat actions will come into play/ how brutal they’ll be considering the arsenal at your disposal. The combat system, despite its shortcomings, is always fun and engaging in these games, and “Like A Dragon: Ishin!” seems to deliver us an experience that looks familiar but will feel completely different.
A Remake And Not Just A Remaster
This is a big deal in a way because all fans wanted was localization support, but it feels like that wasn’t enough for RGG as they went the extra mile to fully remake the game from the ground up. The game is being made using Unreal Engine 4, which is weird considering they have the Dragon Engine at their disposal, but I digress; developers should learn from RGG as they know how to cater to their audience. All the voice work is being redone with the introduction of familiar faces playing key figures from the games that came after its original release, like the three lieutenants from “Yakuza 0” alongside characters from “Yakuza: Like A Dragon” like Adachi-san, Zhao, Joongi-han, and more potentially. I can’t help but commend RGG’s efforts here; they didn’t have to do all this, and yet they did, which puts a smile on my face. Now, the technical side of things remains to be seen upon release, obviously, but these guys have never disappointed us, so I don’t see a reason to be worried when it comes to them switching engines or anything for that matter. As this section suggests, it’s a remake, so a ton will be added and refined, while things that didn’t pan out well originally may be removed. The visuals look stunning as always, as do the cutscenes and cinematic direction, and the gameplay is fun. That’s all I need to see and hear about a “Yakuza ” title, so you can bet I’ll be spending hundreds of hours on this trying to get to 100%.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the minigames, shall we? It’s a “Yakuza ” game, and they’re known to give you more options than you can count for the number of things you can do in their small but incredibly dense worlds. From the previews, we can see that old favorites like Koi-Koi, Cho-Han, Oicho-Kabu, Poker, Karaoke, Fishing, and more are returning, all with an older look/spin on them, obviously. Then there are new games like rock, paper, scissors, drinking contests, something called “sensual healing,” chicken racing, and a lot more. Seriously, as much as it frustrates me sometimes to meet all the requirements in the completion list, it still blows my mind, and I love RGG for putting so much love and effort into every aspect of their games. Another thing that caught my eye was a game mode called “Another Life,” which looks like it’ll be the big minigame for this one, like Cabaret Club, Real Estate, or Kiryu Clan/Majima Construction; we’re in the other titles. Another Life looks like a peaceful, chill sort of game where you manage a farm, sell goods to make money, help wounded animals and shelter them, cut vegetables and make food, and so much in between. It’s silly and hard to describe, but at the same time, it looks so calming and interesting that I can personally see spending countless hours finishing the storyline that will definitely come along with it. Look, if you know this franchise, then you know about the minigames, and you may either appreciate them a lot or hate a couple of them because they put you through hell and back as you were trying to fill your completion list. They are here, they are awesome, and it looks like there will be tons of minigames here that we’ll be sinking hours upon hours into.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate RGG Studios, please? These guys have been making the same kind of game for years at this point, and while one can argue that it’s just copy and paste, I’d strongly disagree as the amount of work they put into each subsequent entry and refining the games more and more as they go by is just awesome. I have spent so much time in Kamurocho that I know each and every street alongside the names of each and every building inside and out. Making a world like that is no easy task. While other games keep getting bigger and bigger, RGG just makes their games better and adds more detail, mechanics, and content that feels like it’s never-ending. I respect that a lot; the amount of content they put into these $60 titles puts other games with the same price tag to shame. The craziest part about all of this is that the kind of games these guys make are ones that no one else in the industry even attempts. I am a new fan of the series, and all I have played in the last few months are back-to-back “Yakuza ” games, and I have to say that this development studio is perhaps one of the best studios in the industry, and these guys deserve more and more love. I can’t wait for their future titles.
It’s crazy to me that a franchise this good was sitting under my nose all this time, and me being my dumb self, kept ignoring it despite knowing of its existence. I’ll be honest here and say that if it weren’t for Game Pass, I probably would have never played a “Yakuza” game, and we wouldn’t be talking about them here. Crazy how one single decision can change your perspective and choice in such major ways. I am looking forward to “Like a Dragon: Ishin!” and it will be a day-one purchase for me, that’s for damn sure. We don’t even have to wait that much longer, as the game is quite literally around the corner and releases on February 21st for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 5 and 4, and PC. Thank you once again, SEGA, for finally going multiplatform with this series. If you are someone who is on the fence about this series, then I’d wager that this will be one of the best entry points for you to get into it, as it’s a self-contained adventure that has nothing to do with the mainline saga, so you won’t have to worry about playing eight different games to catch up. Once this game hooks you, which it will, you will happily go back and play other games from the series. If somehow it doesn’t, well, you’ll still have a game that you can spend hundreds of hours in and have fun, and if that ain’t a bang for your buck, then I don’t know what is.