Like a Dragon: Ishin! review for PlayStation, Xbox, PC

Platform: PS4
Also on: PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: RGG Studio
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

Reviewer?s Note: The series? name is kind of all over the place, Japanese titles will be referred to it?s Romanized Japanese titles (i.e. Ryu Ga Gotoku), American titles prior to the Like a Dragon rebranding will be referred to as Yakuza.

Let?s go back (but not as back as the setting of this title) to 2007?s Tokyo Game Show. The team that would eventually become known as RGG Studios announces their next title for the then-still fledgling PlayStation 3. Rather than immediately release a new mainline entry in their domestically popular Ryu Ga Gotoku (The series? name is Yakuza in the the West) series, the team opted to create a side entry which allowed them to innovate outside of the sometimes strict confines of their ever increasingly popular series. This side game, Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan! was set in ancient Japan, introduced new elements such as multiple fighting forms, item storage and unlike the two mainline titles it never left Japanese shores.

The game acted as a proving ground that allowed the team to try new concepts and test new hardware and they would repeat the process during the launch of the PS4 with another game taking place during the feudal period, Ryu Ga Gokotu: Ishin!. This title would not see a western release like its previous generation brethren. As the Yakuza series? popularity grew in the West like a smoldering ember to a raging flame, SEGA finally relented nearly a decade and released a remake of Ishin! onto Western shores much like the West finally broke through and forced their way into the isolationist nation in the 1860s.

Like Kenzan!, Ishin! places you in control of a historical figure in the form of Sakamoto Ryoma. Ryoma returns to the region of Tosa after a year of honing his skills as a samurai while tensions pick up in feudal Japan as Westerners have further encroached into the isolationist nation. Ryoma?s benefactor Yoshida Toya recruits Ryoma to aid his brother in arms Takechi Hanpeita and the loyalists to re-empower the Emperor and push out the foreigner interlopers. The plans are rendered asunder as a mysterious assailant murders Toya in front of Ryoma and Hanpeita. Ryoma takes the blame for the murder and exiles himself from Tosa to track down the masked killer whose skills mirror the style used by the Shinsengumi, a militaristic force whose jurisdiction in Kyo (Currently known as Kyoto).

Storywise it?s an alt history telling of the end of the Edo period of Japan. Since that history is relatively unknown to people in the West, the game opted to include an in-game glossary, while useful, I did find a series of terms that I had to look up individually (Shishi being one that is top of mind.). A majority of the characters are based on actual people and portrayed by characters from the main Yakuza titles. Some have been recast in the remake by characters from titles that came after Ishin!?s original release. Seeing these familiar faces in new roles was both a delight and a tad jarring. Seeing some of these characters do something that is ?out of character? would put me aback, but everytime a new familiar face would pop up I find myself doing that DiCaprio pointing meme. RGG studios also managed to weave a tale that had you guessing, often warming you up to characters even if they had minimal screen time. Making it hard to put down the controller because you want to see what happens next, that?s if you?re not distracted by the plethora of side activities the game has to offer.

For those who aren?t aware of the series? gameplay loop, you?re dropped into an open world and go running around completing missions that move the story and during any downtime you?ll gradually encounter the denizens of Kyo who you can interact with and solve their issues with minigames and rewards awaiting you. All along the way you?ll be accosted by and pummel a lot of roaming thugs and hooligans. So the combat system is a critical aspect of the game.

Ryoma will have access to four fighting styles that he can switch at your whims (although it?s not as snappy as style switching in Yakuza 0, the title which could be credited for the explosion of the series? popularity), Brawler, Swordsman, Gunman and Wild Dancer.

Brawler is your unarmed style, although you can equip non-sword weapons such as polearms, and cannons. While this style should be most familiar to fans of the series, I felt it was the weakest fighting style in the game. I was never able to increase the damage output to something that would end fights quickly and unlike the modern Kamurocho, the streets aren?t littered with a fleet of bicycles I can swing to my heart?s content.

Gunman as the name would imply has you wielding pistols. The game streamlines the experience a little too much, as you have unlimited ammo and you never have to reload. So utilizing this style feels like a cheat, as you just have to keep your distance, and mash the attack buttons and eventually your foes will perish. However for boss encounters, trying this will likely drain your inventory of all your healing items and result in being cut down.

Swordsman is the style I utilized during most of my playthrough. The katana like the lightsaber is truly a weapon for a more elegant time. It also didn?t hurt that you can craft newer swords that will increase your damage output (you could do this with pistols as well, but you just have more options with swords). You can play it aggressively, swinging until you?re the last man standing or you can be patient and parry or dodge every strike, then surgically cutting down any who stand before you.

Wild Dancer is a hybrid of the two previous styles, wielding a katana in your dominant hand, and the pistol in your other. It?s like a ?Jack of All Trades?Master of None? of the styles. While your swings and shots are weaker than in its individual stances, your speed seemingly increases allowing you to spin circles around your foes. It?s a style best suited in situations where you are vastly outnumbered, although I?ll stubbornly clasp my sword with both hands on its hilt.

While the remaster is visually improved, it does not take advantage of mechanics that were found in later titles. You have a limited inventory like in earlier titles, picking up items on the ground requires you to see the same inner monologue every time (if it was only prize tickets on the ground, I would?ve stopped hours into my playthrough?also don?t get me started on those damn prize tickets). It?s as if all the quality of life improvements that the series received in the last decade was just ignored for this remake. Otherwise it was a minor nuisance that didn?t hinder my desire to see the game through.

Was this title worth the near-decade wait? Absolutely! Like a Dragon: Ishin! delivered on story, gameplay and replayability. Despite my minor complaints about some quality of life issues, I?ve spent more hours than I needed to solving the problems of the citizens of Kyo, shaking down roaming thugs in hopes of extracting a much needed crafting material or perhaps recruiting them into my squadron. Western fans of the series are treated to a wondrous experience that they were deprived of and one would hope their support would give RGG Studios the will to bring other Japanese only experiences out to the west or remake other side titles. I?m looking at you Like a Dragon Online, the Kurohy? titles and of course Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Sega provided us with a Like a Dragon: Ishin! PlayStation code for review purposes.

Grade: A-