Like a Dragon: Ishin! Hands-on Preview – Blending Yakuza’s Past & Present
Looking back, but moving forward.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a strange beast among Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s most recent works, and not just because of its change in setting.
A pseudo-remake of a Yakuza game which was initially only released in Japan, it marks the first time the title will be experienced by the majority of fans in the west. Not only that, but it comes after years of work by RGG on titles which followed the original product, resulting in their being able to add to and improve on the core title’s design in a variety of ways.
With the game fast-approaching its release, I got the chance to play a preview build at a hands-on event, and was eager to see how all of these factors would play into the final product. Now, I can safely say that I’m champing at the bit to get my hands on the finished product.
Set within the third chapter of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, the preview build dropped me into the story’s earliest stages. Sakamoto Ryoma, the game’s protagonist, is on the hunt for a mysterious swordsman who uses a particular style of swordplay and framed him for murder in the mid-19th century. The swordsman’s style happens to be used by members of the Shinsengumi, and so Ryoma endeavors to join their ranks so that he can figure out if one of them is his target.
It’s a straightforward plot which will feel more than a little familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, and follows a very similar series of events to past games. It feels all the more familiar thanks to the fact that its cast is made up of key characters playing their ancestors. Ryoma is played one for one by Kiryu, whereas Saejima and Majima each step into the shoes of their forefathers. This gives the game a feeling of a fun side story within the wider universe, akin to something like Yakuza: Dead Souls.
Unlike that spin-off though, Like a Dragon: Ishin! feels fully fleshed out in terms of its setting and gameplay. The former is bolstered by the fact that its an entirely original city not seen in other titles, taking place in 19th century Kyoto.
This new locale feels distinct from the modern metropolitan settings spread throughout the series in some interesting ways too. It’s filled with just as much hustle and bustle thanks to the lively crowds wandering its streets, but offers a more intimate, brighter feel compared to the likes of Kamurocho. The more modest buildings, and lack of blaring lights or technology, makes everything feel more relaxed.
However, this isn’t to say that Like a Dragon: Ishin! is any less intense than the series’ other entries gameplay-wise. Despite taking place in a smaller city, there are just as many distractions to get dragged into. There are mini games to take part in, NPCs to speak to for hints and Side Stories, restaurants to attend for healing and active effects, and collectibles to gather for various rewards.
And of course, there are fights aplenty. One can dive into combat with a wide variety of thugs, bandits, and samurai, beating them down for experience and other rewards. Emerging in one piece requires the use of dodges, blocking, and timing attacks so that they hit enemies when they’re vulnerable.
What may surprise potential players, though, is that the game’s offensive combat doesn’t play out like the most recent Yakuza titles. Instead, it feels closer to Yakuza 0 or one of the Judgement games, providing players with several different combat styles to choose from. One can bash enemies’ heads in with bare-handed Brawler strikes; slash away at them with katana-based Swordsman attacks; blow enemies away with a revolver as a Gunslinger; or blend all these moves together through the Wild Dancer form.
Players can switch between these different styles at will too, allowing for quick change-ups to one’s approach to a battle. Across the many battles I took part in, I was able to swap between every style and let loose on enemies with everything in my arsenal. This kept the combat feeling fresh despite not having full access to each style’s combos, and had me dying to see how much crazier they would get during later sections of the game.
There’s likewise the Heat mechanic and related moves to consider, which are a blend of new and old. While the mechanic itself functions the same way it has for years — and the moves related to it are just as over-the-top in how violent and powerful they can be — they also offer an extra layer of impact on the fights one takes part in. More specifically, Heat can give enemies special elemental effects like fire or lightning which can burn or shock Ryoma respectively.
This necessitates even more consideration in battle, and can motivate one to use a certain fighting style over another. It’s a small addition, but a welcome one which goes a long way in keeping bigger fights interesting even after players have mastered all of the game’s core combat mechanics.
As for the presentation, it’s about what one would expect from a Ryu Ga Gotoku title. The character models are detailed to an absurd degree, showing off every minute detail of the cast from their wrinkles to their pores. The environments are fairly polished in terms of their realistic aesthetics, and the cinematics could put even AAA offerings to shame when they’re at their best.
The same could be said of the audio, which boasts top-notch voice acting and a soundtrack that fits perfectly with whatever’s happening on screen.
This is all a very lengthy way of saying that Ryu Ga Gotoku has made something special with Like a Dragon Ishin!. In only a few hours, it proved definitively that the full product will bring the best elements of the series’ past and present together, resulting in an experience fans won’t want to miss. I can barely wait for the game’s full release, and have little doubt that the full experience will live up to the potential of the ideas on display during the game’s early hours.
Twinfinite was able to play a preview build of Like a Dragon: Ishin! at a private preview event. The game is set to release on Feb. 21 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
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