It’s been a good few years for game remakes, fellow fans and gamers! We are certainly eating well with all the satisfying revivals and revamps of games we have loved growing up. Imagine, it has already been nine years since the exclusive release of Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin! in Japan. And now, its remake, Like A Dragon: Ishin! has finally dropped anchor into global waters, bringing with it huge waves of excitement and bolstering winds of jaw-dropping graphics, action-packed gameplay, and a whole crew of celebrity cameos.
With the Digital Deluxe Edition allowing early access ahead of the actual game release, many gamers, fans, and newbies alike can quickly get hooked to the extensive, historical action adventure RPG that is Like a Dragon: Ishin!
And here at UnGeek, we certainly did. Hook. Line. And sinker.
As a casual fan who has only played a handful of RGG games like Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Judgment, I am curious how my learning curve for this game will be, since there are new gameplay mechanics which I am not privy with. Thankfully, my curiosity is sated after playing and I am happy to report that this game will definitely make it worth your while.
Despite not having any prior experience with the original Like a Dragon: Ishin!, I can say that the remake is better in terms of overall game packaging, delivery, and visuals. Inasmuch as I was interested to check if there were anything [important] I would miss from the original game, I did not dwell in it too much so I could avoid any possible plot spoilers for myself. This is a remake after all. Most elements are the same, save for previous counterparts from the original that are replaced by newer models. Any gamer who is not yet a fan of the Yakuza / Like A Dragon franchise can most certainly appreciate the plot and gameplay without having to play the original.
However, for longtime fans and for those who are already familiar with the franchise, we can all agree that this remake is rife with the recurring themes and intricacies that the Yakuza / Like A Dragon universe has been lovingly known for. Ishin! is certainly the golden goose for highly familiar cameos, ridiculously fun sidequests, and of course, *cough*, the fanservice. But, you will have to discover that by playing *wink wink*.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! tackles the story of Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai who goes into hiding after being blamed for the death of his mentor and father figure, Yoshida Toyo. Now a rōnin, a masterless samurai who committed dappan (desertion of his home domain), Ryoma flees to Kyo (Kyoto) and dons a fake alias as “Saito Hajime” to investigate the cause of his mentor’s demise and find justice. Led by his search, Ryoma eventually joins the Shinsengumi and gets entangled in a sprawling plot of revolution, politics, and betrayal.
Like most historical story-driven RPGs, Ishin! has a hefty portion of cutscenes that tackle the story. It can get a bit dragging if you are not used to long cinematic cutscenes, however, with the upgraded graphics powered by Unreal Engine 4, everything is a marvel to behold. I played the remake on a 144hz monitor with the highest possible settings, and boy, the details are astounding!
From the texture of the clothes, to the dusty haze of the streets, up to the sheen of sweat and pores on Ryoma’s golden skin, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is certainly one of the most beautiful games I have ever played (though I may be biased as a big fan of the series). And it’s an added bonus that the game includes a Photo Mode to commemorate the enticing environment (and character eye candy) while playing.
You can arrange Ryoma in all sorts of poses, shift facial expressions, and even add stickers to customize your photo! Though, I’d say we are kinda robbed of another facial expression since Ryoma’s neutral face is so similar to his angry one. Poor dude has a default perpetual angry face, but that’s one of the reasons I love him.
The gorgeous graphics add up to the rather lengthy, but weighty experience in storytelling. There’s a lot of background details to remember in the politically-driven story so take your time in digesting everything. Take note that the game includes Ryoma’s alias within the script so it might get a little confusing having two names in some of the dialogues.
And since we are blessed with astounding graphics, I find it prudent to mention that the amount of blood splatter effects can also be adjusted in the game settings menu should you feel squeamish. Though, the Heavy Bloodiness does reinforce the effect on the more dramatic parts of the story.
Testing the Waters: The Gameplay
Clocking in an initial playthrough of approximately 25 hours—(yeah, I know, these are rookie numbers, but the embargo date is waving), I have managed to comb through the main story and finish the game with enough time to indulge on some of the plentiful sidequests. And by the gods, there are a LOT of sidequests.
Needless to say, you can finish the game in more or less than 20 hours provided you are on Easy combat mode the whole time and you are only focused on the main story itself. Of course there will be sidequests which are unavoidable the more you explore in the game, so it will take some time to finish.
You can change the combat difficulty settings anytime through the game menu. Adjusting the display graphics can also be done with ease, especially if you are playing on Steam / on PC. I have played Ishin! through Steam with little to no problem at all with graphics set up to Extra High, 1080p and no FPS limit (this of course depends on your PC build).
The most choppiness that I experienced was during a few seconds of choice cutscenes and a certain fight towards the end that included a lot of foggy material which absolutely made my screen stutter and my movesets annoyingly slow. I had to tweak my graphics to High instead to continue playing that specific part. But apart from those, there have been no problems on my end. In my experience, the game has great optimization for PCs, even down to the lowest graphics quality setting.
I used a gamepad / controller for this playthrough and the techniques are buttery smooth and easy to perform. I cannot say the same for keyboard and mouse since I am not used to them, but quoting the game itself, “A real samurai uses a gamepad.” so, I continued to use my handheld instead. And with my experience, performing special techniques during enemy encounters are notably easier with the combined button presses of a handheld controller.
Ishin! features four fighting styles in the game: Brawler (Hand-to-Hand), Gunman (Pistol), Wild Dancer (Katana and Pistol), and Swordsman (Katana), which are then further reinforced by the Trooper Card System. This is a new feature to the game that adds support and other special techniques to enhance your combat.
By ‘collecting’ Troopers in the form of cards, you can mix and match different Troopers into ‘Squads’ to boost your fighting style. And like any trading card game, each Trooper card comes with a corresponding level of rarity and skills. You get Troopers by ‘paying money’ for them to enlist. I dub this, the Ishin! gacha. The more money you spend, the better the Trooper Card.
But fret not, you can still get [good] Trooper Cards through random enemy counters if you lack the money. Plus, with the Digital Deluxe Edition you can download for free the much-awaited Elite Generals Trooper Card bundle featuring six celebrity cameos: pro-wrestler Kenny Omega, actor Rahul Kohli, cosplayer Vampy BitMe, Twitch streamer Cohh Carnage, composer and musician Alex Moukala, and VTuber Nyatasha Nyanners.
Collecting Trooper Cards, setting up your squads, and leveling them up can get time-consuming and very meticulous, but these are excellent additions to the game. I find this mechanic proficient in the overall gameplay. Sharpen those blades, do the grind, and collect them all!
Also don’t forget to upgrade your skills via the sphere grid of each playstyle, as well as undergoing training from different individuals to unlock new fighting techniques. Customizing weapons and armor is akin to moving a huge heavy boulder in progressing through the game since the ingredients and raw materials take a lot of time to be found and achieved. I mean, with how huge the map is, it takes some time to go around to shop, buy necessities from wandering peddlers, and sell spare materials.
Living the Extra Life
Aside from the fantastic gameplay, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has numerous substories, sidequests and minigames which you can explore at your leisure. It is because of these that make up the identity of RGG games. I call it, ‘the mostly sidequest game with a garnish of plot’. I probably have spent 40% of my speedrun with building friendships with the substory characters. But it’s all in good fun—and what mighty fun they bring.
The renowned karaoke rhythm game is back in full force with the appearance of Ishin! brand ambassadors, Kana Momonogi, Yui Hatano, and Yuna Ogura. I may or may not have gotten a failing grade numerous times when they appeared during the whole song. I guarantee you will, too.
A Battle Dungeon and Arena are also available in Like a Dragon: Ishin! for the much-needed grinding to improve your techniques, collect more Trooper Cards and earn blacksmithing materials. I recommend spending some time here to fight and gain experience instead of roaming around town for chance enemy encounters.
There’s also a traditional dancing game, fishing, shogi, udon noodle making, and gambling through card games and betting on a chicken race.
As for the other game features, Another Life lets you farm, grow produce, and sell them with the help of Haruka, Ryoma’s charming adoptee. Cooking meals is done here as well, which I greatly enjoyed. And I also get to keep pets! Plus points to all the cute cats and dogs in the game!
These subtories and minigames provide Virtue points (previously Dharma) which are used to purchase items and unlock abilities in shrines. Some jinzo statues are placed all over the map so you may be able to store your items externally if your inventory is full. You can only exchange virtue points through bigger, main shrines. With accumulated Virtue, you can customize your farming villa with better interior, equipment, and faster harvesting time. Virtue points can also provide your pets with finer sleeping quarters! Nothing less than luxury for my furbabies!
Final Verdict: 9/10
Like A Dragon: Ishin! is truly a must-play game of 2023. For someone as busy as I am, it is something I look forward to playing after a grueling day at work. Nothing beats the warm embrace of cutting-edge graphics of virile, able-bodied warriors who can fight, sing, cook, dance like a pro, and be in touch with their feelings with PASSION.
This game is no Judgment (pun definitely intended) in terms of storytelling and mystery but I assure you, the twists and turns of this action-packed remake will leave you wanting for more.
This game was reviewed with a game code for PC provided by the publisher.