Over the course of several years, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio mentioned that it had no intention of localizing Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin (or now known as Like a Dragon: Ishin) or bringing it to North America and Europe. However, with the burgeoning popularity of the series, it seems like the studio has ultimately changed its mind. Now international audiences will get to experience one of the series’ period pieces through the lens of the Yakuza series.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is a memento of the past in more ways than one. It reminded me just what I loved about the Yakuza series, at least in terms of its gameplay and main cast. Switching through styles was something I sorely missed walking away from Yakuza 0 (and Yakuza Kiwami), and playing Ishin felt like riding a bike. You can freely swap between these four styles, which include using a katana, barefist brawling, using a gun, or using a gun and a katana. While the four styles naturally aren’t comparable to what you had in Yakuza 0, there is enough variation there to feel rewarding. Especially as the game grades you on how well you perform in combat. It’s more or less like a less intensive Devil May Cry style meter, as your cumulative rank is scored after every encounter which determines how much money and experience you get.
Each of these styles plays fairly differently, with the gun and sword style more agile than just outright using my fists. That particular style was great against bosses, since you could practically evade and counter almost any attack. Whereas brawling with enemies that have spears and katanas wasn’t particularly ideal. However, you can go about disposing of common thugs and bosses in any way you see fit. You’re not constrained to any one thing, and the gameplay allows for you to tackle these encounters however you like. Especially since it also features the same sort of sphere system that previous, similar entries in the series had. Which means you’ll be grinding out these spheres to level up the individual skill trees of these styles.
Concerning the main cast, Like a Dragon: Ishin is a “re-telling” of a specific set of events that occurred in the 1800s in Japan. Obviously, the game takes its liberties, with series mainstays Kiryu, Majima, and crew showing up as an assortment of major historical figures. Kazuma Kiryu is, for all intents and purposes (bar some spoilers), Ryoma Sakamoto, a prominent historical figure of this specific time period. Saejima and Majima show up as well, along with Yakuza 3 antagonist Yoshitaka Mine appearing during a significant story cutscene that lays out why these characters have reconvened as other people in another place and time. It has nothing to do with time travel or anything like that. Ishin is fairly straightforward in its premise, and it’s truly just a period piece with some creative liberties taken.
That said, what I experienced of the localization was great. The overall feeling of these individual characters remain intact, despite them needing to be different people. Ryoma is still very much Kiryu in his disposition and manner of speech. Same goes for Majima and Saejima, both characters moving and speaking in their own distinct ways, which are well translated into text. There are also some new font choices that appear in Ishin that actually lend itself well to the game. This font is a bit more stylized, and looks more like traditional calligraphy as opposed to the blocky font most associate with the series. That font is still there, but this shift was nice, and honestly I’d like to see the series move towards another typeface.
Sub Stories are also back, which is a given for the series, along with minigames that have a more distinct flavor suited to the time period Ishin takes place in. You can engage in drinking games and jankenpon with a courtesan, race chickens, and the buyo dancing to pass the time between major story missions. I personally enjoyed buyo dancing the most, since it’s effectively a rhythm game that becomes more complex as you increase the difficulty, requiring you to use both sides of your controller to input commands.
Going back to Like a Dragon: Ishin felt nostalgic for me, and not just because I had already played the game in 2016. It is because it called back to an experience I enjoyed with the series from the foundation up. It felt familiar in its controls, and almost like a welcome return to what I enjoyed. I have a feeling playing the full release of this remaster will largely feel the same way. Naturally, the game isn’t without its flaws, but it’ll be great to see what people think about it now that an official North American and European release is on the way.
Like a Dragon Ishin will release for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC on February 21, 2023.