Ishin! is a welcome release for Sega’s stylish samurai saga

It’s a sign YakuzaA growing cultural cache, once considered too quirky for Western audiences, has been localized and given a semi-luxurious upgrade. Like a Dragon: Ishin! isn’t quite a full-on remake to match previous Kiwami updates, but it’s certainly not a cash-in-the-phone and places it quite cleverly in the current Like A Dragon landscape.

At first glance, you can understand the concern about Ishin’s localization! in 2014. The action moves from the boring arcade wonderlands of present-day Japan to Kyoto in the 1860s, a city undergoing major political upheaval that takes a few hours to get your bearings.

It boils down to a civil war between Imperial loyalists and the military government, but there’s a lot of detail to be teased out of glossary terms labeled in text boxes and a Wiki’s worth of reading material buried in sub-menus. It doesn’t have the immediate cops-and-robbers fun of contemporary stories.

As time passes, the magic of the Yakuza bubbles up. Our lead, Sakamoto Ryoma, is drawn from the history books, but modeled after legendary Yakuza stud Kazuma Kiryu. It creates an intriguing what-if scenario where his story roughly follows in the footsteps of the real-life Ryoma, but those same feet are also used to kick bandits into rivers.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! | Game trailer

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It is Assassin’s Creed-Confirming history: the secret story “behind” known events. Yes, Ryoma helped engineer the Satsuma–Chōshū alliance, but did he do it by feeding one of its leaders sour plums? Reference Required.

If Kiryu’s presence provides a solid footing in the slicker story, he’s borrowed support from allies and enemies lifted from the wider series and recast as the main characters of his adventure. It ends up behaving like one of those Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where the crew dons a holodeck. Look, it’s Taiga Saejima, but he’s a captain in the police force. Hey! It’s Haruka, but she’s a poor country girl. Wow! It’s Majima except – no, he’s basically the same cycloptic madman in any setting.

Anticipating what faces will appear next serves as killer fan service, but genuinely resonates deeper. You can’t help but pull in associations from other games; When Ryoma goes into the insidious and brutal Shinsengumi to hunt down his master’s killer, it’s a real dramatic reason to see its ranks filled with the Yakuza universe’s most double-minded snakes. You don’t need to understand the history of these police forces to understand the threat – just look at the rotten bastards in the room.

Along with the actors, you can also see how the game has been modified to suit the year 2023. While most of the cameos have remained intact since 2014’s Ishin!, characters from Yakuza 0, 6 and Like A Dragon have been added, so you’ll be able to meet 0’s Kuze again. and Awano; Two of the best evil grins ever seen in a game, and another great display of facial wrinkles for the studio’s character artists. Your mileage may vary on these inclusions, but for this fan Ishin! feels like a complete celebration of the series.

Put aside the historical quirks and performances, and you’re left with classic Yakuza. There’s a small open-world town to explore, Kyo, full of side quests, social hangouts, and a touch of RPG elements. The city is one of the weakest targets in the series; For obvious reasons, it lacks the electric pizza of Kamurocho, which begs you to get excited about dusty alleys and endless wooden buildings. And dividing its main neighborhoods by a winding corridor makes it a pain to navigate without coughing up a palanquin ride.

“Leave aside the historical quirks and performances, and you’re left with classic Yakuza. There’s a small open-world town to explore, Kyo, full of side quests, social hangouts, and a dash of RPG elements.

The side stories are equally disappointing. Usually in these, the writers flex their comedic muscles to dress up in otherwise ordinary chores. Outside of the frequent run-ins associated with the cult parade, most encounters here slip into memory, with a nasty over-reliance on filling loyalty meters by handing over vegetables. These seem designed to justify farming as a side gig at home, in a place so out of the way it’s easy to overlook. We love the radish chopping mini-game as much as the next Yakuza fan, but not everything is as neatly integrated as it could be.

You’ll feel a similar fillip in the RPG elements, sandwiched between the scrapping of Kiryu’s adventures and the turn-based action of Yakuza: Like A Dragon. Although the game is a real-time brawler, it features character leveling and weapon smithing that feels closer to Kasuga’s equipment development.

As in Like A Dragon, this means grinding for rare materials in dungeons, though after boss fights you’re rewarded with enough powerful blades that you don’t need to do anything other than make a sharper sword to gain a foothold early on. No amount of late-game grinding has really slowed Like A Dragon to a crawl.

Like a Dragon: Ishin!  is a welcome release for Sega's stylish samurai saga

When you join the Shinsengumi, you have access to the support group. Instead of appearing as AI fighters alongside you, they provide stat buffs and special attacks that you trigger during battles. Think giant icy gusts of wind or chained lightning bolts – goofy magic at odds with the sincerity of the more climatic duels. In the original Ishin!, the troops joined you for certain Shinsengumi missions, but here they stick around throughout the game, giving you the chance to fine tune Ryoma’s build.

Controlling these forces is a subgame in itself, equivalent to running modern-day yakuza corporations. You use helpers from people you meet for side missions and train them, in turn charging them faster in battle or unlocking a playful synergy between troop cards. In fact, they feel a bit alien for the purposes of the story path, which feels balanced around the core battle (as it was in 2014). As with blacksmithing, troops only become relevant when you move into the “endgame” side content: harder Shinsengumi missions or fighting in the ranks of the arena.

The fact that you can ignore some of Ishin!’s systems is a testament to the combat, which shines without any extra gimmicks. Bringing fencing into the mix shifts the focus from the dull pounding of instruments to something more precise. Yes, there’s a brawling style with a gun and whirling gun/sword combo that’s great for taking down weaker gangs, but Ishin’s explosive steel, daring parries, and quick footwork! real sparks to life.

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Like a Dragon: Ishin! (xbox)
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Get a few upgrades under your belt – conveniently, the more you use a style, the faster you level it up, allowing you to really favor one style if you choose – and it’s easy to live the fantasy samurai life. Waiting for nervous goons to strike before countering with a near-fatal ladder counterstrike feels like the height of cinematic cool, and is especially capped off by a stabbing thermal motion that leads to a Kill Bill-esque geyser of blood.

But it’s the duel where everything comes together. Not only will you encounter legendary Yakuza icons throughout, but the choreography of the intros and the mid-fight events make these fights into age-old confrontations. In action, it’s more of a subtle dance full of quick cuts, but the impact left by the fights is massive. The last third of the game is particularly strong; all politicking is set aside for a parade of very angry dudes being cut and chopped in increasingly dramatic places. We wish the lessons of history were told this way.

Here, on the central path, Ishin! is at its best: a great drama performed with great personalities. And this is where you really understand the decision to localize this relative oddity: the clatter of sparking blades, the villain’s smirk, the sweet taste of revenge. Whatever the language, some things are universal.