Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Gaming evaluation

To loyal To fans of Yakuza and Like a Dragon, Ishin was the third Mother. It was the much anticipated, exclusive to Japan, product that seemed too wonderful to be true, and it was too Japanese, to be introduced in the West. With the use of a guide and some translation tools, I even imported a copy of the game’s original PS4 version so that I could play it. I was certain that Ishin would never be published in the West. Japanese publishers rarely took Western fan demand into consideration. Maybe I was dwelling too much on Nintendo’s history for them to evoke the iconic “Sega Does What Nintendon’t” slogan. Yes, Sega did something that Ninten didn’t. Under the rebranded title Like a Dragon: Ishin!, they remastered, localized, and distributed Ishin to the West.

To those who are unfamiliar, Ishin! Like a Dragon! a non-canonical spinoff set during the Bakumatsu period—one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in Japanese history—using franchise characters as real-life individuals. As a once-isolated nation, Japan is gradually welcoming ships carrying new technology and artifacts from around the world. However, there is a great deal of political unrest, as there is ongoing animosity between shogun loyalists, those who support the Emperor (and are wary of outside influence), and others who are ready to embrace globalization as it was in the 19th century. The orthodox Japanese social order, in which the upper class (the joshi) can arbitrarily cause chaos for the lower class (the goshi), is adding insult to injury. The glorious nation of Japan is a ticking time bomb.

We take on the role of Kiry, or rather, a character named Sakamoto Ryoma. Even though it’s a totally different person, our beloved protagonist’s voice actor, model, and personality never crack a smile. A samurai from a lower social class finds himself entangled in a web of political intrigue, treachery, death, karaoke, and, well, you get the picture. With a quasi-pantomime aesthetic, Ishin features all the characters voiced by famous Yakuza/Like a Dragon actors. It’s ridiculously corny, but that’s exactly why we adore this ridiculous franchise, isn’t it?


The problem is that the developers failed to attempt to disrupt expectations regarding the roles played by the characters in the franchise, so if you’re familiar with the series, you can see the plot twists coming a mile away. Like the heroes and friends in previous Yakuza games, the villains in Ishin are essentially reprises of those from the series. Antiheroes and adversaries were the only ones who got a little more complexity and growth in their characters. The story of Ishin is nevertheless enjoyable in the end, even though the plot twists were extremely obvious.

This is NOT a remake of Like a Dragon, so don’t get your hopes up over the misleading pre-release promotion. This is a remastered version of the 2014 game, so the gameplay and presentation are identical to those of Yakuza 3 through Kiwami, even though it loads with the big large Unreal Engine logo. Similar to its “freaking gorgeous for PS3, pretty good for PS4, somewhat dated for current-gen” predecessors, this one has slightly jankier animations outside of cutscenes and uses extra makeup to seem better. To put it bluntly, Like a Dragon: Ishin will not blow your mind. But it’s still lovely.

On the other hand, there is a benefit to not using the CPU-intensive Dragon Engine. You can use less realistic but speedier fighting methods thanks to the sped-up animations. Kiryu Ryoma possesses four distinct fighting styles. In Yakuza, the bare knuckle stance is the default since it has the greatest parrying mechanics. Swordsman stance grants access to a katana, which is slow and cumbersome at first but becomes second nature as you pour experience points into its pool. Even though the gunman posture is clumsy and unrefined, you get to fire a gun at adversaries from a distance.

The last fighting technique is the “drunken ballerina of death” stance; it equips you with a katana and a rifle. In it, Kiryu Ryoma effortlessly evades assaults, slashes adversaries with large combinations, and then unleashes a torrent of bullets at the end of his slashing streak. It utterly defies logic and renders the game useless, but dang, it’s entertaining nonetheless. I think it’s the best fighting style in the entire Yakuza series. Over and above Majima’s slugger attitude in Yakuza 0, and even beyond Yagami’s wacky kung fu in Lost Judgment. I adore it because of how absurd it is.

The story of Ishin may be violent and serious, but don’t worry—the game still has all the ridiculous side missions and activities that fans of the Yakuza series have come to anticipate. Although the concept of karaoke wouldn’t emerge until almost a century after its inception, the art form is making a triumphant return. A karaoke bar has taken its place, complete with a live band to accompany your corny lyrics. Yes, “Baka Mitai” is there, in all its terrible English glory. Can you understand it? Not at all. Why should I have cared? Not at all. These foolish acclaims are what make Yakuza what it is.


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