Let’s temper some expectations regarding Like A Dragon: Ishin. First of all, it’s not a new game. It was originally released in 2014. A time people were transitioning between PS3 and PS4. Only it never sailed outside of the Japanese market, meaning it was never localized or translated. This is actually a sequel to Kenzan, and if you’re like me who has no idea who Kenzan is despite being into anime and weebery, then it should explain why they went ahead and decided to move straight to Ishin for the remake treatment.
This will also mean that some systems and combat may feel a bit dated, but I personally find it hard to say that the Yakuza series experience ever gets old. I myself spent way too much time playing Final Fantasy Tactics in whatever form I can, and I’ll do it again if I had the time.
Anyway, back in ESGS 2022 we were given an opportunity to have a sneak peek into playing the available demo build for Like A Dragon: Ishin. Where we picked between one of two modes, one gets you right to a boss encounter as quickly as possible, and the other one is the usual free time looking around a city that you expect from a Yakuza game. Let’s break down what it was like.
While the game was clearly touched up for a PS5 release, you’d know that they could do better. Faces and models do look good enough, but things such as environments or post-production effects are hardly there. Considering the PS5’s power, I don’t think that would have been an issue. I’d suspect that this is more of working within the limitation of the original game’s code. You see these limitations pop up in how models interact with their environment and actually, how the environments are set up. It shouldn’t be too difficult for Sony’s 2020 console to be able to render out larger towns more seamlessly, and they actually do this for their more recent games. Perhaps they decided to not go too crazy with the scope for the remake, as delving too far from the original game would have bloated the resources needed to produce something acceptable. The presentation of conversation can also be a bit jarring as it sticks to dialogue boxes and talking heads, this bothered me a bit partly because I’m rushing to see what’s different with the game, but shouldn’t be too much of an issue for those who are playing at a more relaxed pace.
Controls and combat take a bit of getting used to. There is no lock on and in tight spaces, you may be wrestling with the camera while trying to fend off enemies. During my fight with the featured boss, getting cornered was more annoying because of the confusing camera rather than the attack patterns I was getting used to. Attacks have a semi-snapping feature to them. If you’re close enough and facing the correct direction, your next attack will be aimed toward the nearest enemy, I think this is pretty par for the course considering the developer involved.
You can also freely change between 4 styles of combat, where I found the power of Gun-fu to be comically strong. It’s likely that these aren’t all available at the start of the game, but knowing that they exist might be something nice to work toward in the future release of Ishin. Apart from that, you can also activate 4 separate powerups that appear to run on a cooldown. What’s interesting here is that there are two skills meant for Saito (aka not Saito, who is actually for this game Ryoma, which is not Kiryu) to use, while the other two seem to be for powering up minions that happen to tag along with you.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Yakuza game where you have a squad tailing you and joining you in combat, but this makes sense considering that you’re playing as part of the Shinsengumi, an elite police force during the Bakamatsu era aimed to keep the peace and lawfulness of the land. So you might be going around with your boys, making sure everything is operating legitimately and cleanly. The playable demo in fact makes you go after a gambling den, which is generally illegal in Japan. Yes I know, pachinko and gacha games seem to prove otherwise, but that’s neither here nor there.
Walking around during a normal day doesn’t seem to deviate much from the usual Yakuza experience. The density, the map, and the little interactions you can catch seem to be pretty much within expectations. Even the random encounters feel pretty standard. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access anything that would be like a sub-quest during my time with the demo, so I couldn’t really tell you if there was something that stood out for the open-world section.
So yeah, that’s about my thirty or so minutes with Like a Dragon, Ishin. I suppose the bottom line question would be: Would I play it? Yes. The attached question of whether or not I’d finish it is another thing. But I do believe this remake would make at the very least, fans of the Yakuza series happy.