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RGG Studio’s Yakuza series has taken the internet by storm in the past decade. And thus after having a substantially large fan base, the studio has finally released a remake of one of their non-localized classics- Ryū Ga Gotoku – Ishin worldwide. For many non-Japanese fans like myself, this is a dream come true. 

The historical backdrop of the game is based on Bakumastu, the end of the Edo period. The Tokugawa shogunate which dominated all of Japan in the Sengoku war era had a peaceful rule for more than 250 years and 15 generations. Such a miracle was possible due to a very strict political system that forbade Foreign Trade and restricted freedom of religion, occupation, and societal classes among people. However, everything came crashing down in 1853 when the modernized US navy visited Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and ordered Japan to open its borders and ports to the US. The cowardly and helpless shogunate signed an unequal treaty with the US to freely use their ports and lands for their own benefit – throwing the entire country into chaos. Three rebellion clans (Choshu, Satsuma, and Tosa) rose to power to overthrow the shogunate and restore power to the Imperial court of Emporer. It was the last generation of Samurais and their rule in the long history of Japan.

Like a Dragon: Ishin is an Unreal Engine 4 remake/remaster of 2014’s Ishin and largely shares the same logic, functionality and level design of the original with enhanced visuals and noteworthy improvements. It was released on 21st February 2022, for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.

A Man Stuck in The Past

One of the most notable aspects of LAD: Ishin is its setting. The game takes place in Kyoto, Japan, during the Bakumatsu period, which was a time of significant social and political change in the country. The player takes on the role of Sakamoto Ryoma, a historical figure who was a prominent member of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate.

One of the standout features of Ishin is its attention to detail. RGG studio went to great lengths to recreate the look and feel of Kyoto during the Bakumatsu period, and they incorporated a variety of historical events and figures into the game’s story. The game also features a large cast of characters from all Yakuza entries, ranging from Kuze and Mine from Yakuza 0 and 3 to Zhao from Like A Dragon, each with its own unique personality and backstory. The best way to describe the game is imagining it to be a play starring the star-studded cast of the Yakuza series.

The game’s storyline involves Ryoma’s involvement in the movement, as well as his struggles to balance his loyalty to his friends with his desire for revenge against those who wronged him in the past. His suicidal pursuit of vengeance leads him to Shinsengumi – A special squadron of the Tokugawa shogunate’s police, heavily feared and despised by the people of Kyo for their unrelenting ruthlessness and intolerance. Being a Tosa loyalist, Ryoma assumes the alias of Saito Hajime to infiltrate Shingsengumi and find the true culprit who robbed him of everything.

Overall, the main plot is easily one of the best since 2019’s Judgement, with a long-line of star-studded cast. While most of the cast like Majima as Okita or Kuze as Ito gives an incredible performance, some of them may seem underutilized due to limited screentime and short-lived arcs. Another redeemable feature is the localization, thanks to the in-game glossary of old Japanese terminologies and names to help the player with ease of comprehension. Featuring over 14 chapters in total, the main story alone can take anywhere from 22 to 25 hours to finish. And if you take up all side stories, mini-games, arena, and the second-home mode, there’s easily 40–45 hours of quality content here. As for a completionist, there’s easily over 100 hours of content.

The Modern Samurai

Contrary to the modern perception of katana-wielding samurais, like the ones featured in mass-appealing titles such as Ghost of Tsushima, Ishin presents a never-seen picture in the west. The gun and katana-wielding samurai’s wild dance frickin’ annihilates all western stereotypes that we have grown accustomed to. It also showcases how quickly the last-living samurais adapted to modern machinery and their use.

The same is effortlessly showcased in its combat system, featuring a blend of hand-to-hand combat, sword fighting, and gunslinging with fast-paced and intense execution. The exuberating display of blood and gore feels quite fitting. But at the same, it may seem awkward after you stab them to death in battle, and they get back up the very instant the fight gets over, similar to other games in the series. It seems Kiryu/Ryoma really despises the idea of killing people, even with swords and guns.

The game features four distinct combat styles – Brawler, Swordsman, Shooter, and Wild Dancer, with each having its own dedicated skill tree and Masters to learn from. It shares the same soul/style-orb-based progression as Yakuza Zero and Kiwami. The safest yet slowest of ’em all is Swordsman, which features a combo, parry, and blocking system with high damage. Then comes the good old brawler style that still kicks ass. Lastly, there’s the Shooter style and Wild Dancer, which is by far the coolest of them all. With Wild Dancer’s stance, Ryoma can wield a revolver and katana at the same time. While it puts a majestic display of slicing and shooting, it lacks the option of blocking and relies only on evasion and parrying – making it the most aggressive yet rewarding way of play.

City of Opportunities

Japan was facing turbulent times during the Bakumatsu. For the first time in history, Japan had finally opened its borders. It was when a time when Japan rejected the western ideology for the fear of being colonized but adopted modern machinery for its survival. This is perfectly captured in the game’s numerous side stories and countless side activities. RGG games are known for having the best side-quests, and Ishin upholds them as expected.

While the side ventures in Ishin are not as big as the Yakuza: Like A Dragon or Lost Judgement, it is pretty big for the timeline it is featured in. Needless to say, the aesthetics of these side activities and mini-games are the major highlights for everyone. It’s a great way of bonding and socializing rarely seen in the games of this genre. 

Kyo is a lively city just like Kamurocho, brimming with a ton of mini-games and side activities. There’s Arena, Wood chopping, cooking, Buyo Dancing, Gambling, Chicken Racing, Fishing, karaoke, Battle Trooper Raids, and the list goes on. There’s also a courtesan mini-game that contains three mini-games in itself. Needless to say, if you are looking for side content, Ishin goes above and beyond.

A Disjointed City

Contrary to Dragon-Engine titles, Ishin doesn’t feature a seamless map and reuses many of the texture maps from 2014’s release. This results in uneven-loading issues and texture popping in a few areas. Even visiting small shops or inns results in the same loading times as the old yakuza titles. Considering how old UE3 games like Arkham Knight manage to provide a seamless transition throughout their world, the RGG team could have certainly managed to implement this using UE4.

Despite being a disjointed city of sorts, Ishin’s Kyo is still one of the best and most accurate representations of late nineteenth-century Japan’s cityscapes. The visual presentation in cutscenes uses high-quality character models and environmental maps with realistic-dynamic lighting that beautifully bounces off the surfaces. While it may not look as good as the studio’s current Dragon Engine titles like Lost Judgement or Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it is a huge upgrade over the game’s original release.

Since LAD: Ishin is a cross-gen title, it takes several cutbacks in visual fidelity during gameplay in order to provide substantially decent performance on older-gen consoles. This half-assed approach has botched the frame rates on old consoles like PS4, which struggle to maintain 40 frames per second and is significantly worse than its original release, which ran at 60. A lot of the areas, especially indoors still use static lighting and obsolete clothing physics for baggy Samurai attires that may break their immersion at times. Also, a considerable number of NPC character models still have low-poly textures similar to the PlayStation 3 release. Considering the power of the current-gen consoles like PlayStation 5, there is certainly room for improvement in the hybrid remake/remaster approach of Ishin for the current-gen hardware.

Real Talk

Like A Dragon: Ishin is everything I expected it to be and more. While it is not exactly a Kiwami version of the original, it is a significant upgrade. Its city of Kyo is brimming with life and is filled with countless highly engaging side activities that will easily get you side-tracked from its great main story. The beat-em-up action of its wild dance of swords and pistols puts up an engaging display of grotesquely gory action that never loses its steam, that shares the same DNA with Yakuza Zero and Kiwami.

Considering its somewhat dated visual fidelity during the gameplay, its full price tag may sound a bit steep for a remaster/remake hybrid of its original release. But all things considered, it is an easy recommendation for western audiences that never got to experience this classic from the past decade.   


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