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December 2022

Like A Dragon: Ishin!

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2023


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Like a Dragon: Ishin!'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 19, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In 1860s Kyo, a solemn samurai's fight for justice stands to change the course of Japan's history forever. Draw your blade and join the revolution in this heated historical adventure.

Pre-order Like a Dragon: Ishin!

While the series was thought of initially as a Grand Theft Auto clone by casual players, the Yakuza series slowly built itself up as a crime drama series that's notable for its story, eccentric cast of characters, and bevy of side activities that have nothing to do with committing felonies. It is popular enough outside of Japan that Sega has decided to dig into the franchise's back catalog for the few titles that never left its home country. The first on that list is the period-based title that hit both PS3 and PS4 back in 2014, now retitled under the new series name, Like a Dragon: Ishin!

The demo we got our hands on at TwitchCon San Diego 2022 was split into two parts. The daytime portion let you get into occasional scraps with bandits to test your mettle, but the focus was on participating in the side activities that have become signature pieces of the series. There were a few side-quests, such as helping out at the udon shop or taking on a mystery involving mochi. There are side activities like playing shogi, hitting up a gambling house, or getting into a sake drinking contest with a courtesan. You can chop wood or do some river fishing or even go shopping at Don Quijote, an oddity since the shop didn't exist until more than a century later in Japan. Just like the other games in the series, there's enough here that you can get lost doing everything else aside from the main mission.

The nighttime portion of the demo featured a mission where you and a small number of your group members were sent to get a bounty on a person in a gambling hall. After he takes down two of the people with ease, it falls on you to finally complete the mission. While you can shop for items, the focus of this portion was on combat, which is much more robust compared to both older and even more recent entries.

Your character now has access to four different fighting styles. The weaponless brawling style is reminiscent of the main Yakuza series as well as the spin-off Judgment series, but we weren't able to see if you could pick up random items from the environment to use as makeshift weapons. This being part of the feudal era, a katana is a must-have weapon, but you also have access to a revolver since this is also around the time when Western influences were creeping into Japan. Finally, you have access to a combination of katana and pistol instead of wielding each one on its own.

The multitude of styles makes for a very deep fighting system, especially since you can switch to each one on the fly. Each weapon style comes with unique moves and combos, so it presents some great advantages if you mix things up. For example, going with a pistol-only attack does less damage to an enemy in exchange for stun-locking them. Go for just the katana, and you can use a strong attack to hit people while they're on the ground. The katana/pistol combo is great for defeating an enemy close to you, while also hitting someone from afar if you happen to kill an enemy early. The switching isn't automatic, so you have to stop attacking with one weapon set before you can switch to another, but it makes great strides in feeling more robust than prior games.

What sets this fighting system beyond the original is the integration of Soldier Cards. This was in the original 2014 release but relegated to the Battle Dungeon side mission. In Like a Dragon: Ishin!, this mechanic is integrated into the main game, so you have even more options for just about every fight. You get four different card choices to apply to each weapon set, so you have a total of 16 different abilities at any time during combat. Some of these are benign, such as a health refill, while others are more exciting, like the ability to slow down time or unleash a giant spirit wave attack. The only drawback to having these energy-based moves that refill over time is that you'll promptly forget about the traditional items you can use during a boss fight.

The presentation is quite nice so far. Being completely remade in Unreal Engine 4 instead of the studio's own proprietary engine, there's more detail being shown off in the character models, but the animations haven't changed at all from the PS3/PS4 original. It's a bit stiff in combat, but that isn't bothersome when you're playing. The sound is rather excellent, and while there's no option for a dubbed track, you're not going to mind at all since the Japanese vocal performances do an excellent job in conveying emotions.

Based on what we played at TwitchCon, we can't wait to get more time with the full version of Like a Dragon: Ishin! The battle system was already deep enough with the ability to switch between multiple styles, but the inclusion of the Soldier Cards makes the fighting even more dynamic. The short cameos from existing franchise characters is a nice bonus for longtime fans, but the whole setup makes it a perfect entry for newcomers to get familiar with the franchise. Ishin! is scheduled to hit most platforms in late February 2023, so it won't be long before we can see everything the title has to offer.

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