Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have watched over the years as the Yakuza series (now officially going by the name "Like A Dragon") has caught on more and more with Western players. The series is aiming to have one of its biggest periods yet and it's all going to start in 2023 with the release of Like A Dragon: Ishin. However, this is shaping up to be slightly different than the other Like A Dragon titles before it and it's almost entirely because of its different setting.
Japanese players will recognize Like A Dragon: Ishin as a reimagining of a 2014 Yakuza spin-off. For those who may not know, it takes players into a new era: 1860s Kyo, where samurai lived and fought with honor. As originally noted on PlayStation.Blog, this is long-time protagonist Kazuma Kiryu taking on a new role as Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the last samurai of that time period. The TwitchCon demo began with a lengthy introductory cutscene, setting up the narrative and the various characters. Players will watch as Ryoma infiltrates the Shinsengumi police force as part of an effort to uncover the circumstances of his father's murder. Through lengthy exposition, Ryoma begins to deduce that one of the captains of the various divisions is the mysterious masked culprit.
Ishin's gameplay component should feel familiar to veteran Like A Dragon players. Players explore a massive open world, though one that's removed from the contemporary landscapes that series fans may be used to. The Shinsengumi Barracks and the neighboring Kyo streets are filled with shopkeepers, inns, and different side activities, which included a brother that I declined despite the doorman's persuasive efforts. I spent most of my demo straying from the beaten path and trying out side activities, like one in which a private school teacher asked for assistance on delivering a geography lesson using this newfangled invention called a "globe." Yes, it's basically a geography quiz and it's presented in the lighthearted Yakuza tone that long-time players should be accustomed to seeing.
There were a few instances when some unsavory enemies came looking for a fight, triggering the game's real-time combat phase. This is where I got to check out one of Ishin's more unique elements, which is the ability to switch back-and-forth between four different combat styles. Using the D-pad, players can use Ryoma as a brawler, a swordsman, a gunner, or a mixture. Each has different advantages, as well as different moves and combos to master. It allows a kind of freedom that's rarely seen in this type of game, but one that I didn't have much time to soak in, given that the fights were over long before I could use everything available to me.
The other big takeaway from Ishin is how impressive it looks from a visual standpoint. That's mainly because RGG has moved away from its proprietary engine that it had been using and transitioned to Unreal Engine 4. It's most noticeable in the game's cutscenes, but the combat flowed fluidly enough that players should be able to tell the difference compared to previous RGG efforts.
As a relative Yakuza novice, I walked away from Ishin excited to see more. It should be interesting to see how far RGG develops the multiple combat styles while also seeing what the team can do with the game's setting. It should be exciting to see what lies ahead fo the Like A Dragon series and it all starts with this trip back in time. Like A Dragon: Ishin is coming to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on February 21.
This preview is based on a pre-release demo on PlayStation 5.