Like a Dragon: Ishin! Hands-On Preview – Familiar in all the Good Ways

During the RGG Summit (and the PlayStation State of Play) just ahead of Tokyo Game Show, we were treated to an unexpected announcement. Not only did we get Like a Dragon 8, but we also got a remake of a title that has never seen a western release since 2014 – Like a Dragon: Ishin!

Of course, during our time in Japan, we got our filthy hands on a brief playable demo of the game thanks to our good friends at SEGA. Our time spent with the game was very short, but it did give us an impression of what to expect when the game comes out early next year.

For starters, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a full remake of the 2014 release, and is a spin-off of the Yakuza series. Not many know about this game, particularly because it was never released outside of Japan, so you can imagine how historic this reveal is for franchise fans.

The game will put players in control of Ryoma Sakamoto (basically Kiryu) during the Bakumatsu Period. Fans familiar with the Yakuza personalities will notice some characters that are named differently but recognizable all the same, like Goro Majima.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! let me try out 2 modes – a “Day” mode where exploring the city of Kyo and engaging in various activities is the focus, and a “Night” mode, where battles are front and center. As mentioned, my time with the game was very brief, so I’m not able to form very concrete opinions yet, but I can immediately say that the RGG DNA runs strong in this remake.

After a (very) lengthy cutscene, which introduced me to many of the personalities we will be interacting with, I got to explore a small part of Kyo. The town felt alive, with conversations from townsfolk filling the air, and it also looked really good thanks to RGG’s switch to the Unreal Engine from the Dragon Engine, which was a conscious decision on their part due to the setting of this remake.

As I breezed in and out of houses, I got to try out a drinking game which I failed miserably at because I didn’t know what to do, and even formed bonds with some of the townsfolk by using their services. It is a lot of the exploration and trimmings that Yakuza fans will be familiar with.

You’ll notice that a lot of what I say revolves around familiarity, and that’s because the general formula of the game isn’t anything new. It is an “old” game after all, but RGG has modernized the gameplay making it in such a way that players who have only recently been exposed to the franchise will be able to jump right into the game without hesitation.

One other thing I also got to try out was the battle system, and while it is easy to pick up and learn, I also felt that there was so much I’ve yet to know about it. The combat felt fluid and responsive, and it felt like second nature, switching between styles (swords, guns, fists) and dishing out absurd combos and skills where Ryoma would pull a Hadouken-like beam out of nowhere. Again, familiar, but not necessarily a bad thing.

A feature called “Soldier Cards” is also present, which will give the players defensive or offensive abilities depending on what cards are equipped. Admittedly, I didn’t get to tinker with this too much since time was limited, but it seemed to offer another layer that could give combat much more depth.

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For many, Like a Dragon: Ishin! will be their first time experiencing a Yakuza game. It could also easily be the most accessible yet, because of the tutorial system that RGG has overhauled, especially as this is the first time Ishin will see a worldwide release.

My brief stint with the game gives me just enough to anticipate its eventual release next year. The mix of absurdity and seriousness is a Yakuza specialty, and Like a Dragon: Ishin! certainly continues the tradition.

Like a Dragon: Ishin is scheduled to release on February 21, 2023 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.

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