Like A Dragon: Ishin Review - Rewriting History
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Like A Dragon: Ishin Review - Rewriting History

Take the faces, voices, and over-the-top theatrics that have made the Yakuza franchise renowned, and transport all that back to 19th century Japan. The result is Like A Dragon: Ishin, an enticing period piece that also includes the series' action-brawler gameplay and ridiculous hijinx. Even though the context has changed, swapping the gangs of the modern criminal underworld for political factions in a tumultuous time in history, Ishin is yet another example of what developer RGG Studio does best: melodramatic storytelling.

It's been a long time coming as Yakuza: Ishin, originally a PS3/PS4 game from 2014, was not previously localized and brought to the West like other entries in the franchise. This new version lands somewhere between a remaster and remake, but it is based on older iterations of Yakuza games which makes Like A Dragon: Ishin feel dated in several respects, particularly in moment-to-moment gameplay. Still, its fundamentals are solid and the main draws of the franchise remain intact, hooking me with its characters and twists that had me eager to see its historical fiction unfold from chapter to chapter.

Instead of the glitz and glam of Kamurocho, Ishin takes us to late-Edo period Japan, around the time of the end of the samurai class and just before the country's modernization. In the same way previous Yakuza games offer a sort of virtual tourism, Ishin's vivid reconstruction of Japan's past (albeit with more creative liberties) delivers the same thrills. The streets are filled with menacing men wanting to cut you down as you mind your business strolling through the markets, restaurants and bars represent the era's cuisine, and tons of side content reflect the culture and traditions of the time. While it may not be as dazzling as the neon-lit streets of the modern day, the more low-key setting of Kyo (which is now modern-day Kyoto) is refreshing and a welcome change of pace that lets the Yakuza formula thrive once again within a framework it is comfortable with.

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