Why Like a Dragon is Even Cooler Set in historical Japan

“Like A Dragon: Ishin” has long been the missing link in Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s long-running, high-octane beat ’em up series. The game was originally released in Japan almost a decade ago and has never fully reached western audiences until now. Like A Dragon’s fan base in the west has grown dramatically in recent years, but ten years ago the series was a whole different beast and was considered about as niche as it was.

While the series is now released simultaneously worldwide, fans of the series used to endure an excruciating wait before the games reached the West. Yakuza 5, which was released in Japan in 2012, could not be played for western audiences until three years later. In a way, it was a dark time for the franchise. There was simply no demand for English localizations and the low sales of the series spoke for itself. A samurai spin-off steeped in Japanese lore and mythology far outweighed the risk of the rewards.

The current landscape could not be more different. Like A Dragon stands as the most popular game of all time thanks to the astronomical success of the prequel title Yakuza 0, which attracted legions of new fans. Since then, the series has been cherished for its story, characters, struggle, and dedication to embracing its Japanese heritage. As the series continued to thrive, and coupled with the success of Sucker Punch’s samurai adventure Ghost of Tsushima, it was time for Like A Dragon: Ishin to reach new audiences.

A perfect representation of the history and culture of Japan

Image Credit: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio/ Sega

The city of Kamurocho is synonymous with the Like-A-Dragon series and has featured in some capacity in every episode of the series so far. Like A Dragon: Ishin changes things significantly, taking players hundreds of years back in time to explore Japan’s former capital, Kyo.

While revisiting Kamurocho can feel like coming home, admittedly it can get a bit stagnant. The depiction of busy city life and neon lights has been replaced with a perfect snapshot of Japanese history. Kyo achieves a level of authenticity that only Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio could achieve. Instead of nightclubs, hostess bars, and arcades, the streets are occupied by fish markets, peddlers, and vendors who race through the streets of Kyo with carts full of goods for the populace.

For a game that’s technically almost a decade old, the level of foot traffic, large number of NPCs, and very impressive visual glow make Kyo one of the liveliest locations in the series yet. If Ghost of Tsushima allowed us to live out our fantasies of being a samurai warrior, then Like A Dragon: Ishin is a perfect representation of the culture that surrounds it.

In an interview with the Guardian, series producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto stressed the importance of capturing the atmosphere of the series’ locations, saying:

What we focus on the most is the atmosphere of the place. We want players to feel like they’ve been there even if they’ve never been there… we play with the lighting, we play with the texture, we play with the pedestrian traffic on the streets… we don’t just think of accuracy when you compare our locations to real life, but also how it would feel to play it. We try very hard to balance the real and the unreal to make it as comfortable as possible

Hiroyuki Sakamoto on the Guardian

A great story and scale

The time period change somehow managed to make Like A Dragon even cooler
Image Credit: Ryu Ga Gotoku/Sega

The Bukumatsu era was a time of political turmoil for the country and marked the end of the Edo period ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. Real events are translated into the game as Ryoma finds herself caught between two political factions fighting for supremacy to determine her future at a time when hostilities against foreigners were at an all-time high.

The stories in the Like A Dragon series typically have an element of political intrigue at their core, whether it’s the ongoing battle between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance, or corrupt government officials manipulating events behind the scenes. Rarely, however, has the series dealt with history-defining missions. While the lightness of the series’ side stories is pervasive, for the most part Like A Dragon: Ishin’s story is played directly and carries with it the grace of an epic historical drama.

The real-life historical characters that take center stage in the game’s storyline are portrayed by series mainstays such as Kazuma Kiryu, who takes on the role of the game’s protagonist, Ryoma Sakamoto. Beloved characters like Goro Majima and Taiga Saijima also feature prominently as their historical counterparts. Since Like A Dragon: Ishin isn’t considered canon, it allows fans to meet previous rivals and adversaries from the main series.

Fan-favorite villain Ryuji Goda returns to the series as the ruthless commander Saigo Kichinosuke alongside Kiryu’s biggest Yakuza 0 enemy, Daisaka Kuze. Like A Dragon: Ishin appeals to newer fans of the series with plenty of Easter eggs and surprises to be found along the way. Some of the old actors in the original game have even been replaced with new Yakuza: Like A Dragon cast members like Adachi, Joon Gi-Han, and Ryo Aoki.

It’s fair to say that most of the cast retain the personality and traits of their mainstream counterparts, but seeing them interact with slightly revised dynamics in this new period and setting is a real delight for longtime fans of the series.

A flashy and stylish combat system

The time period change somehow managed to make Like A Dragon even cooler
Image Credit: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Kazuma Kiryu might be a big wuss at heart, but he’s no stranger to throwing hands and delivering a punch when needed. Sharing the same philosophy as his counterpart, Ryoma boasts four unique fighting styles capable of decimating any opponent in the game.

Like A Dragon: Ishin was actually the first game in the series to introduce combat styles, and since the game is set in 19th-century Japan, most of these focus on Sakamoto’s mastery of his sword and revolver. You can of course choose to fist fight enemies, but since most enemies in the game are heavily armed, this isn’t the wisest approach.

Yakuza 0 fans will be familiar with the four fighting styles, which you can both upgrade with talent orbs and hone your skills in the various dojos in Kyo. The most notable of the four styles is by far Wild Dancer, which allows Ryoma to wield his katana and revolver simultaneously while being extremely agile and light-footed. Stylish heat actions return to the series, along with a new addition of special attacks unique to each style that can be charged using the heat gauge.

Like A Dragon: Ishin’s most unique combat mechanic is the Trooper Card ability. As the captain of the Shinsengumi, Ryoma can access his soldiers’ unique abilities in battle, which can inflict stat boosts, health, and great damage on enemies. The Trooper ranks are made up of famous faces like AEW wrestler Kenny Omega and actor Rahul Kohli.

A variety of new mini-games

The time period change somehow managed to make Like A Dragon even cooler
Image Credit: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Minigames are an integral part of Like A Dragon. While there are some recurring fan favorites like karaoke, Like A Dragon: Ishin introduces a series of mini-games unique to the title that further honor the time period and culture.

There is a whole host of mini-games to keep players entertained for hours, adding to the density and variety of Kyo as a whole. Whether you want to spend a drunk night on the town and indulge in buyo dancing or just kick back and fish, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Each region of Kyo also features a number of sub-stories that form the heart and soul of the game. These side stories not only add new depth to the series’ protagonist, but also shine a spotlight on the people of Kyo, further cementing Ryu Ga Gotoku’s reputation for bringing their towns to life.

This can be as much as helping a struggling writer overcome writer’s block, chasing perceived deities, or succumbing to the dance craze that is taking Kyo by storm. There really is care and attention that residents receive. Even vendors and shopkeepers have their own friendship meter that Ryoma can build up over time by constantly visiting their shops, which can unlock new encounters, discounts, and sub-stories.

Like A Dragon: Ishin was previously considered one of the most elusive titles in the series. Now that it’s widely available, it proves that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio can step out of its comfort zone to bring its unprecedented virtual tourism talent and density to an entirely new setting and time. After 10 years of obscurity, Like A Dragon: Ishin seems to be cementing its reputation as one of the best parts of the series.

https://twinfinite.net/2023/02/why-like-a-dragon-is-even-cooler-set-in-historical-japan/ Why Like a Dragon is Even Cooler Set in historical Japan

Isaiah Colbert

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