Ryuu ga Gotoku (hereon, Yakuza) is one of Sony’s flagship franchises for the Playstation in Japan, and it’s no secret, I’m a huge fan. The Yakuza games are a series of RPG/Brawlers set in a fictional district of Tokyo called Kamurocho with the badass Kazuma Kiryu as the lead. Kiryu is framed for the murder of one of the biggest names in the Yakuza and is sent away to prison. After he gets out, he goes to uncover the truth. The Yakuza games will have you exploring all around this city fighting epic battles against Yakuza bosses, common criminals, foreign mercenaries, and police alike. Yakuza is also notorious for its volumes of content including: side quests, gambling, karaoke, golf, fishing, mahjong, and even playing in a virtual SEGA arcade.
Ishin! marks the Yakuza series’ break onto the PS4 scene and, despite everything you just read, follows a slightly different path than the main series. Ishin! takes place during the Meiji Restoration era of Japan in the 1800’s. For historical context this takes place after the ‘unification’ of Japan in the Tokugawa period and is the same historical setting for things like Rurouni Kenshin and The Last Samurai. This one follows in the footsteps of a previous Yakuza spin-off with the subtitle: Kenzan!, which took place in the 1600’s during the warring states period. These spin-offs cast the main characters of the series and cast them into historical roles, with the role of the leading man, Ryuma, played by Kazuma Kiryu himself!
Ryuu ga Gotoku Ishin! was released by SEGA on 22 Feb 2014 for Playstation 3 and 4. This review is based on the Playstation 4 version.
Ishin! is a semi-open RPG, with a fast-paced Brawler-style battle system. Unlike the main series Yakuza games, however, you will not rely on your fists alone with the occasional temporary weapon. Nay! In this installment you will have both a sword and a gun from start to finish. Because of this the leveling up system is also a little different. So you have your four play-styles (Bare Fist, Sword [alone], Gun [alone], and then the Sword/Gun Combo) and each style will level up based on the amount you use it. Each level up will earn you colour-coded spheres that you use on a grid to level up that play-style. (not terribly unlike Final Fantasy X) Each level up will increase some attribute of the character as well as unlock new combos, moves, or finishers for the respective play-style in which it was earned. The four different styles offer a great level of diversity to how you want to play the game. For example, Going with the Sword/Gun combo offers fast paced attacks that are quick and have range, but are generally weaker, lighter hits. If you choose to use the sword alone you will lose some speed, but the combos are longer lasting and do much more damage. Around town you will find a blacksmith where you can even take these weapons and build them up, melt them down, or make new weapons from scratch entirely! One great aspect of this multi-style battle system is that the Bare Fist style allows you to not only preform an array of badass classic Yakuza moves, but also allows you to pick up anything in the surrounding environment that can be used as a weapon (which is also a feature of the traditional Yakuza combat.)
The random encounters will occur on the streets when you get spotted by street thugs or Yakuza members (whoever your enemy happens to be at the time) and sometimes, like any RPG, it can be a little repetitious running into enemies all the time when you’re just trying to get from place to place. However the combat, itself, is extremely fluid and enjoyable and you have loads of options on how to approach each battle, it’s hard to get to the point of monotony.
Most of the game will take place in one town (which itself is fairly large and has TONS of different sections and buildings that are open and accessible) although the story will sometimes take you into story specific areas. Within this town, though, you have hours upon hours of side quests and minigames. This is one of the big points of the Yakuza series as a whole. When your not going around fighting you can go fishing, chop wood, run a ramen shop, play mahjong, do karaoke, have intimacy with a lady-in-waiting, target practice, and all sorts of other minigames. These will often earn you money or items for the main game, provided you did okay. The minigames, themselves, are extremely well crafted and have a lot of attention to detail and it’s quite easy to get lost in them for hours at a time.
With a big open city, fluid and fun combat, and hours of side missions, this game marks itself as one of the most fun and exploratory games currently on the Playstation 4.
Ishin! gets a well-deserved gameplay score of 9.5 out of 10
STORY & SETTING:
As previously mentioned Ishin! is set in the late 1800’s, during the Meiji restoration. This was a neat time in Japanese history because it was an abrupt change from the medieval to the modern. This particular time in Japanese history is when you see the beginnings of westernization while retaining a lot of the old traditions and culture. While this world was being westernized to what we would consider modern, you still have a lot of people wearing traditional dress, praying at archaic shrines, doing battle with katana, etc. While fantasy style games get away with a mixture of ancient and modern (sometimes even futuristic like the Final Fantasy series), Ishin! uses the Meiji setting to show this theme of ‘new and old’ applied realistically. A lot of games will sacrifice historicity, like the Musou series, to become more attractive and epic, but Ishin! remains very historically accurate while still delivering a fantastic experience.
As for the plot, this game is not considered cannon to the rest of the series. Rather, this is almost like a movie where the characters are played by characters from the main series. The main character, Sakamoto Ryoma is played by Kazuma Kiryu (the main character from the rest of the games). Like their cannon counterparts, the characters are all really well written and have very distinct and organic personalities. The story begins with Ryoma having an existential crisis, trying to find his place in a world that’s ever changing. He’ll become involved with many people, martial artists, government officials, black market dealers, information brokers, and even the fabled Shinsengumi. known by some historians as the ‘ruthless murderer squad’ the Shinsengumi were a secretive police force created by the Bakufu (the de facto leaders behind most Shogun) to maintain order. (For any clarification on some of these weird historical terms I recommend a book called Japan: A Short Cultural History by G.B. Sansom)
In a time sadly devoid of good Japanese Historical Fiction in gaming, Ishin! will take you on a journey through this fascinating time period!
A great first hand experience like that is worth a 9 out of 10
The sound track for this game is nothing entirely special, but it gets the job done. Most of the time you’ll be listening to the sound of your footsteps treading along a bustling Japanese village, and that much is done really well. They made an effort to create a realistic atmosphere complete with the chitter chatter of locals, sounds of cooking in the shops, and the loud yelling of shop owners trying to grab your attention. In this regard, the sound is done really well.
The mini games will often organically include some great bits of very Traditional Japanese sound. With the fun addition of a karaoke mode, you get some very fun and authentic vocals and instrumentals. The karaoke sounds are very catchy too.
The few bits of music you do get include some basic Traditional Japanese-Style music mixed with guitars and drums to the background of battles, very much similar to how a Musou game sounds. You also get a nice opening song by the artist One OK Rock, who are known for doing another opening song for the anime series Naruto: Shippuden. It’s a great song too, and it fits really well with the setting the game creates.
Overall, the music isn’t bad (in fact it’s quite good) but it’s not terribly memorable. Counter that with a very well crafted city experience and some fun karaoke songs…
.. and you get a 8 out of 10
This game is absolutely gorgeous, and I really won’t have anything bad to say here. but I’ll break down the good for you:
First, the amount of detail put into this game is tremendous. Not unlike the others in the series, Ishin! really brings out the best qualities of the hardware it’s made for. The textures are smooth and amazing, the lighting effects are organic and pervasive, the character models are photo-realistic. Really in just the small amount of screenshots I’ve provided you can see this clearly.
Second, the game runs perfectly at 60fps. Obviously, I’m talking about the Playstation 4 version. The Playstation 3 version does not run at a solid 60, but still runs great for a ps3 title. It’s also worth noting that the in game cutscenes are pre-rendered and are the same on both versions of the game. that being said, the pre-rendered scenes run at a lower fps than the ps4’s in game engine does. We’ve officially gotten to the point where games look better/run better in-game than in cutscenes! Even at a lower fps, the cutscenes are still gorgeous and look cinema-quality realistic.
Ishin! runs at 60fps with a pain staking detailed environment and photo-realistic characters. I should not that the most impressive part of the game though is the fishing. (for some reason) The little animation of catching a fish utilizes the games graphical engine perfectly with the precise lighting to make each and every sea critter you catch the most realistic thing in the entire game. Really, it’s weird, but the fishing just looks too perfect.
This is probably the best looking Playstation 4 game I’ve seen yet.
A perfect 10 out of 10
To conclude, this game is really fantastic. It’s fun, smooth, with loads of content, gorgeous visuals, and authentic sound, and an interesting setting. You’ll want to get lost for hours in this game, whether that’s experiencing the story or messing around with the side quests and mini-games. With it’s only small short comings being a little repetition in random encounters and a lack of memorable music, Ryuu ga Gotoku Ishin! truly earns:
Overall Score: 9 out of 10
Ryuu ga Gotoku Ishin! is on the markets right now for Playstation 3 and 4! Each version is going to be right around 60$, and I have provided links to purchase them. Please just click the image of the appropriate game and it will redirect you.