Early this week, Sega released Like a Dragon Ishin, a remake of a game by the same name. I absolutely love the original Ishin, I played through the game twice and 100%ed it despite not knowing any Japanese other than the words used for saving the game. Because I’m such a huge Ishin fan, when this remake was announced, I had put out an analysis of one of its trailers to see what had been changed. I planned for that to be my only word about changes the game had, but it would seem that article has been getting a lot of views lately from people who want to know exactly what was changed.
As such, I have decided to put together another, more in-depth, list of changes made to Like a Dragon Ishin now that I’ve gotten my hands on the game. We’ll cover each and every difference I noticed from the minute to the game-changing.
For the sake of reducing confusion, I shall refer to the original Ishin exclusively as Ishin and I’ll call the remake Ishin Kiwami. It just makes everything easier to read. With all of that out of the way, let’s get into things.
Major Gameplay Change – A Completely Reworked Blacksmith
Okay, let’s get the biggest thing out of the way first: The changes to the blacksmith and Ishin’s weapon upgrading system as a whole. The process of creating weapons has been visually enhanced in a way that makes actually obtaining a large amount of weapons possible. As seen in the images above, In the original Ishin you could only see what a single weapon at a time could be upgraded into while Ishin Kiwami has an entire tree of weapons visible at any given time.
This one small change makes getting strong weapons so much easier than in the original Ishin. Not only can you easily see what you never forged before but you can also look ahead in the weapon tree to make sure you have the correct materials for later weapons before wasting your time.
Unfortunately this convenient change comes with the caveat of two changes that make using the Blacksmith a much more painful experience for anyone who chooses to 100% Ishin Kiwami. Let’s start with the minor one: the Blacksmith itself no longer marks if you’ve forged a weapon already. Because of this you’ll constantly be exiting and reentering the menu to double check if you’ve made a weapon before. However, that change is nothing compared to the changes made to weapon seals.
Weapon skill seals have been completely reworked. Previously the way to get extra skills on a weapon was to sacrifice another weapon, giving the sacrificed weapon’s seal to the other. Now seals are items kept in your inventory separate from weapons that you ask the blacksmith to embue on to weapon.
The main method of obtaining seals is to fight enemies as both they and boxes in dungeons now have a chance of dropping skill seals as a reward. A secondary method of getting seals is to continuously forge weapons over and over hoping the weapon’s seals duplicate themselves randomly. I have no idea if there’s actually a consistent way to get them and it feels like pure RNG.
Finally, and this is a much more minor change than the above ones, a taxi has been added to the front of the blacksmith. Before, you would have to walk all the way from either Ginryu’s dojo or the Shinsengumi headquarters if you wanted to visit the blacksmith as those were the closest fast travel locations. This added convenience saves heaps of time!
Major Gameplay Change – A Reworked Card System
Let us now address the elephant in the room, the card system. This has been the most controversial gameplay change Ishin Kiwami made by far as it turned this mechanic that was previously only available in dungeons and made it a prevalent mechanic throughout the entire game.
In addition to this, what cards actually do now has been changed completely. In the original Ishin, cards provided stat buffs as well as very minor skills like throwing a small explosive as you fought. Now, nearly every card will have Sakamoto perform a magical attack, such as electrifying enemies ahead of him or summoning a torrent of fire.
The purpose of this article is not to condemn or praise the card system (That’ll be what my actual review of Ishin Kiwami is for, stay tuned for that), however it is worth noting right now that this system can make or break the game for you as the health and attack upgrades that cards give you can serve as a substitute for spending long periods of time at the blacksmith.
Like a Dragon fans, prepare yourselves for what is bound to be several years of people debating the card system and if it and its RPG elements have a place in the action brawler gameplay of the Like a Dragon franchise.
Major Gameplay Change – Eating Doesn’t Give Stat Boosts
In most Like a Dragon games, eating food will temporarily give you stat boosts like raised attack for a few fights. Ishin was no different in this regard as eating could increase three of your stats (Don’t ask me which, I can’t read Japanese). For some reason, despite the game adding several other JRPG elements, this mechanic has been removed.
This is honestly baffling to me as this mechanic would have fit in perfectly with the other RPG elements featured prominently in Ishin Kiwami.
Major Aesthetic Change – A Reworked UI
Now that the card system is an ever present factor in Ishin Kiwami’s gameplay, the UI of the game is being reworked to accommodate this. Above I provided two images for you to compare. To address the elephant in the room first, the card system is every present and take up the bottom left of your screen at all times.
The cards being on screen isn’t the only UI change though, as you can see in the image above there are three major changes to how battles look in Ishin Kiwami:
1. The minimap is now in the bottom right as opposed to the traditional bottom left
2. The combo meter from the original Ishin is now in the top right of the screen as opposed to the center right.
3. As you deal damage to enemies the amount of damage you deal will appear over their head similar to Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
4. Because eating food no longer gives stat boosts, the stat boost icons are no longer below your health.
The last of these is the most drastic change as this makes Ishin Kiwami the first Like a Dragon game with traditional combat to be using the JRPG numbers and stats from Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Major Aesthetic Change – All Enemies Have a Single Health Bar
Unlike all previous action-gameplay Like a Dragon games where bosses would have multiple health bars of varying colors to signify exactly how high their health is, the bosses in Ishin Kiwami have only a single health bar like enemies in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
This isn’t to say all enemies have the same amount of health though, as we discussed before the UI changes in Ishin Kiwami allow us to see how much damage we’re doing at any give time. Thus we can see some enemies do have more health than others, its just that their health bar looks identical to everyone else’s.
Of all the changes in Ishin Kiwami, this is the one I dislike the most. This results in all bosses in the game feeling like they have the same amount of health, even if the game insists otherwise with its damage numbers. It makes many boss encounters lack the presence that they should have.
Major Change – Dungeons
Dungeons have been changed completely in Ishin Kiwami both aesthetically and gameplay wise. We’ll start with the aesthetic changes and work our way up to the differences in gameplay.
Visually, dungeons have been given a completely different vibe from the original game. The bright and garish corridors of the original game’s dungeons when combined with Unreal Engine’s lighting creates an almost entirely different atmosphere. I actually quite enjoy this change existing as after grinding these dungeons for hours in the original it was nice to have different visuals.
The third and final set of dungeons has also been changed from a Toyotomi stronghold to a stronghold of the Sanada clan. The symbols on all of the doors in this dungeon as well as the final boss design have been adjusted to match this change.
Now, when talking about the gameplay, dungeons are almost unrecognizable. The layouts of each dungeon and the enemy placements are the same, but the process of fighting through them has been changed. In the original Ishin, cards increased your attack stat enough to kill a majority of enemies in dungeon enemies in only a few attacks, but enemies could also insta-kill you nearly instantly in turn. This made fighting through dungeons a quick in and out experience that rarely took more than a few minutes.
The reason for this is that dungeons were meant to be ground for hours in order to obtain materials for creating weapons. The original game’s vita companion app even let you play dungeons on it to help with the grind.
However, because cards in Ishin Kiwami are an ever present mechanic they do not raise your attack nearly as much as they did before. Because of this dungeons have been completely rebalanced with you and enemies both dealing normal damage to each other. This turns every single dungeon from a few minute distraction to a nearly fifteen minute journey through hordes of enemies that take a long time to defeat.
Unfortunately, the amount of items you’ll need from dungeons was completely unchanged and as such you need to play these longer dungeons the same amount of times you needed to play them in the originals. This in turn creates a much longer grinding experience.
One final change I would like to highlight from dungeons is that several dungeons in the original restricted what cards you were allowed to bring in them. Some dungeons only allowed you to bring sword users, some only allowed spear users, etc. Ishin Kiwami has opted to completely remove these restrictions and allows you to use any card in any dungeons. For some reason though dungeon names are unchanged so you get awkward moments like the “Spear troop training” missions not requiring you to bring any spear troop cards.
There is another change that effects dungeons that is worth speaking about, but I’ll give it its own section as this extends beyond dungeons and into the main game
Major Gameplay Change – Large Enemies
Several sections of Ishin Kiwami have added new enemies the size of a colossus. These enemies function the same as normal enemies but they’ll move slower, hit harder, and have some projectiles they can throw at you. They also cannot be knocked over and certain heat actions/cards can’t be used on them.
These enemies almost always come with a health bar of armor that you must break with your sword, preventing you from simply shooting them from a distance.
Most players will first encounter these enemies in the final dungeon in the first tier of the dungeon list but before long they begin popping up in the main game as several action segments add at least one. Typically these larger enemies take the place of enemies that had multiple health bars in the original game.
This is likely going to cause debate among the fandom as adding most fantastical elements like this is always a heated talking point between Like a Dragon fans.
Minor Gameplay Change – A Shorter Turret Section
During Chapter 11 of Ishin you’ll be encouraged by Okita to man a cannon and shoot down a group of enemies standing in front of a doorway. In the original game there were three waves of enemies that appeared and were quickly annihilated by Ryoma’s cannon.
Ishin Kiwami has shortened this section tremendously to only a single wave with fewer enemies. This single wave does, however, have an addition of two large enemies that are annihilated as easily as the small peons.
Minor Gameplay Change – A Slightly Reaaranged World
What many people who haven’t played the original Ishin likely haven’t noticed is that the way a lot of buildings work has been changed for Ishin Kiwami. In the original game buildings all worked as they did in Yakuza 1-5, where you had to press X to enter them and then wait for them to load. Building interiors existed on an entirely different map from the rest of the world all together.
In Ishin Kiwami however, several buildings have had their doors pried open and allow you to just walk into them like in the Dragon Engine era Like a Dragon games. While not every building has been rearranged, the ones you’ll be visiting most such as the blacksmith, the pawn shop, and several restaurants have been rearranged. This cuts down the amount of loading screens the game has and is overall just a nice, convenient, change.
Minor Aestheic Change – Changed Button Prompts
Because the original Ishin was exclusive to Sony’s family of consoles there were several minigames where the button prompts would be color coded to those of a Playstation controller’s buttons. Now that the game is multiplatform every console has its own button prompts. As you can see in the example above, the button prompts on PS5 are completely grayscaled to match the PS5 controller.
These changed button prompts are most noticeable during the Udon Serving minigame and Karaoke minigame as they both had very bright and colorful button prompts before.
Not all button prompts have been changed, though. The prompts during the Buyo Dancing minigame are colored to match the classic Sony buttons no matter what system you play on.
Major Gameplay Change – The Ability To Save Anywhere
One thing that I feel we all take for granted in the modern era of gaming is the death of the save point and the ability to just stop playing a game whenever you want. The Like a Dragon franchise previously had you save your game via phone booths scattered around Kamurocho, and Ishin, in turn, had various shrines scattered around its city that you could save at.
Now that Ishin Kiwami allows the player to save at any given time from the pause menu these shrines have all but had their purpose removed, however they still exist in the game as they continue to serve two other functions. The first of which is to allow the player to access their storage as this game still uses the original Ishin’s inventory. The second purpose is to pray to them and gain a small amount of virtue and also check off that “pray 100 times” item from your completion list.
Because they still serve these two purposes, it’s possible that a person playing Ishin Kiwami for the first time won’t realize these used to be the Ishin equivalent to phone booths, but we veterans remember.
Minigame Change – New Karaoke Songs
The most famous minigame in the Like a Dragon franchise is undeniably Karaoke and Ishin Kiwami has decided to completely lean into that. In addition to the original game’s five Karaoke songs, the game has added two new ones to create a total of seven.
Of these two new songs, True Hearted Samurai is a completely new composition created for Ishin Kiwami with a music video featuring Ryoma’s in-game model interacting with an FMV of real girls.
The second new song however is a series classic as the music team has remixed the ever popular Baka Mitai to fit Ishin’s setting. The music video for Baka Mitai has also been reworked to match the Bakamatsu setting.
Major Aesthetic Change – Main Characters being Recast
When speaking about Ishin Kiwami’s aesthetic changes, this is as big an elephant in the room as the card system was to gameplay changes. As you have all likely heard, many of the Shinsengumi’s characters will be having their models changed to resemble characters from Yakuzas 0-7, cutting out many characters from Yakuzas 2-5.
Here is a link to an image of every recast member of the Shinsengumi so you may see how drastic a change this is
The recast cast members are as follows
- Kashitaro Ito (Originally Goh Hamazaki) now resembles Daisaku Kuze
- Kanryusai Takeda (Originally Hiroshi Hayashi) now resembles Hiroki Awano
- Mikisaburo Suzuki (Orginally Ken Ogita) now resembles Kanji Koshimaru
- Toudou Heisuke (Originally Shingeki Baba) now resembles Tianyou Zhao
- Sanjuro Tani (Originally Yahata) now resembles Akira Mabuchi
- Hanepita Takechi (Originally a new character model) now resembles Keiji Shibusawa
- Rintaro Katsua (Originally Minoru Aoyama) now resembles Masato Arakawa
- Isami Kondou (Originally a new character model) now resembles Koichi Adachi
- Susumu Yamazaki (Originally Hiroshi Kugihara) now resembles Joon-Gi Han
- Oryou (Originally a new character model) now resembles Yuki
- Yamanami Keisuke (Originally Isao Katsuragi) now resembles Masaru Sera
- Yoshida Toshimaro (Originally Kamon Kanai) now resembles Futoshi Shimano
This is easily the most controversial change for Ishin Kiwami and one we will be hearing arguments about for years to come as certain characters (Most notably Yamazaki and Heisuke) have an entirely different feel to their character via the new actors.
Minor Gameplay Change – Transphobic Substory Removed
While I love the original version of Ishin, it was far from a perfect game. The gaming landscape in the late 2000s and early 2010s had a lot of flaws and content made in bad faith. The Like a Dragon franchise was no exception to this. Yakuza 3’s original release infamously had a lot of substories involving a trans woman known as Michiru and the original Ishin followed right in that game’s footsteps with a transphobic substory of its own.
This substory involved Ryoma searching for a ‘kama (sickle) man’ and instead running into a group of ‘okama’ that he proceeds to fight. This substory then ends with Ryoma convincing one of the okama not to follow that lifestyle.
This substory is honestly disgusting both in story content and the visuals used to portray the okama. It is better off forgotten by everyone, and RGG was wise to remove it for the remake.
I will not be including any images of that substory in this article because I know if I do, it’ll only be used by the worst kind of person. Let us now more on to a significantly less uncomfortable piece of content.
Minor Gameplay Change – Photo Mode
One of the greatest aspects of modern gaming is the abundance of photo modes. A large amount of gamers love setting up picturesque situations in games and taking a photo of them and finally a Like a Dragon game allows them to properly do that.
The photo mode in this game isn’t very robust as the only character you have control over in it is Ryoma, however you do have a lot of control over him as you can place him in 40 different poses with seven different facial expressions.
Other effects you can apply in photo include 46 filters for your screen and nearly 300 stamps you place over your image.
It may not be the most robust photo mode in the world, but the existence of any sort of photo mode is a positive change.
Major Gameplay Change – New Substories
The Like a Dragon franchise is known for having a large amount of side quests that ranged from emotional to hilarious and the original Ishin was no exception, sporting 68 substories including a fight against the franchise’s recurring superboss Amon.
Ishin Kiwami has taken the liberty of expanding the amount of substories in the game via adding the fan favorite Yakuza 0 characters Bachus and Miss Tatsu. Miss Tatsu has three substories where she’ll take you around town to help save citizens from frivolous loansharks. She can be found standing outside the Blacksmith at any time, waiting for you to talk to her and go on a mission.
Meanwhile, Bacchus’ substories will have you run around the city gathering memoirs for him to read and study Japanese culture. These memoirs can be found on the ground outside of plot important location or in the locations of already completed substories. They sparkle in the same way the lottery tickets do, so make sure you pick them up if you pass them.
Major Minigame Change – Easier Buyo Dancing
Here’s a change that actually rubs me the wrong way. The hardest difficulty for each Buyo Dancing song has been made much easier in Ishin Kiwami. This change definitely flew over the heads of anyone who hasn’t played the original Ishin and likely wasn’t noticed by even Ishin fans who hadn’t played the original recently. I noticed however and below have provided two videos so you can compare the original vs new version of Heartbeat’s hardest difficulty.
As you can see, the beatmaps that once have you constantly switching between your controller buttons and your D-Pad have now been replaced with simple button mashing. This change saddens me as Heartbeat’s hardest difficulty is one of the only times in the franchise where a Like a Dragon rhythm minigame went beyond basic button presses and asked you to actually play a hard song to its beat. This simplified version of the song makes Buyo Dancing stand out less among the sea of other Like a Dragon Rhythm games.
Major Gameplay Change – Wild Dancer Has Been Nerfed
Of Ishin’s four gameplay styles, my favorite in the original game was easily Wild Dancer. This style sees Ryoma dual wield a sword and gun with fast paced movements to out maneuver enemies while damaging them. It is with a heavy heart that I say Ishin Kiwami nerfed this style heavily. It’s far from useless now but the changes do make it less fun to use for me personally.
The first change you may notice is that it’s much harder to juggle enemies off of your Dragon God Dance special ability now. Even when I’m spinning right next to them it’s as if they ignore my sword and don’t take damage. Because of this I find it much less viable to use this ability in street fights and dungeons despite using it all the time in the original game.
One of the earliest and also greatest heat actions you can obtain for the Wild Dancer style is Luxury and Splendor. This attack requires five entire levels of heat to perform but the result is one of the greatest, strongest, and longest heat actions in the series as Ryoma continues to slash at the enemy repeatedly. The attack is so strong that it has multiple extra QTEs the player is required to press to perform it correctly.
Ishin Kiwami drastically nerfs this attack by reducing the length, reducing the amount of damage it does, and completely removing the extra QTEs. Turning this super powerful but costly attack into one that isn’t even worth using as you’ll do more damage by doing multiple other heat actions with those five heat bars as opposed to wasting them on this one attack.
Below, I provided two videos to compare the attack in the original game vs. the attack in Ishin Kiwami.
Major Aesthetic Change – New Boss Themes
In the original Ishin several characters didn’t get their own boss themes and instead shared common boss themes that fit their status in the world. Ishin Kiwami has decided to rectify this by adding four new boss themes as well as reusing a boss theme from a previous game.
Now every member of the Shinsengumi you fight throughout Ishin Kiwami’s plot has a unique theme of their own when battling them. Outside of the Shinsengumi, the Mimawarigumi are given their own boss theme as well as the leader of the Choshu domain.
Minor Gameplay Change – You Can No Longer Freely Name Pets
In the original Ishin, whenever you adopted a pet the game would bring up a keyboard for you to type out a name for them. As you can see in the above image, this allowed me to give English names to my pets that looked very out of place in the game.
Ishin Kiwami has removed this feature altogether, instead opting to give players three choices for what to name each pet similar to the pet naming feature in 2021’s Lost Judgment.
Minor Aestheic Change – Removed Opening and Changed Credits Music
The original Ishin had a pre-title screen opening of Clock Strikes by One Ok Rock played over a music video of the game’s cutscenes. This same song then played at the very end of the game over the credits.
Like a Dragon Ishin meanwhile has no opening music video at all and the song has been replaced with another during the credits. Thankfully the game’s second credits song, With You, was completely unchanged.
And those are all the changes I noticed throughout my single playthrough of Ishin Kiwami. Some of them are positive changes while others are negative, it’s up to you personally to decide if these changes as a whole are positive or not. As for me, I’ll have a review out later this week to give my full thoughts on Ishin Kiwami as a remake so follow me and The Story Arc on Twitter or Tumblr so you don’t miss that.
I have yet to 100% the game yet and it’s inevitable that I’ll discover some more changes or be told I incorrectly talked about a change in the coming weeks. When I do, I’ll try my best to update this list to accommodate them. So comment on this site, Twitter, Tumblr, or whatever subreddit brought you here the changes you noticed so I can keep this article up to date!