Why I Am Disappointed In Like A Dragon Ishin Kiwami

Last week, Sega and RGG Studios released Like a Dragon Ishin, an Unreal Engine 4 remake of 2014’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin. This remake was one of my most anticipated titles of the year as I am a huge fan of the original Ishin. I bought the remake on day 1 and like every other Like a Dragon game, I played it to near 100%. So, what did I think?

To say I would be mixed on the remake would be an understatement. I think Ishin Kiwami is a good game that is perfectly fine to play if you haven’t played the original, however as someone who can and has played the original I found the mountain of small changes in Ishin Kiwami slowly brought my opinion on the game lower and lower.

I’ve never been the type of person to say, “They changed it, so it’s bad now.” When the trailers for the remake showed off elements like the card system, I was skeptical but willing to give it a chance. I even defended the card system as I felt it could work well if the game was rebalanced around it.

No, my issues with Ishin Kiwami lie more in how these changes affected an overall unchanged game. Unlike Yakuza Kiwami or Yakuza Kiwami 2, Ishin Kiwami offers a very close experience to the original. While those games were remaking PS2 games to PS3/4, respectively, Ishin Kiwami is remaking a PS3/4 game to a PS4/5 game and, as such offers a very similar experience. An experience that I found worse.

Before I begin explaining my gripes with the game in detail, allow me to open with some positives about the game. For one, this game is absolutely beautiful. In interviews before release, RGG said they switched to Unreal Engine for Ishin Kiwami as it was better at portraying outdoor, daytime, non-city areas than their own engines and I have to agree with that. The environments in this game can look absolutely stunning at times.

While I think many changes made to the game make Ishin Kiwami a less fun experience, there are many changes that I quite enjoy that make aspects of Ishin Kiwami more convenient to play than the original.

The best of these changes is related 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 below, 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 have 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 imbue on to weapons.

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.

I absolutely detest this change. Not only is relying on RNG to obtain seals simply annoying, but it also results in the seal system as a whole being significantly less interesting. In the original Ishin you could put any weapon’s exclusive seal onto any other weapon. This resulted in some really cool weapon builds as I personally would do stuff like put the seal that allows you to fire two bullets at once on any gun I could.

Because Ishin Kiwami’s seal system is only related to randomly dropped seals, there is significantly less experimentation and variety to those seals. You’ll often only be able to transfer small stat boosts like “deal 2% more damage in brawler style” as opposed to transfering the more interesting ones which are now exclusive to the weapon they’re attached to.

Weapon seals aren’t the only combat change that I found disappointing in Ishin Kiwami, I found the combat of the game itself to be significantly less satisfying than the original.

Everything about the game’s combat has been rebalanced to be easier than the original. It’s hard to accurately judge if enemies have less health than they did in the original as while the original used a traditional Like a Dragon health UI that gave enemies multiple health bars, Ishin Kiwami instead opted to give all enemies and bosses a single health bar.

Even though it’s hard to gauge how much health enemies have now, I can confidently say they have less. Bosses in this game are all made of paper, with even a single heat action taking away chunks of their health bar. When I fought Amon in this game, he went down in 2 minutes. I used a single healing item during that fight. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me as I witnessed a once fun and challenging fight be transformed into a complete farce.

I’ve never been an advocate of “If it’s not hard, it’s bad” but I believe when you take a game like the original Ishin which required more focus than the average Like a Dragon game, even on normal difficulty, and make it one of the easiest game in the franchise then you’re doing a dishonor to the original.

Difficulty wasn’t the only gameplay adjustment in Ishin Kiwami, though. There are several balancing changes that affect how Ryoma plays and which styles are worth using in this game. The most noticeable of these, though, is how many nerfs the Wild Dancer combat style received.

Wild Dancer style has had a load of small changes that just don’t make it fun to use anymore. In the original Ishin if you activated the style’s R2 attack, Dragon God Dance, and balanced yourself right next to an enemy, you could successfully juggle them on your sword during the attack for repeated damage. While this is technically still possible in Ishin Kiwami, it has been made much harder as the attack bounces enemies to the ground much faster now. I ended up using this attack significantly less in Kiwami as it just didn’t feel worth the heat cost.

Speaking of actions no longer worth the heat cost, 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 was 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.

This was one of my favorite heat actions in the entire franchise, but now I used it a total of three times in the entire game. Heck, I used Wild Dancer style less as a whole in Ishin Kiwami. It was just much less fun to use whenever I remembered how it played in the original.

Although, it’s not like Ishin Kiwami as a whole encourages using all of your styles. As part of the game’s rebalancing, dungeons have been filled with more armored enemies than they were before. The armor of these enemies must first be destroyed with your sword or many, many, many attacks with your other styles before you can actually damage the enemies.

While this mechanic existed in the original game, it wasn’t widespread until the final set of dungeons. Ishin Kiwami gives every single enemy an armored health bar by the time you’re doing the second tier of dungeons. This change heavily discourages players from switching between various styles in dungeons as they need to play as the swordsman style to take care of these armored health bars.

I believe the reason for this change is that armored enemies’ armor is Ishin Kiwami’s only secondary form of health, and because of that, RGG gave it to every enemy. However, this has resulted in a system that actively discourages switching between combat styles.

This health bar change isn’t the only rebalancing dungeons have received, though. In the original Ishin, your equipped cards would massively raise your attack, while in turn, enemies in dungeons could kill you in only a few strikes. This made dungeons a very unique experience compared to the usual Yakuza gameplay as they emphasized speedily taking down your enemies or skilled dodging.

Because the card system is ever present in Ishin Kiwami, the stat buffs it gave have been greatly reduced. Enemies in dungeons have also been nerfed to not kill you nearly instantly. While this sounds like a reasonable balance change at first, the end result is a pain for anyone who wants to 100% the game.

Because dungeons are the primary way of getting materials for forging weapons, you are expected to play each dungeon dozens of times to get these materials. In the original Ishin, this was done to encourage the use of the Vita companion app, which allowed you to grind through dungeons on the Vita. With each dungeon taking significantly longer to complete in Ishin Kiwami, this results in a much more painful grinding experience as getting any item that isn’t the one you need means playing through the same dungeon yet again in a dungeon crawl that can take up to fifteen extra minutes.

Grinding materials was never the highlight of Ishin’s dungeons, but the balancing changes made to Ishin Kiwami have made this already painful experience even worse than it was before.

Ishin Kiwami, unfortunately, also has a litany of performance issues too. While I had only occasionally experienced slow-down during combat in Kiwami, it had happened enough to be a noticeable problem. Returning minigames from previous games in particular had performance issues as both Mahjong and Koi Koi would lag and sometimes not have text pop up until twenty seconds after it was supposed to.

I feel like for the past week I’ve been too hard on Ishin Kiwami whenever I talk about the combat, But the original Ishin’s gameplay was so perfectly put together that it was in my top 3 games in the franchise despite not being able to read it. It had my favorite combat easily. All these changes bring Kiwami down for me.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention the new, revamped, card system at all during my above rantings. That’s because I honestly don’t have a problem with it. Ishin Kiwami was at its most fun for me when I was comboing these new super-powered cards together in unique ways that made the game feel different from any other game in the Like a Dragon franchise. It was a new, unique experience for me that I enjoyed. Using Alex Moukala to explode the ground around me and knock enemies away before transitioning to Reiji Ishioda to perform a circle slash on those same enemies and finishing the combo by summoning a giant bear is such a satisfying thing to do.

And while that’s good and I would still recommend Ishin Kiwami to people who can’t play the original, I absolutely can’t recommend it to people who can play the original. The original Ishin’s combat is just amazing to me and even though the experience Ishin Kiwami offers is passable I cannot see myself ever returning to it over the original.

1 thought on “Why I Am Disappointed In Like A Dragon Ishin Kiwami”

  1. So…if this series is going to get that first Game of the Year nom from The Game Awards, would you say it’s definitely down to Gaiden coming before late November?

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