There is little doubt that Ryu Ga Gotuku Studio, or RGG Studio, has reached a level of mainstream success thanks to the Yakuza series. What has always been a more Japan-centric franchise now has a global audience, and it is against this backdrop that Like a Dragon: Ishin! will be arriving early in 2023.
The original was only ever available in Japan, but this remake will be in the hands of fans all around the world, and as such, this means that the development team has even less room for error. In speaking to both Chief Director Hiroyuki Sakamoto and Executive Producer Masayoshi Yokoyama, there is a clear objective of making sure players are getting the best that the studio can offer.
One of those ways is the shift from the traditional proprietary Dragon Engine to Unreal Engine 4, due to the fact that the former wasn’t the best for daytime scenes, and there will be plenty of that in Like a Dragon: Ishin! It will also allow the “new group of all-star members” to stand out compared to the 2014 release.
Rather than focus on “fine-tuning the engine itself to the very last detail,” the team was able to count on “built-in tech” that brings a host of benefits to gameplay and visual fidelity, even if that itself required more work in “ensuring that the engine is acting the way that the studio wanted it to.”
The decision to remake Ishin was not made in haste, and RGG Studio has been mulling it over for quite some time. With fervent support shown by fans, and with no international access, it made for good timing to create “a localised version of the game for everybody to enjoy domestically and aboard.”
Like a Dragon: Ishin! will obviously tweak certain things beyond just the Unreal Engine 4 switch, starting with the story itself. This will largely be an altered narrative awaiting players in 2023, with new sub-stories added to flesh out the world even more. Of course, as shown in various trailers, we will be seeing some mighty familiar faces even in this period piece.
Set in the Edo period, the team had to “pay attention to the time period itself, taking into consideration that there was no electricity and stuff,” which meant the act of just walking around town had to be reevaluated. How “fighting in that environment” would also change, and RGG Studio has made every effort to think outside the box.
For the more globalised audience, care has been taken to use Like a Dragon: Ishin! as an educational opportunity with its in-game journal. Historical terminology will be explained, and there is “no prerequisite that you must know Japanese history to enjoy the game.” If you love the series thus far, then you should be in good company.
Other differences fans can expect in the remake are the various improvements made to enrich the gameplay, such as the ability to use different combat styles and Trooper cards beyond just the Battle Dungeon in the classic. The deckbuilding aspect remains due to its utility for players to explore and customise their play style, which becomes even more useful in moment-to-moment gameplay.
Combat remains a core part of the experience, and with the aforementioned combat styles and Trooper cards, this meant many hours were spent to ensure the right balance was found between the four options available to players. Having both swordplay and gunplay also presented a potential problem, something the studio “had to be careful with” so as not to make one style more viable than the other.
In essence, you should be “adjusting your combat style and the way to fight according to your enemy that you are going up against,” however, that’s not to say you cannot “choose and decide which style to use” according to your own preferences.
The upcoming release of Like a Dragon: Ishin! isn’t the only thing keeping RGG Studio busy, especially as it also revealed two other Yakuza games in the pipeline. However, fans need not worry about quality dropping, as the cohesive nature in which the studio works allows for collaborative work that leads to more refined products.
“It’s a large RGG Studio team that work on the same titles at different times and a different pace, and everything is just happening all the time. Everybody is part of one large team, and everybody is aware of what is going on within the studio itself. So they can participate in these different titles without getting confused,” shared the developers.
“And there’s a deep understanding meaning that they’re not losing track of what is happening around them. So, communication is very good within the team.”
Whether Like a Dragon: Ishin! delivers the same success as the mainline series remains a question that will be answered when it arrives in February next year, but the remake has also stoked the fires of another potential reimaging of an earlier spin-off, Like a Dragon: Kenzan!, but bad news for fans, that won’t be happening.
“The reason why it’s really difficult to create a remake is that there really is very little to take from the game aside from the basic outline,” and “it would require an entirely new game of its own to really give it the amount of attention that it needs,” explained Yokoyama. The battle system is also not entirely suitable for the modern combat experience, another reason why it remains a non-starter for RGG Studios.
Needless to say, excitement is palpable for Like a Dragon: Ishin! when it launches on 21 February 2023 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. And after hearing from the team, it would seem that RGG Studio has another big hit on its hands.