Yakuza: Ishin

PS3, PS4

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Sega De­vel­oper Yakuza Stu­dio For­mat PS3, PS4 Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Out now (JP)

Yakuza Stu­dio head Toshihiro Nagoshi warned us at last year’s Tokyo Game Show that Ryu Ga Go­toku: Ishin, the lat­est pe­riod drama spinoff from what western play­ers know as the Yakuza se­ries, would take lit­tle ad­van­tage of Sony’s new con­sole be­cause it was be­ing made for PS3 as well. “PS4 is cheaper than hard­ware used to be,” he told us, “but it’s still not cheap, so I de­cided we’d be let­ting our fans down if we didn’t also re­lease a PS3 ver­sion.”

It shows. On PS4, Ishin’s pr­eren­dered en­vi­ron­ments and slightly wooden char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tions mean it looks like a high-end PS3 game, so it’s hardly a show­case for the con­sole with which it shared a Ja­panese launch date. ‘Ishin’, mean­while, means ‘ref­or­ma­tion’ or ‘revo­lu­tion’, but a flatly lit­eral trans­la­tion could be mis­lead­ing. What the sub­ti­tle wants to in­voke is the Meiji Restora­tion pe­riod of Ja­panese po­lit­i­cal his­tory, which be­gan in early 1868. The game doesn’t take place dur­ing the restora­tion it­self, but it’s set in the pe­riod leading up to it, cul­mi­nat­ing the mo­ment the ba­ton is passed from a gen­er­a­tion raised in hard­ship to one raised in pros­per­ity.

That serves as a metaphor for Ishin as a whole, since it seems that Nagoshi and com­pany are re­luc­tant to let go of the old ways. PS4’s Share but­ton fea­tures, con­sid­ered an in­valu­able word-of-mouth mar­ket­ing tool by most de­vel­op­ers and a key fea­ture for early adopters, are avail­able in only a few spe­cific parts of the game. DualShock 4’s touch­pad of­fers map func­tion­al­ity, Re­mote Play with Vita works smoothly, and there’s a com­pan­ion app for on-the-go brawl­ing (see ‘Data ronin’). It’s a scant up­grade, though, es­pe­cially given

Ishin’s reams of un­voiced text, tu­to­ri­als that tell rather than show, load screens be­tween ar­eas – al­beit brief ones – and clunky man­ual save sys­tem, all of which are jar­ring pres­ences in a game run­ning on hard­ware that still smells of its pack­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Of course, Nagoshi knows that the new gen­er­a­tion is not where the bulk of his au­di­ence is, as ev­i­denced by Me­dia Cre­ate’s first-weekend fig­ures, with sales on PS3 com­fort­ably out­strip­ping those of the PS4 ver­sion. The Yakuza games are main­stream block­busters in Ja­pan, and their key mer­its – en­gag­ing drama, beau­ti­fully ren­dered and acted cutscenes, gritty art di­rec­tion, and a de­cep­tively sim­ple com­bat sys­tem – are all de­signed with a large au­di­ence in mind. In Ja­pan, such an au­di­ence does not yet ex­ist on PS4. Mak­ing the likes of Ishin exclusive to the new plat­form might help cre­ate one, but clearly the bot­tom line has taken pri­or­ity.

The story fol­lows Ry­oma Sakamoto, a mer­chant sa­mu­rai who trained in Edo un­der

mas­ter swords­man Sada­kichi Chiba and went on to be­come a lynch­pin in the restora­tion of power from the mil­i­tary shogu­nates to the Em­peror just as Ja­pan was fac­ing im­posed west­ern­i­sa­tion at the hands of Com­modore Perry’s ‘black ships’. Sakamoto’s way with diplo­macy, and staunch moral val­ues, helped shape the Ja­pan we know to­day, ush­er­ing in the Meiji Restora­tion and an end to nearly 300 years of in­su­lar shogu­nate rule. Dur­ing this pe­riod, guide­lines for govern­ment were laid down that re­main in place to this day. For his ef­forts, Sakamoto was mur­dered by an un­known as­sailant in De­cem­ber 1867, weeks be­fore the Restora­tion kicked off in earnest.

Nagoshi’s Yakuza Stu­dio breathes life into the story with all the sur­plus of charm we’ve come to ex­pect from the se­ries. Char­ac­ters from the main Yakuza games are cast as his­tor­i­cal he­roes, with Kazuma Kiryu nat­u­rally play­ing the role of Sakamoto, and ap­pear­ances from stal­warts such as Shun Akiyama, Goro Ma­jima and Haruka Sawa­mura. Af­ter the first chap­ter sets the scene – Sakamoto re­turns to Tosa af­ter ten years in Edo, quickly be­comes em­broiled in a plot to over­throw the shogu­nate, but is framed for a mur­der much closer to home that forces him to flee in dis­grace – we then re­lo­cate to a bustling, 19th-century Ky­oto.

The mise-en-scène is re­mark­able, but make no mis­take: this is tra­di­tional Yakuza fare, al­beit with a his­tor­i­cal twist. Sid­e­quests – or Sub Sto­ries, in Yakuza par­lance – re­veal un­seen sides of Sakamoto’s per­son­al­ity or add fur­ther his­tor­i­cal colour, such as the sar­cas­tic chants of “Ee ja nai ka!” (“Who cares!”) that were com­mon to protests in that era. Play Spots this time in­clude a va­ri­ety of pe­riod card games, as well as fish­ing, chicken-rac­ing and karaoke, the lat­ter still a clumsy but amus­ing rhythm game de­spite the leap to new hard­ware. Real-world dis­count store and se­ries sta­ple Don Qui­jote ap­pears, too.

One of Yakuza 4’ s great­est suc­cesses was its four fight­ing styles, one for each of its pro­tag­o­nists. There’s a nod to that here, de­spite the sin­gle playable char­ac­ter, with Sakamoto able to switch be­tween four dis­tinct ap­proaches us­ing the D-pad. There’s the clas­sic bare-knuckle brawl­ing, sword­play, an old-fash­ioned pis­tol, and a com­bi­na­tion of katana and gun. Com­bat it­self is as wel­com­ing and un­de­mand­ing as ever, with but­ton­mash­ing a per­fectly valid strat­egy and the op­tion to switch tem­po­rar­ily to easy mode af­ter re­peat­edly fail­ing the same fight. But pre­ci­sion play is re­warded. Learn­ing combos re­sults in a higher hit counter and splat­ters the screen with blood. En­coun­ters are as vi­o­lent they al­ways are, but in keep­ing with Nagoshi’s pol­icy of not pro­mot­ing wan­ton mur­der, de­feated op­po­nents usu­ally get up and leg it (af­ter a cou­ple of lines of di­a­logue in which they re­alise the er­ror of their ways and re­solve to live bet­ter lives) or stick around for a lengthy cutscene. The fights that pep­per the first few chap­ters of the main story also con­tinue a tra­di­tion of spec­ta­cle. One, for in­stance, takes place in a bath­house, with Sakamoto and his op­po­nent both naked, their mod­esty pro­tected only by clouds of steam.

One fight takes place in a bath­house, with Sakamoto and his op­po­nent both naked

As we go to press, there is no of­fi­cial word on a western re­lease of Yakuza: Ishin, but it would seem un­wise to hold your breath. Lo­cal­i­sa­tion of 2012’s Yakuza 5 has been ru­moured for some time, and de­spite be­ing a longed-for ad­di­tion to PS4’s slen­der soft­ware li­brary, a his­tor­i­cal epic such as Ishin would seem an even tougher sell than the main se­ries’ mod­ern-day set­ting. Given pub­lisher Sega’s on­go­ing risk aver­sion, it seems that

Ishin, like PS3 sa­mu­rai spinoff Yakuza Ken­zan, will only ever be sold in the east. And with its re­liance on old-fash­ioned kanji and thick Kansai di­alect, you’ll need a more-than-ad­e­quate grasp of Ja­panese to make it worth im­port­ing. But just as Ry­oma Sakamoto helped lay the ground­work for Ja­pan to trade on its own terms with the west all those years ago, it would be sat­is­fy­ing to see this bold and thor­oughly east­ern tale make the jour­ney over­seas. Bet­ter still would be for the next

Yakuza game to be built from the ground up for PS4, free of the all-too-ob­vi­ous shack­les of old con­sole hard­ware.

Main se­ries char­ac­ters (and their reg­u­lar voice ac­tors) play pe­riod roles. Haruka Sawa­mura plays an innkeeper who be­comes a close con­fi­dante to Kazuma Kiryu’s Ry­oma Sako­moto

TOP RIGHT Heisuke Todo, played here by Shigeki Baba, was a Shin­sen­gumi cap­tain and a prac­ti­tioner of Hokushin Itto-ryu, a grace­ful sword­play tech­nique that com­bines de­fence and of­fence into a sin­gle thrust.

BOT­TOM LEFT While Takechi Han­peita be­gins the game as Ry­oma Sakamoto’s close friend, his plan to ex­pel the shogu­nate and re­store power to the Em­peror re­sults in tragedy, and the two go their sep­a­rate ways. The real-life sa­mu­rai’s life ended in sep­puku (sui­cide).

BOT­TOM RIGHT Isami Kondo led the Shin­sen­gumi and, like Han­peita, isn’t por­trayed here by a Yakuza reg­u­lar. His­tory records that he was ex­e­cuted on the charge of Sakamoto’s mur­der

Toshihiro Nagoshi, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, Sega

Se­ries mad­man Goro Ma­jima plays Soji Okita of Ky­oto’s Shin­sen­gumi, a po­lice force tasked with pro­tect­ing the shogu­nate. He first ap­pears in chap­ter three of Ishin, in which Sakamoto seeks to in­fil­trate the Shin­sen­gumi

Al­though the PS4 ver­sion is not greatly en­hanced over PS3 vis­ually, Ishin’s cutscenes are as ef­fec­tive as ever, thanks to Yakuza Stu­dio’s de­tailed char­ac­ter art and ex­pres­sive fa­cial an­i­ma­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.