Who is Ryoma Sakamoto? Differences Between Real Life and Like a Dragon: Ishin!

How does Ishin translate Ryoma's real-life stories into gameplay?

by Marc Magrini
Image: SEGA

Like a Dragon: Ishin! is unlike other titles that came before it. Though it features guest cameos in a similar fashion to previous Yakuza games, it also focuses on the real-life story of the Meiji Restoration. This means that players actually take control of a historical figure in the game, though his portrayal isn’t entirely accurate. Now that this long-awaited remake has been released outside of Japan, fans will surely want to know who Ryoma Sakamoto was and how different his portrayal is in Like a Dragon: Ishin!

All Ryoma Sakamoto Differences from Real Life and Like a Dragon: Ishin! Explained

In Ishin, Ryoma Sakamoto is a low-class samurai warrior that joins his sworn brother Takechi and adoptive father Toyo in attempting to take down Tosa’s class system. This is similar to the real-life Ryoma Sakamoto, though Takechi was simply Ryoma’s friend and the two had no relation to Toyo. Both portrayals of Ryoma also had him abandoning his clan on penalty of death. These are the biggest similarities between the counterparts, but diving into spoiler territory will reveal some pretty major differences.

Related: Like a Dragon: Ishin Review

Though the in-game counterpart would take the name Saito Hajime, the real Hajime was a different person entirely, joining the Shinsengumi separately from Ryoma. Additionally, there does not seem to be a recorded instanced of someone impersonating Ryoma in his lifetime. While both versions of him provided negotiations that led to the Shogun ending the Bakufu, their methods — and subsequent assassinations — varied greatly.

Image: SEGA

The assassination performed on Ryoma in Ishin is done against his impostor, with Hajime — secretly Ryoma himself — joining the attack. Many traits of the real-life Ryoma are reflected in the false version from Ishin, from his mentor Katsu to his alliance with the Satsuma and Choshu domains. There’s even a photograph of the real Ryoma that the in-game impostor mimics. A few traits from Hajime’s two versions are shared as well, including participation in the Ikedaya Incident and role as third captain of the Shinsengumi, but he lacked any connection to Ryoma.

Put simply, the only things similar about Ryoma’s real-life and Ishin counterparts are their general backstory and the events that took place around them. It’s important to note how symbolic much of Ishin’s story is, especially in the later chapters. One way you could think about it is seeing Ishin as historical fan-fiction. It might not be entirely accurate, but it provides an interesting way to learn about important Japanese events.

- This article was updated on February 21st, 2023