Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review – A Yakuza Game of Days Gone By
Like a Dragon: Ishin stands out from the rest of the franchise due to its unique historical setting. The game takes players back in time to Japan’s 19th century, allowing them to explore the samurai lifestyle and witness the country’s political turmoil during the end of the Edo period. The game’s core gameplay mechanics are similar to the previous Like a Dragon title, with players engaging in fast-paced battles, completing quests, and building relationships with the game’s cast of characters. However, the game’s historical twist offers a refreshing and unique experience that sets it apart from the rest of the franchise.
One of the game’s standout features is its setting, which draws inspiration from Japan’s rich history. From the bustling streets of Kyo to the majestic samurai castles, Like a Dragon: Ishin immerses players in a world that is both fascinating and captivating. However, the game’s focus on historical accuracy may pose a barrier for some players who are not familiar with Japanese history. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to invest the time and effort into learning about the setting, the game can be an enjoyable experience that offers a unique perspective on the Like a Dragon franchise.
Like a Dragon: Ishin stars Sakamoto Ryoma, who fans of the franchise may be familiar with as his likeness appears to be based on Kiryu Kazama. Each of the historical characters is given the appearance of some of the key characters in the Yakuza franchise, so while there is no Goro Majima in this installment, there are plenty of familiar faces. This provides the story with an edge, especially for fans of the franchise. The story plays out in typical Yakuza fashion, starting with murder as Sakamoto Ryoma is wrongly accused of killing his mentor. However, this story beat is common across the various Yakuza games in the franchise, so it doesn’t quite manage to pull us in like it used to.
That said, the game does offer plenty of interesting cinematics and story beats with a powerful cast of characters. Like other games in the series, there are substories and more than a dozen minigames that can be played. The fun lies in exploring the locales, acting like a samurai, and attempting to help the common folks. The substories have a feudal-era Japanese theme, making them feel vastly different from the modern-era games. The combat is refreshing, with four distinct combat styles, each offering a unique mix of slow and fast-paced attacks.
While the modern-era Yakuza games have mostly been brawlers, Like a Dragon: Ishin appears to focus more on a methodical fighting style. There is a classic Brawler fighting style available to pick from, but there are three other distinct styles as well: Swordsman, Wild Dancer, and Gunman. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and your favorite may depend on how you play the game, but my pick was the Wild Dancer style. This style mixes the ferocity of the Swordsman with the effectiveness of the Gunman style. These styles have their upgrade board where each upgrade is linked to a node. Ability points are usually offered after battles depending on the stylish points gained after it, compelling us to be more effective in eliminating enemies.
Like a Dragon: Ishin offers an open-world experience with a lively city, and just like other Yakuza games, the world never feels empty or boring. There are plenty of substories to tackle, so aside from the main story, there is always something to complete. While the game initially begins in the Tosa district in a very small location, the world map gradually opens up after the player reaches Kyo, which was Japan’s capital city during the 19th century. This city is divided into various districts that open up over time. I do find the opening chapter a little slow, especially if you are coming off the previous Like a Dragon game, but there are many exciting opportunities once the game opens up properly.
One of the new additions in this remake is the Trooper Cards, which grant special abilities to use in combat. They are more tuned to be collectibles and offer cameos from popular celebrities like Kenny Omega or Rahul Kohli, as well as some based on influencers. While I am not a fan of these cards, there are also cards based on fan-favorite characters from the Like a Dragon series, which are always interesting to find. I never found the game to be challenging enough to need additional buffs from these cards, so I just consider them another set of collectibles.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is a remake of a game that launched almost 9 years ago, so it does not offer a significant visual jump. The cutscenes are nice, but the overall world can feel flat compared to some of the more recent entries in the franchise. The regular cutscenes look dated, and there are visual inconsistencies in some of the cutscenes, such as shadows not rendering properly or looking odd. These issues can have an impact on the world looking flat at times. Additionally, I did notice a few minor bugs, such as enemies running around held back by invisible walls. Overall, this is a decent remake but not something to write home about. I feel that the Yakuza Kiwami games offered better visuals and a more polished presentation than Like a Dragon: Ishin.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is a fresh take on the Yakuza franchise, placing the story in a vibrant, open-world 19th-century Japan with an abundance of districts and side missions to explore. The combat system is also a breath of fresh air with four combat styles offering a blend of fast and slow-paced attacks. Although the game’s Trooper Cards provide special abilities, they may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, the game’s graphics are outdated, with minor glitches, but it’s a satisfactory remake of a title that was released nearly a decade ago.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! Game Information
- Price: $59.99
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- Platform: PS5 (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher