Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

Like a Dragon Ishin Yakuza header

The release of Yakuza Ishin in the West has been a long time coming. First releasing in Japan in 2014, the game never saw a localised release in the West, despite the franchise’s growing popularity. Now, nine years later and we’re finally being treated to a remake under the series’ new name, Like a Dragon: Ishin.

Like a Dragon: Ishin is a historical spin-off that sees popular characters from the Yakuza series recast as figures from the late Edo Period, a time where Japan is on the brink of civil war, and foreign powers are looking to open up the country. At the forefront is a tale of loss, betrayal, and the push for power.

Kiryu Kazama is not the protagonist. Instead, his likeness and mannerisms are used for the character Sakamoto Ryoma, a real person who was a samurai during this time. However, this is not a biography, save for the fact both were from Tosa and sent to Edo to train in swordmanship. From there the events of Like A Dragon: Ishin follow an alternate history for Sakamoto set against the backdrop of the political turmoil of Japan. The likes of Goro Majima and Taiga Seijema join Kiryu in being recast, as do characters from across the Yakuza games, both heroes and villains.

Like a Dragon Ishin – Kiryu as Sakamoto

At first it can be strange seeing such iconic characters being used as new characters, but it is easy to get over that as the story draws you in, like typecast actors taking a turn in a different genre. As you would expect from a story set in the Like A Dragon series, there are plenty of twists and turns that see Sakamoto clash against powerful figures. Without spoiling the story, fans of the series should enjoy this tale. While it is not about the Yakuza, it has many similar trappings thanks to the different factions that play off against each other, putting Sakamoto right in the middle of it all. However, it can also be quite predictable at times with big twists being clearly signposted before they happen. There are still a few surprises, though.

The combat of Like A Dragon: Ishin changes things up from the mainline games, as Sakamoto is armed with a sword and a pistol. There are four combat styles available to players: Brawler is the street fighting style of using fists, Swordsman where Sakamoto uses a sword, Gunslinger is the gun based style, and Wild Dancer is a mix of sword and gun combat. Each style then has its own abilities wheel in which you can unlock new attacks and improve the power of each. The wheels also have locked abilities that can only be unlocked if you train with the relevant trainer, who you can discover through Ishin’s substories.

Like a Dragon Ishin – Gunslinger Style

You will rotate through the different styles depending on the situation. For example, Gunslinger is great for keeping distance from powerful foes, while Wild Dancer is good for taking on large groups. However, it was Swordsman that I leant on most heavily, and this partly came down to loot as swords are much easier to acquire than guns, unless you go out of your way to buy some or work through the crafting levels at the Blacksmith. Brawler was my least used due to it being the least effective against the groups that roam the streets of Kyo.

In addition to these styles, Sakamoto gets access to trooper cards after a certain point of the story. These trooper cards grant additional abilities to be used in fights from granting health to carrying out high damage attacks. The trooper cards do level up the more they are used, and there are different categories involving rarity – the more rare a card, the more impactful its ability is likely to be. Trooper cards can be acquired through recruiting at Sakamoto’s base, recruiting some fighters off the streets, or helping people in substories. There is also the option to manually activate the cards, or to have them trigger automatically. Even if you choose to go automatic, you can still trigger manually if you need to. Generally, the timing of automatic triggers was fine.

Kyo, a fictionalised version of Kyoto, is the main city in which the story of Like A Dragon: Ishin takes place, and it really feels alive. Around each corner there seems to something to do, or you will see store owners calling out to potential customers about their wares. As you stroll the streets substories will be triggered which see Sakamoto being dragged into all sorts of shenanigans, from queuing for inari to protecting people from danger. On top of the substories that you run into, you can form bonds with various people across the city, which will unlock more substories, and give more depth to the world of Ishin. You can find yourself traipsing all over the city wanting to complete the stories and build those relationships.

It’s a major departure from the likes of Kamurocho and Osaka, having less of a visual sensory overload than those modern day cities. The different areas of the city have their own looks to them, reflecting what you will find in those places from the central markets to the poor, run down areas.

Like a Dragon Ishin – Karaoke

The Like A Dragon series is known for its minigames, and you will be happy to know Kyo does not disappoint. Sakamoto can relax with karaoke, farming, cooking, running a small delivery business, dancing, gambling, and chicken racing. Doing these and other activities grants Virtue which can be spent to unlock bonuses. You will get big Virtue points through completing Diligence Records activities, such as eating at restaurants and harvesting different produce.

Like A Dragon Ishin is a fun game bringing the various pieces together well. However, there were some bugs present in this build, which are likely to be fixed. The bugs encountered included long pauses between encountering gangs to combat starting, bosses falling out area and through the floor which counted as defeating the boss, and an amusing one where a person was horizontally through a bridge with their dog trotting alongside them.

Like A Dragon: Ishin is a really fun spin off for this long-running series. Many of the big characters from the mainline Yakuza games, bar some of the newer games, are recast as new ones but none of the impact is lost. Edo Period Kyo is a great city to explore with plenty to offer players, and the combat styles are really fun to experiment with, even if Brawler is a bit wasted. The long wait for a Western release has been worth it.
  • Ishin’s story is well told
  • Kyo is really fun to explore
  • Different combat options and depths of trooper cards
  • Brawler style is a bit of a useless combat class
  • Bugs such as odd pauses and enemies falling out of area
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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.