Like A Dragon: Ishin!

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2023


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS5 Review - 'Like a Dragon: Ishin!'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 17, 2023 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

In 1860s Kyo, a solemn samurai's fight for justice stands to change the course of Japan's history forever. Draw your blade and join the revolution in this heated historical adventure.

Buy Like A Dragon: Ishin!

The Yakuza/Like A Dragon series, which I'll be calling Like a Dragon, has been largely successful in shifting from cult games to modern classics. Pretty much every game in the franchise has made its way overseas. The most notable exception was the PS3 title, Like A Dragon: Ishin!, which was sometimes called "the lost Yakuza game." Thankfully, it is lost no more, as Like A Dragon: Ishin! has been remastered and remade for a new generation.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! is set in the 1860s, during one of Japan's most turbulent periods leading up to the Meiji Restoration. The game puts players in the shoes of Ryoma Sakamoto, a samurai from the small land of Tosa. Ryoma returns home from training in Edo to discover his adoptive father and brother are secretly planning a coup against the corrupt leadership. Unfortunately, he isn't there for long before his father is assassinated, he's framed for the crime, and he's forced to go on the run. Years later, he arrives at Japan's then-capital of Kyo. The only clue in his father's murder is the unique fighting style of the assassin; it's a style practiced exclusively by the Shinseigumi, the dangerous yakuza-like police force. Ryoma joins the Shinseigumi so he can learn the murderer's true identity, unaware that this simple action puts him on a crash course with history.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! does something odd in that it casts the same "actors" from other games in the series in new (often similar) roles. "Similar" doesn't mean identical, though. Ryoma isn't merely Kiryu in olden times. He's often serious, honorable and absurdly manly, but he reacts to things slightly differently than the modern Kiryu might. Some are incredibly similar. Soji, who is Majima right down to the eyepatch, is very familiar. A number of cast members — including Ryoma — are based on historical figures, and the plot is based on real-world events. Of course, it's all given the Like A Dragon style and quirky humor.

Ultimately, I found Ishin's setting to be a pleasant diversion from the standard Like A Dragon mold, but it's not one that I'm super eager to revisit. Like A Dragon's modern setting feel more distinctive than Ishin's historical setting, since there are more games set in that time frame. It's not a criticism so much as I found myself genuinely missing the original flavor. Thankfully, the humor and style are still present, so it's a minor quibble at best.

The combat system in Ishin is going to be familiar to fans of the older games in the franchise. Pretty much all of the standard beat-'em-up gameplay is here, including the franchise's iconic Heat attacks. There seem to be fewer Heat attacks than in most recent titles, but that is largely because they are replaced by a different gimmick that gets added later in the game. Generally, if you've played any of the pre-Yakuza: Like A Dragon games, you know what you're getting.

Similar to Yakuza 0, you have four different fighting styles: Brawler, Gunman, Swordsman and Wild Dancer. Each style has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and you can swap between them at will. Brawler has an extremely long parry window and can pick up objects in the environment, which makes it a higher risk/higher reward counterpart. Gunman allows you to shoot enemies from a distance but is less powerful up close, and powerful foes can block bullets. Swordsman is a close-range melee fighter who can block attacks and is the best choice for one-on-one duels. The coolest style, Wild Dancer, combines Gunman and Swordsman, allowing you to attack both at close range and far, and it's the best choice for large crowds. Each style also has a unique weapon that only that style can equip, ranging from a giant sword to a giant cannon.

The four combat styles are all fun, and I swapped between them a lot. Players receive two types of experience orbs, which are used to unlock more skills. By leveling up, you get generic gray orbs that work for any style, while using a style unlocks style-specific experience, which gets you a color-coded orb that only works for that style. Color-coded orbs can also be used to replace any gray orb, so you can swap them to another style. It's a nice way to encourage using different classes because even if you prefer to stick with one, you'll eventually have "free" orbs to try on another.

A new gimmick is Trooper Cards. Once Ryoma joins the Shinseigumi, he'll be given the position of Squad Commander and allowed to add forces to his ranks. These come in the form of cards that represent special attacks, buffs and abilities that can be activated before they go on a cooldown. You can set up a Trooper Card set for each style, with one card representing the squad commander, who adds a special passive buff in addition to the normal activated abilities. You can share cards between sets, but diversifying tends to give you more options in combat. Cards can also be leveled up to increase abilities and melded together to create new cards.

Trooper Cards are game-changers. Once you get the ability to use them, combat changes significantly. The very first card you get allows Ryoma to shoot lightning from his hands and paralyze his foes, and it only gets wilder from there. You can heal yourself, summon phantom swords, and summon a bear to maul opponents. Many cards are cameos from other Yakuza games or real-life people given a samurai makeover. In a way, they are almost overpowered for a lot of challenges. Ryoma can already whoop enemies with his regular sword skills, so it feels almost cruel to set them on fire and have a chicken lay exploding eggs on them.

The dungeon exploration minigame is the reason for these powerful cards. They're a series of optional challenge dungeons where you have to complete objectives while facing powerful foes and bosses. The dungeons are bite-sized bits of gameplay that feel like they were designed for a portable game, able to be played in quick chunks. It's fairly relaxing and the primary reason to engage with the weapon crafting and upgrade mechanics.

Beyond that, there's the usual slate of minigames. Gambling and karaoke are back, as are a host of other weird games ranging from chopping wood to cutting cannonballs out of the air before they hit you. You can spend plenty of time wandering around town and trying out different food spots or encountering random people who need your help. It's all very nice and cozy, and it feels like Like A Dragon at its best. Indeed, the strongest element of the game is probably that it captures the same "small section of town" feeling as the modern titles.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! is an updated version of a PS3 game, and it's mostly a very successful update. The character models and animations look great in cut scenes. There's a noticeable model quality disparity between cut scenes and the NPCs, but it's nothing huge. The voice acting is exclusively in Japanese this time around, but considering that most of the excellent Yakuza voice actors are reprising their roles, it should be no surprise that it is excellent. It maintains the same high quality we've come to expect from the franchise. The combat animations push the "protagonist doesn't kill" gimmick to its extreme, as Ryoma shoots people directly in the head only for them to be fine in the next cut scene.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! is Ye Olde Yakuza, but that's all it needs to be. The setting is fresh for the series, and it provides a fun way to see the same crime drama action in a new historical setting. Even if I prefer the modern setting, Ishin handles the change of setting well. It doesn't break an molds, but it's a delightfully fun experience for fans of the franchise. If you're itching for more Like A Dragon, Ishin! scratches that itch wonderfully, and it's a darn fun game in its own right.

Score: 8.5/10

More articles about Like A Dragon: Ishin!
blog comments powered by Disqus