Until recently the Yakuza series, or Like a Dragon in Japan, were mostly niche games with a small cult following in the west. I had heard of the IP but hadn’t actually played one of the many, many entries in the series until Sega started working on and rereleasing the games in something resembling a chronological order – starting with the release of Yakuza 0. For long-time fans of the series, playing Like a Dragon: Ishin! – a spin-off set in the 19th century – remained a dream. Originally a PS3 exclusive and only available outside Japan as an import, Sega delighted and surprised us last year by announcing it would be remastered and released on all platforms within a few short months. As with the older Yakuza games, the lingering question was whether the passage of time had been kind to it?
Like a Dragon: Ishin! has you playing Ryoma, a young low-caste samurai returning to his home city of Kyo (modern-day Kyoto). He is returning to a society structured along even stricter hierarchical lines than the rest of Japan, with the samurai occupying the highest strata of society and terrorising the local populace to enforce ancient laws meant to reinforce this inequality. Ryoma is drafted by his adopted father and brother into a loyalist party aiming to topple the current government. Like the mainline games, Like a Dragon: Ishin! comments on societal ills and takes a definite left-leaning bent, while still presenting the player with a fun, over-the-top, and entertaining spectacle.
Unfortunately for Ryoma, he is soon accused of murdering his father, a high-ranking bureaucrat, and finds himself joining the Shinsengumi, to uncover the plot to murder his father and find the assassin who carried out the murder. If Ryoma looks familiar to Yakuza players, he should. He’s played by the same actor who plays Kiryu in the mainline series. The same goes for many other characters played by the same actors who inhabited similar roles in the modern-era games.
This leads to a brief sense of déjà vu as returning players might often misremember the lore from the “wrong” game. However, once you take the view that these are just actors typecast into a similar role in a different film, you can sit back and enjoy this game for what it is.
In terms of overall game design, Like a Dragon: Ishin! follows the same template as the mainline series. It’s an open-world game that has you exploring the city while pursuing the main story quests. During exploration, you’ll come across various thugs, government stooges, and other enemies that you will battle.
As usual, you have access to four different fighting styles all suited to different enemies and bosses. The styles play into your preferred style of play, but the sword and gun style is the stand-out option as, for the first time, it mixes gunplay with hand-to-hand combat. It’s fast, fluid, and brutal – something akin to the flowing Dancer style in the mainline games mixed with the brutality of the brawler.
While combat in Yakuza games tends to lean into the more ridiculous, almost cartoon-style of violence, Like a Dragon: Ishin! setting lends itself to a more brutal, violent, and gory aesthetic. Ryoma will shoot, stab, and sometimes kill his way through the game, while “Heat Actions” can be quite visceral. Thankfully, most battles end with the bad guys backing away from Ryoma, chastened and injured and having learned their lessons, rather than bleeding to death on the street.
In between battles and the pursuit of the assassin, you can engage in a number of minigames, including gambling and karaoke. As this is 19th century Japan, the usual business minigame had to be adapted to this time period.
Instead of investing in real estate or bakeries, you open up a farm that allows you to play a fun if simple Stardew Valley-type game of planting and harvesting crops. Crops can then be used to cook meals, while the surplus is sold to the town. It is a relaxing game mode that, at first, provides a nice break from the grind of the main game – though it soon loses its shine in contrast to the other minigames.
A new and rather unique pair of minigames are accessible once you join the Shinsengumi. The first is designed to give you a chance to grind for the orbs that you use to level up your different fighting styles. These are basically dungeon crawls to clear out bandit bases and are not narratively linked to any story elements. The second is collecting “Officer Cards” that allow you to apply buffs and powerups to Ryoma or even call in various characters and animals who will deal extra damage via special attacks – most similar to the summons in Yakuza: Like a Dragon! (and who can forget the devastating attack by the grown men wearing nappies in that game!).
The grind to level up is real, but at least it’s fun and a great way to switch off your mind and take a break from the cinematic-heavy story quests.
On the whole, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has been worth the wait and adds some much-needed variety to the Yakuza IP. It’s great that it’s finally available globally for long-time fans, but it also serves as a good introduction for those curious about the series without the time to play through the lengthy older games.
For existing fans, you get a fun, self-contained story that will remind you of the reasons you love the Yakuza series in half the time – making Like a Dragon: Ishin! well worth your time and money.
A Review code for Like a Dragon: Ishin! was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher
Like a Dragon: Ishin! (PC) ReviewLike a Dragon: Ishin! (PC) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
Ease of Play9/10 Amazing
Longevity8/10 Very Good
Graphics8/10 Very Good
- More Yakuza!
- An intriguing, self-contained story
- New fighting styles that are fun to master
- Officer Card "summons" are fun and weird
- It's a remaster of one of the older games and feels dated at times