Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review


Despite being around for close to 20 years, the Yakuza series has only really taken off here in the west and shot to popularity over the past 5-10 years, picking up a growing fanbase that’s come to love the series’ take on the Japanese criminal underground featuring some expertly written characters and it’s own brand of quirky weirdness. And now with Like A Dragon: Ishin, SEGA have heard the cries of fans and have officially remade and localised an entry in the franchise that  was released way back in 2014 that never made its way to the west. It provides a fresh take on the typical Yakuza formula, takes place in a brand new era and setting  but retains much of what makes the Yakuza games so great to make it both welcoming for new players and nostalgic for existing fans.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review

Unlike the other entries in the Yakuza series which are set in modern day Japan, Ishin is set in the late 1860s during the end of Japan’s Edo period. Setting it many generations before the events of the long running series we’ve come to love over the past 2 decades. But even though it’s set many years prior, Ishin has many similarities to the core Yakuza series too, even though it’s not directly linked. Not only does it share many of it’s design philosophies, a number of it’s characters have direct parallels to those we’ve come to love. Notably main character Sakamoto Ryoma who shares his appearance, voice and mannerisms with Kazuma Kiryu, the lead of the core Yakuza games, and also Okta Soji who shares the appearance of Goro Majima. But these characters aren’t the same exact characters we’ve come to love over the years, they are many generations removed from those guys and should be seen more as multiversal versions of those characters from the far past.

The story itself is right up there with some of the best games in the Yakuza series and contains many of the same factors that got me so invested in those games too. Without spoiling too much of the premise, Ishin really kicks off after Ryoma is mistakenly accused of being responsible for the murder of his mentor Yoshida Toyo. This leads Ryoma to relocate and reside in Kyo as it leads to the best opportunities to gain intel, track leads and ultimate discover the identity of the assassin that killed Toyo to not only avenge his mentor but clear his name back in his hometown of Tosa.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review

This main plot also has interviewing subplots and a heap of side content that flesh out the overall Ishin experience, and does a lot to get the player incredibly invested. Not only is there a reason to become very quickly engaged with the story, the game’s main plot keeps you wanting to progress thanks it’s fantastic cast of unique, diverse and well written characters and the story’s pacing bouncing from interesting plot beat to interesting plot beat fairly consistently throughout the story. It’s characters are probably the key highlight of the game and I wasn’t expecting to get as invested in them as I did prior to starting the game.

One of the biggest departures from the core Yakuza series is Ishin’s setting. Being set in 1860s Japan is obviously going to provide a drastically different aesthetic compared to modern day Tokyo but I absolutely loved how fresh a new setting felt and just how well the Yakuza DNA was able to be interweaved into this new story and setting. The cities in Ishin look fantastic and replicate the look and feel of Feudal Japan accurately replicating the clothing, architecture and world design of the era to put you right there in ancient Japan. Where the Yakuza series could thematically be linked to modern day crime dramas or Grand Theft Auto, Ishin has it’s thematic roots closer aligned to samurai culture and the works of Akita Kurosawa.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review

The next biggest change compared to it’s parent franchise, and probably my personal favourite new addition in Ishin is the change up to the combat. The series has shifted away from the street brawling melee focused combat seen in the Yakuza titles and introduced a number of new fighting styles that provide drastically different ways to play, and methods that fit the era and setting, focussing on incorporating Ryoma’s iconic sword and revolver, sometimes both. 

The 4 fighting styles are noticeably different from what’s been seen in the series before and each feel great to use. Each style has it’s own skill tree that can be upgraded as you progress through the game and the various options available really help play into the gameplay style you prefer or would like to utilise based on the given scenario. For example there’s the Gunman style which is great for picking off enemies from a distance with Ryoma’s revolver, Swordsman which is focussed more on getting up close and dealing more precise melee sword strikes on your enemies, Wild Dancer which is a great combination of both and really offers the best of both worlds as well as the Brawler which has a more traditional heavy hitting focus. Each are really fleshed out and the skill trees allow you to prioritise upgrading the areas you specifically utilise and want to focus on, keeping the combat constantly interesting.

And honing your combat skills is something you’ll definitely have to do as Ryoma has a ton of enemies that need to be sliced down before hitting the end of the game. The real challenge comes with the boss encounters. They’re quite difficult, but balanced. Providing a real challenge at multiple times throughout the game and requiring me on a few occasions to go away and enhance my skills before coming back to then overcome them, making these wins feel really earned and incredibly rewarding.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review

It wouldn’t be a Like A Dragon/ Yakuza entry without some great side content, and Ishin doesn’t disappoint in that area. There’s a ton of side quests and mini games on offer that will keep you both entertained and very distracted. They’re often very funny, incorporating the series’ iconic sense of humour but also have many side stories that are quite touching and emotional too. They offer a great break for the main story and I loved how interweaved much of the side content plays into the game’s other systems and skill progression providing an additional reason to do them outside of just existing to do if you want to, especially when it comes to the game’s farming simulator mode that is surprisingly fun and fleshed out. But if you love the weird side of the Yakuza series, the mini games also have you covered there, with a wide range of activities to play through for your own entertainment, with notable callouts going to the karaoke, chicken racing, fishing, wood cutting and gambling mini games.

I really loved most of what Ishin offered, but unfortunately there were a few minor gripes I had with the game holding it back from being a near perfect entry. I was disappointed to see that the game went back to having only a Japanese audio track and no English dialogue option which has been featured in the main series and spinoffs in recent years, some of the character animations feel a bit stiff and dated, further highlighting that the game was still utilising some aspects of the 2014 original that could have been refreshed a bit more and although I loved most of the side content, after playing through many of the mini games and side quests, it’s clear some are designed far better than others when it comes to the systems implemented and the fun factor making the parts that aren’t as great feel like padding to an already meaty game.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review

Final Thoughts

Like A Dragon: Ishin at it’s core is still very much Yakuza/ Like a Dragon title despite being completely separated from the mainline series. It has a grand story and characters that will captivate you from beginning to end, incredible action, great over the top moments that will make you laugh out loud, some that will make you question why they’re so weird and of course plenty of mini games and systems implemented that will keep you entertained aplenty when not completing the main missions.

Even though the setting is completely different, it’s clear where it’s DNA came from. So if the Yakuza series hasn’t gelled with you in the past, there is still a lot here that may put you off from fully enjoying it, but also plenty of new ideas and a fresh setting that may provide enough originality for this to be the entry that gets you on board.

A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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Played On: PS5

  • + Great new setting
  • + Fantastically written characters
  • + Engaging main story
  • + Diverse fighting styles that are fun to utilise

  • - Some dated animations
  • - Some mini games and side content feels like padding by comparison to others
  • - No English dub

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