The Yakuza / Like a Dragon series captured the hearts of many with captivating stories, memorable characters, and action-packed combat. The series has depicted the dangerous and enticing city of Kamurocho through the perspective of Kazuma Kiryu. Kiryu’s journey from Yakuza 0 to Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is full of hardship, triumphs, and anger as the criminal underworld of Tokyo evolves. However, many fans in the west have yet to experience a different take on the Yakuza formula due to its long absence in the west: Like a Dragon: Ishin!. After many years of uncertainty and teases, Like a Dragon: Ishin! finally comes to the west as an impressive remake that fans and newcomers won’t want to miss.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! brings Kiryu’s likeness to the turbulent Bakumatsu era, a period of Japanese history that proves to be just as chaotic as modern day Kamurocho. The game flawlessly delivers the satisfying character-driven combat from Kiryu’s Yakuza titles and adjusts it for a period dominated by samurai and ronin. At the same time, the superb story telling, content-rich approach, and humorous identity of the Yakuza series all stays true in Like a Dragon: Ishin!. This is one of the most expansive games in the franchise yet, melding many of the best qualities of past Like a Dragon games while emphasizing its unique elements.
A Samurai’s Reality (Early Story Spoilers)
The story of Like a Dragon: Ishin! begins on a voyage back home to Tosa for Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai that recently completed training in Edo. Upon his return to town, Ryoma quickly realizes the class system of Tosa is a severe detriment to everyday citizens. He swiftly finds himself in jail after fighting off some higher class samurai, but his adoptive father and Tosa magistrate, Yoshida Toyo, bails him out. Toyo informs Ryoma about a plan to reform Tosa and remove its class system by strengthening the region’s loyalist party. The party is being managed by Takechi Hanpeita, Ryoma’s childhood friend.
After reuniting with Hanpeita and becoming the loyalist party’s representative, Ryoma learns the true scope of Toyo’s plan. The group secures a meeting with Toyo, but the plans go awry when a masked assailant injures Takechi and kills Toyo in cold blood. Tosa samurai guarding the magistrate’s castle quickly find Ryoma and accuse him of murdering Toyo. After battling the masked man and escaping the castle, Ryoma decides to leave Tosa altogether and adopts the alias of Hajime Saito in order to pursue the truth behind his father’s death. The legendary samurai even joins the bloodthirsty Shinsengumi to find any possible leads on the masked warrior.
A Familiar Dragon
Sakamoto Ryoma shares many of the traits that made Kazuma Kiryu a legend in the Yakuza series, including his signature Dragon of Dojima fighting style. Ryoma tends to enjoy more than a fair share of sake, but he shares Kiryu’s heart all the same. Both characters share the same level of conviction and integrity, and Like a Dragon: Ishin!’s incredible story conveys the similarities perfectly. Additionally, the game’s inclusion of returning Yakuza / Like a Dragon actors reinforces the story with an star-studded cast. These actors create a serious melting pot of ideologies within the Shinsengumi, attributing to some unique challenges that Ryoma must overcome.
In Like a Dragon: Ishin!, players are first introduced to the Brawler fighting style, which is essentially Kiryu’s Dragon of Dojima style. While progressing through the first and second chapters of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, players gain access to the Swordsman, Gunman, and Wild Dancer fighting styles. These four fighting styles contain a very similar progression path to prior Yakuza titles: the skill tree. Players may strengthen Ryoma, unlock new skills, and learn new Heat abilities by investing skill orbs into each fighting style’s skill tree. This is a very familiar Yakuza / Like a Dragon experience at its core, so fans will feel right at home with Like a Dragon: Ishin!.
Ryoma has a vast variety of weapons, gear, and abilities at his disposal in Like a Dragon: Ishin!. In fact, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has the largest variety of weapons and abilities in series history. Ryoma’s arsenal is not lacking at all in this game with katanas, spears, hammers, and revolvers just serving as just a few of the available weapons. Weapons and gear may be unlocked and enhanced by the Kyo blacksmith, which also has it’s leveling system. With the right materials, players can make really powerful and stylish weapons. Meanwhile, Ryoma’s core abilities may be strengthen through hundreds of upgrades available through the aforementioned skill tree system.
Players can spend many hours grinding Like a Dragon: Ishin! like a traditional RPG due to the returning leveling system and an impressive amount of unlockables to pursue. The game’s world promotes exploration since there’s a new quest to unlock, friendship to be made, or fun mini-game to play at nearly every corner. Like a Dragon: Ishin!’s “Another Life” sub-game also allows players to take a break from fighting to raise crops, cook meals, and earn money with one of the franchise’s most iconic characters. The series is known for its compelling side content, but Like a Dragon: Ishin! draws from RPG influences to make this one of the most content-rich entries yet.
The Uniqueness of Ishin
Like a Dragon: Ishin!’s setting makes the game stand out from the rest of the Like a Dragon franchise with the exception of Yakuza Kenzan, which has not been localized. Exploring Kyo and its various districts is a satisfying experience and a welcoming departure from Kamurocho, Yokohama, and Sotenbori of past titles. More content becomes available after each major mission and chapter, making Kyo feel like an evolving city in all of its districts. Further, Like a Dragon: Ishin! encapsulates an interesting period in Japanese history that has not been adapted into many video games despite its importance.
The trooper card system is not entirely new to the Like a Dragon series, but the use of trooper cards is one of a kind in Like a Dragon: Ishin!. After joining the Shinsengumi, Ryoma has access to his own division of troopers, which each have a unique trooper card. On activation, trooper cards power up Ryoma’s own abilities, heal him, or grant devastating skills known as “Essences.” These skills allow Ryoma to pull off wild maneuvers like a widespread blast of wind or a powerful chain of lightning. A set of cards may be equipped to each fighting style, and more cards may be obtained by progressing through certain in-game content. The endless combination of cards allow for very potent loadouts.
Version 1.0 Woes
Like a Dragon: Ishin is a great experience in version 1.0, but the base version has a few technical shortcomings to take note of on PlayStation 5. While performing specific Heat attacks, the game’s frame rate may stutter for a few seconds before locking back to 60 frames per second. Fortunately, this is the only frame rate issue encountered during the playthrough.
Another issue that is prevalent in the version 1.0 release of Like a Dragon: Ishin involves menus. Menus may lag behind a player’s inputs, resulting in shop menus and certain NPC dialogue being stuck for a second or two. Sometimes, NPC dialogue and menus may not appear at all. These issues tend to be limited to shops like the Blacksmith and Ebisu Pawn. A day one update for Like a Dragon: Ishin will likely address these issues, so players should install the update to avoid these minor annoyances.
At Journey’s End
The game’s main story is roughly 20 hours long, but a playthrough could extend well into 60 – 80 hours due to the sheer amount of content available. Players receive a hefty sum of ryo for experiencing Ryoma’s long and arduous journey along with an overall summary of what was accomplished in the playthrough. After completing the main story and viewing the credits, Like a Dragon: Ishin’s Bakumatsu Premium Adventure and Ultimate Challenge modes are unlocked.
Bakumatsu Premium Adventure mode works just like the Premium Adventure mode in prior games. In short, Like a Dragon: Ishin players may explore the Kyo to their hearts content with progress carried over from clear data. This is a great opportunity for completionists since they may continue playing unlocking sub-quests, filling out Diligence Records entries, and earning trophies/achievements. Ultimate Challenge becomes available in the main menu as well, allowing players to test their skills in several challenges.
A Bakumatsu Classic
SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio crafted another superb action game in Like a Dragon: Ishin!. Ryoma’s journey for the truth has many twists and turns alongside the mysteries that present itself in the main story. The game is filled with content in every corner of Kyo, enticing players to explore to their heart’s content in dawn and dusk. The Heat-based action the Yakuza series was known for is better than ever with weapon variety being factored into the formula. Further, the Bakumatsu era setting makes Like a Dragon: Ishin! provides a very interesting change of scenery before returning to the modern day city in Like a Dragon 8 next year.
Once more, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a great entry for newcomers since it’s own contained Like a Dragon escapade. This is a comprehensive and compelling adventure that series veterans should absolutely dive into as well. The game’s use of returning Yakuza and Like a Dragon characters gives Like a Dragon: Ishin! an all-star appeal that’s completely unique to the series. Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a brilliant, bloody spectacle that beautifully maintains the Like a Dragon identity, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Disclaimer: SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio provided Final Weapon with a review copy of Like a Dragon: Ishin!