Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is the latest entry in Ryu Ga Gotoku’s long-running Yakuza series, and while that may be the case, it is actually a remake of a game that did not receive a worldwide launch when it was first released back in 2014.
Remade in Unreal Engine, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is set in a fictional version of Kyoto in the 1800s and tells the story of Sakamoto Ryoma and his quest to avenge the murder of his father figure, Magistrate Yoshida Toyo. Ryoma follows a trail of blood, leading him to the Shinsengumi, which he must then infiltrate to find out the true identity of the murderer.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is certainly a Yakuza game through and through, filled with familiar faces, themes, features, and a mix of absurdity and seriousness that will give newcomers and returning fans another entry for the books.
On the Next Episode of Like a Dragon…
A gripping story and explosive combat, both hallmarks of Yakuza games in general, are on full display here. Ishin strays away from ridiculously absurd events and grounds the story, and most parts of the game, in a relatable setting, mature themes, and sequence of events that will keep players interested throughout the proceedings.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a very story-based affair, and while there’s a lot of side content that comes along with it, the main draw is its dramatic retelling of Sakamoto Ryoma’s journey of vengeance. From the first chapter alone, players are introduced to the main cast, with very little padding in between. It’s pretty much all killer and no filler, and the pacing of the game encourages players to find out what happens next.
This pace is anchored by spectacular performances from the likes of Takaya Kuroda (Kazuma Kiryu) and Hidenari Ugaki (Goro Majima), both reprising their roles as the “same” but different characters in the game. Ishin uses familiar character models, and Yakuza series fans will feel right at home seeing Kiryu, Majima, and others on board, just with different aliases.
If anything, the game continues the Yakuza tradition of stellar performances from its voice actors, something that really elevates the quality of storytelling, which is especially good for Like a Dragon: Ishin! because of its grounded storyline that doesn’t go off the rails as much as Yakuza 2. In particular, the performance of Shinsengumi deputy chief Hijikata, portrayed by Nakamura Shidou (Yoshitaka Mine from Yakuza 3), is a standout among the cast members.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! will see players control Sakamoto Ryoma across four distinct battle systems, each with their own personality and combo-based style that can be upgraded through a straightforward skill sphere. You have the Swordsman, Gunman, and Brawler, focused on the blade, firearm, and bare fists, but you also have the Wild Dancer, a style that merges both blade and firearm together through dance-like movements.
Each system has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, like the brawler, dealing low damage but has quick strikes along with being able to pick up and use items in the environment. The Gunman prioritizes long-range attacks since it can’t normally block blade and firearm attacks, but can equip specialized ammo for devastating effects.
Players are not penalized for sticking to just one style throughout. Despite some styles being more effective in certain situations, Like a Dragon: Ishin! can be beaten using just the style that you’re most comfortable with.
Trooper Cards are also available here, and more than just a simple “summon” during combat, this is a full-fledged system of sorts that will see Ryoma running around recruiting troopers to fight for the cause, adding to your arsenal and allowing you to unleash various abilities (buffs, offensive skills, etc). There are even special Trooper cards, such as Kenny Omega, that offer devastating and oftentimes borderline ridiculous offensive abilities that are well worth the effort to get.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! emphasizes crafting over simply buying equipment off the shelves. Many of the rewards that players will get throughout the game are in the form of crafting materials, and these will be used often to get that next upgrade. Because this is the case, the game could get unnecessarily grindy at certain points, especially for the higher-tiered materials.
That said, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has a plethora of ways to reward players through fun and engaging side-content, another hallmark of the series.
Similar to other Yakuza games, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a treasure trove of side content and activities that have the uncanny ability to keep you playing for hours on end. It isn’t a Yakuza game without some absurdity, and there’s still plenty of it here.
Side quests abound, and running around the city will prompt a short scene that introduces the premise of the side quest. These quests range from the realistic, such as Ryoma being tasked to be the muscle for a debt collector, to the truly weird, like Ryoma’s outfit getting snatched while enjoying a hot bath. Most, if not all, of these side quests are as entertaining as they are rewarding and can be completed within a few minutes.
Oh, and that infamous bathhouse scene is back in all its glory.
Fan favorite activities such as karaoke and mahjong make a comeback as well, but it’s a treat to realize that most of these are very well integrated into the setting, and considering the era the game is played in, much of it is adapted to not stick out like a sore thumb. It would be a travesty to not mention the dance craze sweeping the city, “Ee Ja Nai Ka,” and rather than explaining, it’s something that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Farm-sim fans will also appreciate a mode called “Another Life,” which will see Ryoma take on a small farm, plant and harvest produce, and even participate in other mini-games. It’s quite a relaxing way to spend your time outside of all the bloodshed and brawls happening.
There are also more combat-oriented activities in Like a Dragon: Ishin!, where players can test their skill and endurance across several challenges from the Battle Dungeons to the Arena battles. Battle style masters are also available, where Ryoma can learn new techniques and gain precious materials should he conquer the challenges.
Playing on a PC, Like a Dragon: Ishin! was surprisingly well-optimized. Rocking a 3050 and 16GB of RAM with high settings, it was easy to keep frames stable at the 110-120 fps range. Though the game is not graphically intensive, Like a Dragon: Ishin! looks do not disappoint, especially during cutscenes, where the various character models show high levels of detail and facial expressions.
Ryu Ga Gotoku made the conscious decision to switch to Unreal Engine for Like a Dragon: Ishin! due to the number of day scenes in the game, which are handled better by Unreal compared to the Dragon Engine, which specializes in night scenes. Despite this, players may notice that some parts of the character models, particularly the hair and face, look absurdly gray or white due to light reflecting off them. This doesn’t happen too often, but it is quite jarring at times.
The game also has camera issues, especially in confined spaces. It gets challenging to rotate the camera during battles that take place in narrow sidestreets or low-ceiling interiors, so this sometimes ends up with us getting cornered against multiple foes.
As a minor gripe, some of the dialog is very “modernized” and seems to really stick out like a sore thumb when taken in the context of the time period. Seeing Ryoma talking about someone “getting some a**” is not something I’d expect someone from the time period to say.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! also retains a lot of legacy aspects of previous games, for better or for worse. Ryoma stops to pick up items while strolling the city streets, animations play out even when skipping through dialog… It would be nice to see some of these tweaked or changed entirely in future efforts.
What We Liked:
- Gripping story and powerful cast performances
- Involved combat mechanics
- Hilarious but engaging side-content
What We Didn’t Like:
- Some aspects of the game (and the series, in general) feel dated
- Crafting can get unnecessarily grindy
Verdict: Buy It!
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a fantastic remake that continues the adventures of Kiryu, albeit in a different time period and with a different character. Yakuza series fans will surely know what they’re getting into, but newcomers to the series will experience a game that’s easy to pick up and play through thanks to its gripping storyline and engaging systems.
The game is filled to the brim with content, and it would definitely take a whole lot of hours to scour through all of them, more if you’re aiming to complete all achievements and trophies. The game does feel old in some aspects, but the Yakuza DNA is evident in Like a Dragon: Ishin! and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
*Like a Dragon: Ishin! was reviewed on a PC with a review code provided by the publisher.