Like a Dragon: Ishin was a Japan-only release for the Yazkuza series in 2014 for the PS4 and PS3. The title touts one of the most diverse ways to enjoy the Yakuza worlds yet, outside of the modern-day Japan setting of the other entries, and it really shows how breaking the rules in your own game series can be a great thing. In our Like A Dragon: Ishin Review, we take a look at one of the most enjoyable titles of the year.
After almost a decade of waiting, the title has finally made its way to not just the PlayStation consoles but is also coming to the Xbox consoles and the PC later this month.
You wear the robes of Sakamoto Ryoma, who returns home from war and is briefly reunited with his father in order to take down the oppressive regime ruling his hometown. After some unfortunate events, Ryoma is forced to leave his hometown and embarks on a journey to clear his name of a crime he didn’t commit.
The story then takes us to Kyoto, Japan, during the 1860s Edo period. This was when swords and guns made their way into the right and wrong hands of the populace. It doesn’t help that renegades have also taken over Kyoto. Ryoma, who now has an alias, is trying to liberate the people of Kyoto while searching for the person who framed him for the crime in his hometown.
Joining Ryoma is a roster of familiar characters and new faces from other Yakuza games, but they are only facsimiles and have very little to no similarities to their original characters. The Yakuza series is known for its brilliant lineup of characters, and there is no shortage of them here as you make allies and enemies in the villages you travel to.
Another cool quality of life change is the glossary option in the dialog. This gives you a small popup to elaborate on a term in the dialog for the readers to understand the context or setting for that conversation. This was added with this release with the English localization and helps with getting into the world of the game.
The game plays like any other entry in the Yakuza series. You start off with nothing to your name and steadily climb a massive ladder of success. You will amass wealth, popularity, and eventually better combat abilities which makes the game akin to the mainline entries.
Regardless of the setting, you can still enjoy a bustling village full of quirky, memorable, and interesting characters. You have to earn your keep in the village by Dharma points which are basically Karma. You do by doing good deeds in the village, shopping with stores, praying at altars, and doing other positive actions to improve your influence in the village to earn discounts, benefits, and perks with other villages, improving your inventory and Ryoma as you play.
Mini-Games and Activities
Like other entries in the series, there are tons of mini-games to try out here as well. You can participate in racing chickens for money, a very different version of karaoke, and take part in fishing and even gambling. The entire world is literally full of many more that will take me too long to list here.
The bottom line is there is an endless supply of activities to do in the game outside of the main storyline, the side quests (some new ones have been added for this edition of the game), and many other ways to keep yourself busy.
I was very surprised with how the game is able to have a tonal shift of being super serious in a few minutes, and an hour later, I am having a fight with someone in a bathhouse. The game’s trademark ability to take itself seriously and also change the tone of the game at a moment’s notice is still there and is one of the most brilliant things I love about the title. You will find no shortage of gameplay here if you are looking to explore late 19th-century Japan.
The combat is the highlight here and is easily my favorite part of the game. Ryoma has four fighting styles, each of which significantly improves as you progress in the game. Brawler lets you fight with just your fists, but this is still a very viable style. Even against enemies with swords, as you deliver Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures levels of a flurry of punches.
Swordsman is self-explanatory, where you mainly only use your sword. Gunman is another “fighting” style where you can take out enemies from a safe distance. This also improves with special ammo and other upgrades you can get for your revolver as you play. The last fighting style is my favorite, Wild Dancer, you combine the swords and guns for a beautiful ballet where Ryoma holds a weapon in each hand and is able to swing a sword while shooting a bullet as well. This is the best way of dealing with a large group of enemies.
Upgrades and Takedowns
Outside of visiting vendors to upgrade your weapons, you can also get orbs in combat or the world. You can use these to upgrade your sword, gun, and fists to be an even more formidable foe. Night Mode is perfect for this, and during this, you are more likely to run into more enemies and even stronger enemies.
These include story missions, side stories, and other content you can take part in when the sun goes down in Kyoto. Competing for these helps you get some absolutely out-of-this-world upgrades for your weapons, such as summoning tigers and even bears to fight for you.
The staple of the Yakuza series is here once again, with satisfying takedowns on enemies who are either on the ground or are super weak. Watching these animations play out just makes your combat and fighting feel even more empowering.
There is a lot to be said about the combat, but the single word that brings it all together is a single word – Fun.
The combat in Ishin is easily one of the best I have ever experienced in a Yakuza game. In most other entries, I abhor enemy encounters. In this one, I would relish the opportunity and sometimes even go out of my way to find them.
There is no going wrong with the combat, it can seem overwhelming and complex at the start, but it, later on, becomes one of the best aspects of the game, and the more you work on it, the higher the rewards are.
The game is a full remake of the original title in question and looks quite similar to previous Yakuza remakes. The visuals are undoubtedly sharper and very detailed. As you explore the beautiful and vibrant city of Kyoto day or night time, the game is always going to amaze you. If you are going in with high expectations of high visual fidelity, you might have to settle for something slightly less, but nonetheless, the PS5 version excels in almost every way here, allowing players to enjoy a crisp 60FPS experience that thoroughly enriches the experience exponentially.
Whether you are exploring scenic parts of the city, enjoying fishing, or looking at other parts of the environment, the overall presentation of Ishin is very solid and has a lot of consistency. It’s a title that truly shows age and beauty can go together with the right team behind the project. As long you keep your expectations tempered, you are in for a memorable and visually beautiful experience.
I had a fantastic time with Like a Dragon: Ishin, and it’s a worthy addition to the Yakuza series lineup. Like other modern Yakuza titles, this release is filled to the brim with enjoyable content, memorable characters, and an addictive combat system with tons of variety. The character work is fantastic, and the series’ invaluable skill to switch between serious and hilarious tones is present here as well, with some of the best moments in the franchise.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is easily one of the more obscure entries in the series, and it took nine years for the game to become part of the library of gamers today. Whether you are a new fan or a returning fan, I can not emphasize enough how much you need to try this game out.
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This review is based on the PS5 version of Like a Dragon: Ishin. The key was provided by SEGA.