February 21, 2023
It’s safe to say Like A Dragon: Ishin! looks like Yakuza set in the 19th century, but after becoming immersed in the story of
Kazuma Kiryu Sakamoto Ryoma and a world much different from the one set in Kamurocho, there’s a hell of a lot more going on. From a range of four fighting styles and a battle card system to farming, housekeeping, and some light crafting, Ishin! provides plenty for fans of developers Ryu Ga Gatoko to do that differs from its popular series set in the present. It’s not without its flaws, but overall players will enjoy a unique take on a famous period in Japanese history.
After the death of the man that raised you like a son, Ryoma goes into hiding after being accused of his murder. Hellbent on finding out who the killer was, you flee to another city and take on a new identity, Saito Hajime. Like A Dragon: Ishin! takes place during the Edo Period in the 1860s, and the political backdrop and impending war between Japan and the Westerners offers a bigger threat than the falling out of a couple of rival gangs. Regardless of what’s happening in the background, Ryoma is focused on bringing the murders to justice. He goes undercover as a member of the Shinsengumi police force, as he believes the person responsible is a part of them.
With all the story stuff out of the way, Like A Dragon: Ishin! has some fantastic combat mechanics, but they don’t always respond quickly enough when in a heated fight. Specifically, the auto-targeting of the gun doesn’t always lock on, so you’re shooting into a wall while you feel a quick boot to the back. Some combos don’t always register, or rather enemy’s attacks feel too quick and without indication. The parry window is also far too short, so fights don’t always feel as satisfying as they could be. Still, when you’re switching between the four fighting styles, there’re plenty of options to build big combos.
Brawler allows you to use your fists and pick up nearby objects to use as weapons, but your defence is a lot weaker. Swordsman is one of the better choices as it gives you a solid balance of getting in some brutal attacks as well as good protection against most attacks, and Gunman lets you pick off enemies from afar, albeit to the detriment of its poor targeting. Perhaps my favourite and most-used style was Wild Dancer: an equal blend of Gunman and Swordsman. You can use both weapons to dish out some impressive combos, and the flow of battle is fluid when you get to grips with it. There’re four skill trees for each style, and the more you play, the more moves and stat increases you unlock.
To make combat more enjoyable, the Trooper card system lets you use a range of cards from a customisable deck to inflict wild and bizarre attacks on enemies, as well as improving core stats like health and power. These cards range in level, and while throwing firebombs can be a good form of attack, try sending out a massive bear or tiger at an enemy and tell me it isn’t the most badass thing you’ve ever seen. These Trooper cards make Like A Dragon: Ishin! a much better game, as the fighting styles can feel repetitive in the early stages, or before you’ve unlocked some of the better moves. There are martial artists scattered around the world, and they will teach you new moves, but you still need to unlock them in the skill trees.
Outside of the main story, there’re plenty of sub-stories to complete, but some are pretty dire compared to the likes seen in Yakuza: Like A Dragon and other Yakuza titles. Listening to a woman talk through tons of dialogue and being tasked to pay attention to what she said was dull, but not all are bad. You’ll be able to explore various regions of the city, and due to it feeling smaller, there’s a bigger sense of familiarity and homeliness. You can build bonds with shopkeepers for additional dialogue and bonuses, and if you’re tired of beating up thugs and searching for your dead kind of dad’s killers, there’re plenty of activities to take part in, like karaoke, dancing, and racing chickens. While it may be more of a historical epic, that silliness we’ve all grown to love is present throughout.
Another different element to Like A Dragon: Ishin! is getting to grow vegetables and crops at a farm you offer to rent in order to help out a local girl called Haruka. While there’s no need to keep going back to the farm and undertake all the activities it offers (such as a fun cooking minigame), it gives you a reason to take a step back from the main story and chill out. Like A Dragon: Ishin! is over-the-top at times, and the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, but Ryu Ga Gatoko has carved out a personal and powerful story, highlighting the horrors of corruption and murder, and the struggles of trying to do the right thing when surrounded by bad people.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! might not be as strong as the Yakuza titles of days gone by, but there’s still plenty to love about it, from the unique Trooper card system and the four fighting styles, to relaxing on your farm and going for a karaoke session near the Fushimi fish market. Visually, it stumbles somewhat with plastic textures and awkward body movements, but it is a remake of a game from 2014 that never arrived on Western shores. Regardless, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and fans of the series will appreciate an alternative story featuring similar characters under a new guise.
Fun mix of combat
Trooper card system is great
Textures could be improved
Auto-targeting is unbalanced
Sub stories aren't as strong
Like A Dragon: Ishin! doesn't reach the same heights as previous titles, but the new mechanics bring a different feel to the series.