It may not have the Yakuza name in its title, but Like a Dragon: Ishin is the game that fans of the franchise have been eagerly anticipating for a while now. It’s out for PlayStation, Xbox and PC – we tested the PS5 version.
It wouldn’t be fair to call Like a Dragon: Ishin the next entry in the Yakuza series though, or even a new spin-off. It’s actually a remake of one of the lesser-known titles in the series – a spin-off that was only ever released in Japan back in 2014. It’s now been remade for today’s console systems, and despite a few rough edges where it shows its age it’s a nice addition to any Yakuza fan’s library.
In Like a Dragon: Ishin, you follow protagonist Sakamoto Ryōma, a ronin who saw his master killed during Japan’s Edo period and wants to find the person responsible. And despite the change in time period and the original setting and storyline, Ryōma and the other characters in the story can bear an uncanny resemblance to the cast members in some of the Yakuza games – it’s almost like the crew got together and decided to role play for a bit, but we suppose it’s one way to tie this game into the other ones.
Going back further in time than the Yakuza stories, Like a Dragon: Ishin explores a time in which samurai (rather than organized crime) were still important – even though their time was ending with the advance of new weapons like firearms. You’ll use one as well, though it always fields a bit awkward and unwieldy to do so – Ryōma is much more comfortable with his blade and the auto-aim when shooting can be pretty off at times.
Interestingly, both styles mesh together well at times, as you can dual wield a katana and a pistol – which means you can engage in regular sword-based combat while also firing off some shots in between. It’s just one of the four fighting styles you have available to you, but it’s certainly an entertaining and effective one when faced with multiple enemies at once. The combat might miss some of the nuance and depth that more recent games have, but with a few different styles to switch between it’s definitely fun – just reminiscent of games of its time (this one originally launched on the PS3).
We can see Like a Dragon: Ishin being a bit of an acquired taste though – especially from the narrative side of things. If the Edo period doesn’t ring a bell to you, then you’re going to be overwhelmed with historical factions, social systems and ideologies that will sound extremely confusing or relatively familiar at best. It’s a shame that, for this western localization, they didn’t guide players into the game’s background more – it’s a fascinating piece of history and culture to uncover but you kind of get thrown in at the deep end here.
Similarities to the Yakuza games can be seen in the plethora or arcade-style minigames you can discover (though these feel a bit more out of place here), but you’ll also see a few major differences. There’s a “life simulator” like element where you can go and work on a farm, and there’s a lengthy dungeon crawler element to play through as well – which lets you find better gear, giving the game an RPG-like feel for a bit.
Like the Yakuza games, it’s nice a nice mashup of different elements that comes together well. It doesn’t rise to the same heights as the main games have done, but anyone who’s been enjoying the franchise will not be disappointed and will have a great time playing Like a Dragon: Ishin.