Dragon, Dragon, rock the Dragon. Like a Dragon: Ishin! review.
Welcome to the Like a Dragon series, developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega, formerly known in the West as the Yakuza series. It’s a series that has spanned almost twenty years since the first game Yakuza was released in Japan in December 2005. Since then it’s gone from a cult classic to an international hit. Today we explore the latest in the series Like a Dragon: Ishin! A remake of a spin off originally only released in Japan. But we can’t waste any more time, we have so much to cover, let’s do this!
Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review – Story
Cast your mind back to 1860s Japan… if you’re old enough to… remember back then… anyway. It’s the end of the Edo period and we follow our protagonist Sakamoto Ryōma, a rōnin who has returned to his hometown of Tosa after spending time in the city of Kyo finishing his sword training. Upon arriving, Ryōma witnesses the current state of the town under the rule of a social class system as he stops a group of samurai from cutting down a woman and her child because she doesn’t bow to them.
The big city of Kyo – just look at those skyscrapers and neon lights!
Soon after, he reunites with his adoptive father, Yoshida Tōyō, a government magistrate, and his sworn brother in arms Takechi Hanpeita, the leader of the Tosa Loyalists. Tōyō wants to put an end to the social class system but needs help from the two other men. As the three meet one night, an assassin crashes their meeting and cuts down Tōyō. As the assassin escapes and Takechi gives chase, Ryōma is left holding the dying body of his adoptive father as other government officials enter. Framed for the murder of his father, Ryōma flees Tosa for Kyo to search for the one who cut him down and clear his name. And this all happens in the first chapter!
What’s a little naked bathroom brawl between friends?
We pick up a year later in Kyo. Ryōma is going by the alias Saitō Hajime and he’s still searching for the assassin who killed his father. The most we know is that the assassin uses a fighting style known as Tennen Rishin, an uncommon style few choose to pursue. However, there are a few notable characters who use the Tennen Rishin, the Shinsengumi, a special police force organised by the shogunate to keep control within Kyo. If the assassin is going to be anywhere, surely it must be one of them.
The main story might be serious, but the side stories are anything but.
To find the assassin, Ryōma must infiltrate the Shinsengumi and track them down, but it won’t be easy and along the way he will find out exactly who his true allies will become. As much as I want to go into the expansive story of Ishin, it’s a story that needs to be experienced first hand and I don’t want anything else spoiled for fans of the franchise. The story is also loosely based on real world events so history buffs may already know where this is going.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review – Gameplay
If you’re unfamiliar with the gameplay of the previous games in the franchise, Ishin is very similar to the other titles in the Like a Dragon series. It’s an open world game where you can roam around, uncover side stories, complete tasks and get jumped by roving gangs. The only real difference is that this is set in feudal Japan, so the gangs are samurai and bandits instead of your average street thugs.
On the subject of fighting, you’ll be doing a lot of it. Not just because it’s part of the story and not just because it’s how you’ll level up, but because there are gangs around almost every corner, so you’ll find it gets pretty monotonous after a while. When it comes to the fighting, unlike previous instalments where you’re mostly just using your fists, there are a total of 4 fighting styles.
First up is Brawler, this is your straight hand to hand combat where you’ll be getting up close and personal. Along with your standard beatdowns and grapples, you also have the ability to pick up nearby objects and use them as makeshift weapons. These could be anything from a piece of driftwood to a full blown table which can lead to some pretty hilarious fights.
Next up is the Swordsman style, we left our home to go perfect this so better put those skills to use. Think of the blade as an extension of yourself, and by that I mean it can sometimes feel similar to the brawler style, only more fluid. Also unlike the brawler style where you just have your own strength to focus on, the swordsman style also takes your currently equipped sword into consideration when it comes to your hits, so be sure to upgrade where possible, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The third style of combat is Gunman. Yes, in feudal Japan we can find some of the earliest firearms. Your lucky piece extends your range and can help keep enemies at a distance. While your gun doesn’t pack as much of a punch as your sword or fists (surprisingly), it can come in handy if you need to keep your distance.
The final combat style takes the fluidity of swordsmanship and the range of your gun and combines them. Known as the Wild Dancer style, you take your sword in one hand and gun in the other and dance around the field, dishing out plenty of death. The more you use each style, the more your proficiency will grow, allowing you to unlock more health, combos and finishers.
Speaking of finishers, you can’t talk about the Like a Dragon series and not mention the Heat Actions. As you fight your Heat Gauge will fill and once full you’ll be able to pull off a Heat Action. By pressing the right button, you’ll be thrown into a little cutscene where you can watch Ryōma perform a finishing blow or at least some heavy damage.
But the game isn’t just fighting, there’s so much more to do. The game is full of side quests that will introduce you to a wide range of minor characters including a priest who will introduce you to the Virtue mechanic. By performing different acts around town like shopping, fighting and talking to people, you will gain virtue which can be exchanged for upgrades like more inventory space, extended sprinting and increasing your reputation in different areas.
If you find you blade is getting dull and your gun doesn’t pack as much punch, you can make your way over to the blacksmith in Rakunai, here you can explore the VERY extensive Smithing Diagram and craft new weapons, ammo and gear. There’s also a plethora of mini games, you have a multitude of options such as gambling, fishing and combat training. Plus, it isn’t a Like a Dragon game if you didn’t have karaoke!
If all of this becomes too much, you can take a load off and do some farming. Once you reach chapter 4 you will unlock another part of the game called Another Life. Here you can help pay off a young girl’s debt by setting up a farm at her house, your new second home, raising some pet cats and dogs, try your hand at some cooking and sell off your produce for some extra cash.
Harvest Moon eat your heart out.
All of this is just scratching the surface of what you can do in Ishin. But for the sake of the review and your sanity, I’ll just close this off by saying that if you want to experience everything Ishin has to offer, you’ll be here for a very, very long time.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review – Visuals
I’d just like to start this off by saying I think the game looks positively stunning. Using Unreal Engine 4, you can see the careful detail that went into remaking this game. I found that no matter the time of day, the lighting always seemed to have the right tone to it with no glare. The dull and muted colours also did well for the setting. As it’s a period piece, I don’t expect it to be full of neon greens and bright flashing lights so the developers did well with portraying the time period. Though that’s not to say everything was perfect.
I found that in some parts, if you have water running off the edge of something like a water wheel, it didn’t look right, it almost looked like the water was suspended next to the wheel instead of running off it. Though when you look at the water as it flows down a river, it looks pleasant and looks like it actually fits.
Certain aspects of the visuals are a bit watered down.
I also found that the few animal characters that you interact with, don’t really appear to be modelled all that cleanly, particularly around their mouths. I also found their movements to be a bit more on the rigid side. If you don’t look hard you won’t notice it, but it was just something that I couldn’t unsee once I noticed. It seems most of the work went into the human models.
Why do I feel like I’ve seen this guy before?
Speaking of the models, while this doesn’t have a bearing on how the game plays, I just found it fun that they reused the models from the previous games for the main characters. If you’re a long time fan of the franchise, you’ll have fun noticing all the old faces. If it wasn’t too on the nose that you’re clearly playing as an Edo Period version of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, a pre-order bonus/DLC even gives you the Dragon of Dojima skin which swaps Ryōma’s normal attire out for Kiryu’s suit. But if we’re being honest, the true person who stole the spotlight was the Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima’s lookalike, Okita Soji.
They weren’t kidding. Majima really IS everywhere.
Like a Dragon: Ishin has a little something for everyone. A compelling story, mini games to suit all tastes, an easy to learn but repetitive combat system and plenty of side jobs to keep you busy. At first I found it all a little overwhelming but found myself soon running all over the city knowing I had so much to do. Even after almost a hundred hours in, I still haven’t finished everything. Though I have also heard that if you just want to stick to the story you can get everything done in as fast as four hours. Why you want to do something crazy like that though is beyond me.
If I had to nitpick at anything, I’d probably say that the repetitiveness of the combat did become a bit much, but I did find that I could just take a break from it and go farm or gamble. Only other complaint I have would be the rigid character models and the odd water graphics, but these are only minor points that I also felt didn’t detract from the game. All up I definitely think Ishin is worth a play if you have the time to sit down and enjoy the story.
So, why should you play Like a Dragon: Ishin!?
- Enjoy a long game with plenty to do? You’ll get your money’s worth.
- A compelling story is your thing? This is for you
- Have a fascination for all things Japan and samurai? You can virtually live it
But why shouldn’t you play Like a Dragon: Ishin!?
- You prefer your games short and uncomplicated? This has far too much going on
A code was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of our Like a Dragon: Ishin! review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out reviews for the other Yakuza spin-offs, Judgement and Lost Judgement, and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us about all things Yakuza.