Our Like a Dragon: Ishin! review discusses the nostalgic remaster's faithfulness to the Yakuza series while tickling new fancies and settings.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

Setting and Story

Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a remake of the Japan exclusive title released in 2014. In it, you play as Sakamoto Ryoma during the Bakumatsu era (mid-1850s Japan) who infiltrates the Shinsengumi for revenge. The game features popular characters from the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series, a facet that long-time fans of the series will find amusing. Pointing out the characters you recognize from other games with a more modern settings adds to the fun of the game, as well as the inherent wackiness this causes due to the disparity of Like a Dragon: Ishin!'s time compared to the other Yakuza games.

First timers to the series don't need to worry though, as even if this is your first Yakuza game, the enjoyment of the game does not diminish just because you don't have familiarity with some of the NPC's faces. There are many things to love about this game, even if this is your first foray onto the long-running game series.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! has just enough of a story to keep you engaged but does not really stand out from the other Yakuza games apart from the fact that it's set a century earlier than most games in the series. It is not an open-world game, and if you stay in the same area long enough without progressing the main story, the voice lines and ambient sound may get a little repetitive. Then again, this isn't the way it was intended to be played.

The various sub-stories also provide a way to expand the immersion of this era, giving the NPCs some backstory and the vast cast of characters relevance to Sakamoto Ryoma's journey.

Controls and Combat

While I did play on Steam on the PC, the game recommends a controller. Unfortunately, the Steam version does not automatically adapt the layout for a DualShock 4 or DualSense controller and instead switches the layout to an Xbox Gamepad's which makes the buttons confusing.

When I got over the initial disorientation due to the different buttons on-screen, the controls were easy to get used to. During battle, there are four battle systems, each with its own Heat Actions and Special Moves.

  • Brawler
    • A style that is characterized by using fists and quickness. While these attacks aren't the hardest hitting, they pack a lot of speed. You can also pick up objects from the ground and use them during fights. Parrying while in Brawler style will activate “War Cry Counter”, granting invulnerability for a short period of time. This will allow you to focus solely on pummeling your enemies.
    • Parry – Parrying an enemy's attack right before it hits will cause them to stumble. This will also activate War Cry Counter, allowing you to go on the offensive.
    • Special Move: “Dragonwing Sortie” – A powerful technique that unleashes a barrage of attacks on a single enemy. This is particularly useful when you want to target a certain foe.
  •  Swordsman
    • A power-oriented style with each blow dealing heavy damage. Charged attacks are also possible. While guarding, you can deflect bullets and blades. This style is easy to pick up since it excels at both offense and defense. It is especially useful in 1-on-1 battles, like showdowns with bosses for example.
    • Summer Rainfall – Among the basic Swordsman techniques, one of the most useful abilities, when used effectively, is “Summer Rainfall”. Using this skill successfully will break the enemy's guard, allowing you to proactively attack foes who are on the defensive.
    • Special Move: Dragonfang Flash – With this skill, you will unsheathe your sword and then dash at an enemy at blinding speed, striking them. After attacking, you can immediately dash to another nearby enemy, allowing you to slash multiple foes one by one.
  • Gunman
    • A style characterized by long-range shooting attacks. You can fire “special ammo” which comes with a wide variety of effects, like poison or burn. Choosing the most optimal ammo for each situation will grant you a significant advantage in battle. While you normally cannot guard against blades and bullets, equipping armor with certain effects will allow you to do so.
    • Roaring Fusillade – This skill can be activated during a Rush Combo. It unleashes a wide spread of shots, hitting multiple enemies. Leveling up the skill will allow you to shoot more rounds.
    • Special Move: Dragonfire Blaze – You aim and shoot multiple bullets all at once. The damage can be spread across multiple enemies or focused onto a single foe. Leveling up this skill will increase the number of bullets and allow the use of special ammo.
  • Wild Dancer
    • Blades and firearms are woven together in this style. You can also dodge enemy attacks with dance-like movements. This style is effective when you are surrounded or facing off against large numbers of foes. By continually evading, you can put yourself in a better position or create distance between you and your enemies.
    • Phoenix Frenzy – uses both blades and firearms to attack surrounding enemies. This skill can be canceled by evading, and then reactivated later. Proficient users of Phoenix Frenzy will be able to lay waste to their foes without pause.
    • Special Move: “Dragon God Dance” – Slash and shoot while spinning around and moving, laying waste to enemies. With a large attack radius, this skill is particularly effective when surrounded by many foes.

A personal favorite is the Wild Dancer, which allows you to use both your katana and your gun. There is an inherent jankiness to the combat, which makes it feel like you're playing on the non-remastered PS3 version. There is a certain charm to this, but it might not be to everyone's taste.

Side Missions and Mini-Games

The Yakuza series shines in its mini-games and side missions. There is a plethora of mini-games present here, including the evergreen Karaoke, betting on chicken races, and even… “sensual healing,” as the game likes to call it. You can enjoy the countryside life through taking care of your farm, cooking, or running various errands.

There is also a rogue-like game mode, where you can hone and sharpen your brawler skills in the dungeon crawler game in the Shinsengumi.

The substories are a little toned down from the mainline Yakuza games, but will instead reward you points which can be used for various upgrades to Ryoma's stats or other gameplay mechanics.

Overall Experience and Verdict

The long-winded dialogues that range from densely informative to wacky fun that Yakuza is known for is of course present in this title. In that way, it stays faithful to the mainline games. If you understand and admire the appeal that the other games of the series presented its story, its characters, and its world, then Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a great pickup for you and there's virtually no reason to miss it.

For first time players, the Edo era setting is an appeal point on its own. That might be reason enough for you to check this game out. The nature of the game as a remaster may also hit you right in the nostalgia feels, but again, that's not for everybody. Nevertheless, the game is worth checking out at least, see if you like the vibe and experience.

You can also take the journey the other way around – have Like a Dragon: Ishin! introduce you to the Yakuza characters then play the mainline games afterwards.

ClutchPoints Gaming was provided a review key for Steam on PC by SEGA.