Like a Dragon Ishin – Review

The naming convention might be all over the place lately, but Ishin is the latest spin-off from the Yakuza series to hit the West. You may recognise the protagonist’s face as Kazuma Kiryu, although in this game he is playing the part of Sakamoto Ryoma, who takes on the identity of Saito Hajime. Some explanation…

LaD: Ishin is set in the 1860s at the end of the Edo period. It’s a fictional story with some historical inspiration where the major characters just happen to resemble recognisable faces from the Yakuza franchise. Imagine the main Yakuza series and Ishin are two separate movies using the same actors. That said Ryoma and some of his acquaintances do have similar personalities to their Yakuza counterparts. It’s hard to explain but it’s a lot of fun.

Its disconnection from the main canon makes it an excellent jumping-on point for new players. While the familiar gameplay and familiar faces are sure to please long-time fans.

We’ve got the usual brawler RPG with an open city set up, no turn-based combat here but Yakuza: Like a Dragon fans should stick around for some familiar faces and for the world itself. (I told you about that naming convention stuff.) Four new combat styles focus on sword or gunplay or a combination of the two, plus one for bare fists. They’re different enough from Kiryu’s normal styles that it feels new with some flashy moves, epic specials and brutal finishers. Plus they all have expansive skill trees and several contextual special moves called Heat Actions.

It’s a lot to absorb at first as, button inputs aren’t complex but you’re given access to all four styles right from the start and they each have their own quirks and are suited to different situations. This takes some getting used to, I had to rely on healing items for the first boss or two but there are a number of difficulties to choose from. Once you get into it, the fighting is flexible yet satisfying. Heat actions vary from hyper-cool to ridiculous, from masterful sword strokes to making orange juice with a guy’s face.

The story itself is full of twists and turns set against a conflict between the bokofu/shogunate and those loyal to the emperor. It was a bit of a slow start but that could have been due to how much time I spent doing side stories and minigames. Once the plot gets going it’s fascinating with some good dramatic and emotional beats. The game’s time period is one I’ve not seen a lot of in any media. This setting is sold by how rich and dense the city is.

It may not be very large but this is one of the best open worlds I’ve ever played. There is always something happening and each street is filled with characters. You can build relationships with shopkeepers for expanded stock or discounts, even an extra dash of story and gameplay but there’s a whole host of side stories too. These are extra quests that bring the world and its citizens to life. There are blasts of action and badassery, touching stories to bring you to tears, glimpses at Japanese culture, some historical context, plenty of humour and some downright bizarre individuals. Then there are minigames and distractions, several combat tests and arenas, gambling, chicken races, and of course there’s fishing and karaoke too. You can even get a second home to go full Harvest Moon with. It’s a ridiculous amount of content and somehow it’s all fun and doesn’t feel like the grind-fest of checklists found in larger open-world games. That said the platinum trophy is much more demanding than Yakuza: Like a Dragon so there is reason to keep playing well after the endgame.

Other than the occasional wrestling with the camera, each moment of Ishin is a delight. The setting has a lot of charm backed up by wonderfully detailed graphics, characters, and even NPC, faces are detailed and expressive, unnervingly so in certain intense situations. There’s also a well-crafted soundtrack that combines typical Yakuza ambient and battle music but works on more traditional Japanese instruments. Even the cooking minigame music goes hard. I wouldn’t have minded a few more songs for the karaoke minigame but they added Baka Mitai again so I can’t complain too much.

I could talk for days about this game going into each battle style, the story, characters, and the unbelievable amount of quality side content but hopefully I’ve given a tantalising enough summary. Other than the camera and the early learning curve, the only other issue I had in the entire game was that forging new weapons seems more suited to endgame play rather than being helpful for playthroughs – although I did sink a bunch of money into my second home that I could have spent on weapons.

LaD:Ishin is actually a remake of a game that didn’t make it to Western markets but it feels just as polished and rich as the most recent entry in the series, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. If you’ve only played Y:LaD please don’t let the lack of turn-based battles put you off, Ishin has such a wonderful world to get absorbed in… There’s a side quest where you have to translate what seems to be a Yorkshire dialect! How can you say no to that?

10/10 star rating

Developers: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Sega

Publisher: Sega

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3





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