Like a Dragon: Ishin PS5 review - The missing Yakuza title doesn't disappoint
I had been waiting for Like a Dragon: Ishin to come to the West for years now, and it’s finally time to talk about it! A historical-fiction piece, it brings the characters and voices fans remember from the Like a Dragon/Yakuza franchise to a whole new setting. This is a game that has a lot to live up to as it's one of the few from the series to ever come to the West.
Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some things that I wish would have changed from the original release, but they weren’t game-breaking. Like a Dragon: Ishin takes players back to the late Bakumatsu era of Japan. It’s a title filled with political intrigue, drama, and of course, tragedy.
I’ve had a lot of time to really sit and think about how I feel about this game, and it has left me with a wide mix of emotions. Like a Dragon: Ishin, like other entries in the franchise, expertly mixes comedic side stories with a drama-fueled, action-packed main story.
Like a Dragon: Ishin finally comes to the West, and brings history with it
Like a Dragon: Ishin takes place towards the end of the Bakumatsu period of Japan. The Tokugawa has run the nation for hundreds of years, and more and more people are tired of this. Loyalist factions have sprung up with a variety of goals. Some wish to overthrow the Tokugawa, and others want the Emperor to be restored to power.
Ryoma Sakamoto (played by Kiryu Kazuma’s Takaya Kuroda) gets embroiled into conspiracy after conspiracy during Like a Dragon: Ishin. A man who just wants to live his life winds up taking on an assumed name and gets tangled up in a plot for the future of Japan. Ryoma Sakamoto is based on perhaps the most famous historical figure in Japan.
The historic Ryoma Sakamoto also had an alias (Saitani Umetaro), and fought against the Bakufu. Sadly, he did not see the Meiji Restoration occur as he was assassinated in December 1867.
Watch: Ryoma Sakamoto takes the stage.
Some events may play out as fans of Japanese history remember, but ultimately, it’s an alternate telling of the end of the Tokugawa. It’s done in a very Like a Dragon style, so it’s filled with drama and excitement.
I won’t spoil the story, but I cannot stress enough that this is one of the most emotional stories in the entire Like a Dragon franchise. If you even remotely enjoy this series, you owe it to yourself to play Like a Dragon: Ishin.
Like a Dragon: Ishin’s combat is a blast
If you’ve played a Like a Dragon/Yakuza title before, you’re going to be familiar with how this all sets up. The first few chapters are fairly slow but introduce you to all of the important functions of the game.
You’ll gain your combat styles slowly, and also be introduced to important characters, side content, and much more. This can admittedly frustrate long-time players, but I like it. Like a Dragon: Ishin doesn’t overwhelm with how much content is present in the game - because there's a lot going on.
Over the first few chapters, you’ll unlock a few fighting styles, each with their own pros and cons. My favorite was the Wild Dancer and it was the style I used for nearly the entire game.
- Sword: Wield a katana in two hands, deftly cutting foes down.
- Brawler: Similar to Beast style, punch, grapple, and grab nearby objects.
- Gun: Master the art of a pistol and use a variety of ammo types on foes.
- Wild Dancer: Katana in one hand, gun in the other. Fast and hard-hitting, but less defensive.
Each style has a dojo you can go to, and they all have their own requirements in order to learn new skills. For example, the Wild Dancer dojo wants you to bring increasingly rarer/ more valuable swords. It makes the Smithing system incredibly important to get into. Each weapon has material requirements, a smithing level, and most important, a price.
At first, you’ll be able to buy a rare sword, but you’ll have to go beyond that to learn all the skills. Thankfully, you can find hammers that will increase the rarity of weapons you craft. You can find these just lying around in pots, which occasionally respawn their contents as well, so take the time to open one anytime you come across them.
Watch: Ruffians try to start problems.
No matter what weapon style you use, there are pros and cons to them. There aren’t quite as many heat actions, it felt like, but they were pretty impactful and satisfying to watch. Each of these styles also has awesome special attacks you can learn, through the dojo system, or the EXP system.
As you defeat enemies, you’ll gain EXP in the style you’re using. Ryoma has a level as well, and you’ll receive a Soul Orb each time he levels up. The grey variants can be used on any style, and the colored ones only work for specific, corresponding styles. You don’t really need to grind, though, as there will be plenty of fights to get into.
The Trooper Cards make their debut
In the original release of Like a Dragon: Ishin, Trooper Cards were a part of the game in the Shinsengumi missions. You would enter a small dungeon with a group of Trooper Cards. They ranged in rarity and special abilities, and helped you succeed in these missions. Now, you can use them anywhere in the game, and can even make them trigger automatically.
I’m a huge fan of the Trooper Cards to shake up gameplay. They can help heal you in tough fights, buff your damage, charm, disarm, or simply deal tons of damage. Before reviewing the game, I interviewed Kenny Omega as well as VampyBitMe about their cards.
Watch: The Trooper Cards range in power, but some are truly phenomenal.
You can really do a lot with these Trooper Cards in Like a Dragon: Ishin. It takes time to power them up or improve them, but it’s worth it. Each weapon style can have a separate loadout, so you will have whatever offensive and defensive options you need for any battle.
Sub-stories and mini-games are what you’d expect
You’ll start the game in the small town of Tosa, but because of incidents, you head to Kyo, the capital of Japan. Ryoma will also take on a new name that might be familiar to fans of 90s anime or Japanese history - Hajime Saito. Historically, he was the leader of the third squad of the Shinsengumi.
Throughout the story, you’ll always have a main objective to complete. You won’t start seeing sub-stories until around Chapter 4, but that's where one of the most frustrating things occurred for me. There’s no sub-story tracker/finder. You simply have to know where they are or explore enough until you find them.
Thankfully, I had access to a translated guide of the original PS3 game, so I knew exactly where everything in the game was. But I was genuinely hoping there would be a trouble-finder like you find in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami.
Watch: Learning to dance.
While it was a bit frustrating to find sub-stories, all the mini-games were amazing and quite easy to find:
- Yamabuki: Dating mini-game
- Nichibuza: Dancing rhythm game
- Gambling: Gambling mini-game
- Shogi Parlor: Play Shogi matches
- Chicken Racing: Bet on chicken races
- Utumaruya: Everyone’s favorite - karaoke
- Arena: Battle to the death in increasingly difficult scenarios
Another part of the game that I really think people will enjoy is “Another Life.” During the story, Ryoma will wind up with his own house, complete with a kitchen, land to grow crops, and the ability to craft items.
The point of it is to help Haruka pay her debt so the land can be theirs. You don’t have to do this part of Like a Dragon: Ishin if you don’t want, but I enjoyed spending time farming and making food to generate income.
A beautiful game with memorable music
Most of Like a Dragon: Ishin looks gorgeous. The cutscenes are breathtaking, and the city of Kyo looks remarkable. However, occasionally, there are NPCs that have incredibly low-resolution faces.
It’s usually NPCs without a name or who only show up once. It’s not a big deal, but it was really surprising to see such highly detailed characters, and then a hostage that looked like she belonged on the PlayStation 3. The cutscenes for heat actions are also amazing, and most of those attacks look incredibly brutal.
Several characters received face changes from the original game. If you played the original Like a Dragon: Ishin, you will definitely notice the tweaks. Even newcomers will notice a few of them - for example, Kuze (Yakuza 0) and Adachi Koichi (Yakuza 7). Neither of the two existed during the original release.
Watch: A familiar face appears.
I think this was a sound decision as it brings these memorable characters back again and is great in helping out new players. Instead of seeing faces they don't recognize, many of the important characters will have very familiar voices and faces.
The score blends classic Japanese music with the more familiar guitar shredding of the Like a Dragon franchise. It even features some songs that fans know and love, though I won’t spoil which ones.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is just as good as I hoped it would be. The story is a wild ride, and even until the last moments of the game, I did not know what was going to happen next. The gameplay is sharp and the combat is genuinely enjoyable. Each stance is worth using, though I prefer the Wild Dancer.
My complaints are far and few between - mostly about how long and grindy relationships are, and how expensive and tedious crafting can be. Money is tight in the early phases of the game, so you won’t be doing much until later on.
The story is thrilling, the visuals are fantastic, and the combat feels challenging. It’s worth it to learn defensive techniques like blocking and parrying. Dodging is also going to be incredibly important to avoid taking lots of damage.
Like a Dragon: Ishin is a game fans have been waiting to come around for nearly 10 years, and it does not disappoint.
Like a Dragon: Ishin
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (PlayStation 3 for original release
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: February 21, 2023 (Original: February 22, 2014)
Abu Amjad Khan