Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review (Xbox Series X) – If I Could Turn Back Time

Like A Dragon, the game formerly known as Yakuza has achieved something of a successful western domination in the last few years. I remember playing Yakuza 3 for the first time and being absolutely blown away by how much it really felt like being in Japan.

Since then, a litany of Yakuza games has been released including sequels and remakes. All of which have (more or less) followed Kazuma Kiryu and his world-weary ex-Yakuza schtick across Japan. All except, Yakuza: Like a Dragon which moved on to a new protagonist and new city as well as a brand-new, turn-based combat system.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon left behind a great many things associated with the series but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega couldn’t let ‘classic’ Yakuza disappear that easily…

Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

Like a Dragon: Ishin! was first released for the PS3 and PS4 in Japan in February 2014 but never made it to the west. This remake/remaster finally brings one of the lost Yakuza games to fans in the west and delivers an excellent reimagining of the franchise at the same time. Set in the 1860s, Like A Dragon: Ishin! follows the Kiryu-faced Sakamoto Ryōma as he seeks revenge for his father’s murder and the evidence to clear his name.

While there isn’t any actual Yakuza in Like A Dragon: Ishin! the setting, story and gameplay bear all the hallmarks of the series. For starters, all of the major historical figures in the game are cast as characters from Yakuza. Kiryu is the most obvious example, but you’ll also come across Goro, Shun and even Haruka. It’s a clever way to link the games and to make fans of the series get excited.

Yakuza fans when they recognise a character from the main series

However, the casting of Yakuza characters in Like A Dragon: Ishin! isn’t the only thing to get excited about. There are also a lot of Shiba Inus wandering around…

On a serious note, playing Like A Dragon: Ishin! is a dream for fans of the franchise and not just because it’s a “lost game” in the series. While Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s turn-based combat system was a genuinely good one and an unexpected surprise, it’s just so damn satisfying to go back to the classic brawler combat the series is known for. In Like A Dragon: Ishin!, Kiryu Ryōma again has four styles to choose from; Brawler, Swordsman, Gunman and Wild Dancer.

During this period of time, Japan was facing the arrival of ships from the west and firearms so the notion of fighting with swords was beginning to look less effective; at least that’s what I got from the game. Anyone who’s played Yakuza before will be right at home with the different fighting styles. Brawler is basically just pulled right from any of the other games, while Gunman, Swordsman and Wild Dancer feel different enough to seem new but familiar enough to be right at home.

Gunman is my least favourite of the new combat styles because it feels so far removed from what we’ve seen before. The closest I can compare it to is when you have a pistol in any of the Yakuza games and use it as an item until it runs out. I find that enemies too quickly close the gap and too easily get into melee range for Gunman to be all that useful. Wild Dancer is a great combination of katanas and pistols but Swordsman is easily my favourite. Yes, the combat still has a bit of that famous Yakuza jank and yes it’s still cartoonish and silly but that’s what the series is all about. I love being able to deflect an attack and wail on a baddie’s backside.

Outside of combat, Like A Dragon: Ishin! includes everything you’d want and expect from a game in this franchise; except for neon lights. Ryōma wanders the city following the main quest which gradually unravels with all of the ridiculous twists and turns you’d want. Along the way, he’ll be accosted by random thugs looking to fight and random citizens wanting his help. As usual, sub-stories are where the game really lets its hair down and gets silly. From being forced to listen to a woman tell stories because everyone else is sick of her to being a detective and figuring out which two men in a lineup ate the prized mochi, Like A Dragon: Ishin! doesn’t let its historical setting detract from the silly fun.

Elsewhere, the Another Life mode lets you live out your Animal Crossing/Stardew Valley samurai fantasies. Here, Ryōma can grow crops, raise animals and escape from the hustle and bustle of seeking vengeance to take it easy. It’s very, very easy to get distracted and end up spending way too much time in Another Life, though I find that happens with most side activities in most Yakuza games.

Overall, Like A Dragon: Ishin!, while far removed from the neon-drenched streets of Kamurocho, is well and truly a standout game in the series. It’s unfortunate that the visuals do seem to be slightly underdone though. For much of the duration of the game, when the camera would shift perspective, textures would take a few seconds to pop in giving Like A Dragon: Ishin! an ugly veneer. Also, as is the franchise’s style, any characters who aren’t in the main cast are laughably undetailed. It’s par for the course but it still doesn’t make it any less of a shame.

Being a remake of a game from 2014, Like A Dragon: Ishin! isn’t without some dated edges too. It’s not an open world and instead, you’re funnelled between small zones. There is an absolute glut of cutscenes, but you’ll be used to that if you’ve played any game in the series before. And, there are still all-combat sections completely cut off from the rest of the game. These and many more foibles of the Like A Dragon series are present and accounted for. At this point, I’m not sure if the games would be the same if you changed these dated features.

Franchise fans are going to eat Like A Dragon: Ishin! up like a stolen mochi. Other players might be drawn in by the historical setting, which truly is a breath of fresh air for the series. Not that I don’t love my city streets but one thing I’ve always loved about Yakuza is how it makes you feel like you’re really in Japan. Like A Dragon: Ishin! does that but it also sends you back in time.

I also really enjoy how Like A Dragon: Ishin! takes Japanese history and uses it to craft an off-the-wall, ridiculous, grounded, funny, deadly serious samurai revenge story. It probably is the series’ greatest strength. I can’t think of any other games that can weave a plot like Yakuza/Like A Dragon can.

It’s great that a game deemed too Japanese for western audiences is now being released and if it succeeds, we can only hope Japanese devs will start seeing more of a market for their games too. Like A Dragon: Ishin! is everything you want it to be and more. Fans won’t want to miss this one.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! was reviewed on Xbox Series X using digital code provided by the publisher.

Like A Dragon: Ishin!
Reader Rating0 Votes
Classic "Yakuza" gameplay
A different setting makes Ishin! feel fresh
The old combat system feels great
In true "Yakuza" fashion the game is all over the shop
LOTS of texture pop-in
In true "Yakuza" fashion the game is all over the shop
Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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