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Feb 17, 2023

Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $59.99
  • Developer: Ryu Go Gagotoku
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Genre: Action, Brawler
  • Released: Feb 21, 2023
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
  • Reviewed: PlayStation 5

For those in the west, the Yakuza series has been missing a gem, a title that would be foreign to us since the PlayStation 4’s launch in late 2013. But with the success of Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, SEGA has finally decided to give us westerners a taste of this PS4 launch window title with Like a Dragon: Ishin!

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Like A Dragon: Ishin! is exactly what you would expect from the now-rebranded Yakuza title. The Like a Dragon series has all the familiar trappings of the Yakuza games that came before it. All of its combat, gameplay, and mission structure is lifted from those previous titles. The most significant difference here is that Ishin! takes place in 19th-century Japan. Kiryu and the troupe of characters from all over the series take on new roles and sometimes new personalities. It’s quite interesting to see these characters play new roles as if they were digital actors and not characters out of a story. In Ishin! Kiryu is still the protagonist, although his character’s name is Sakamoto Ryōma. Ryōma is on a revenge tale to find the ninja who murdered his father figure. The only clue Ryōma has at the time is that this ninja uses an unknown sword-fighting style called Tennen Rishin. Early on you infiltrate the group that you believe to be housing the killer and it’s Ryōma’s job to find the man and take him down from the inside.

As with any Like a Dragon title, the writing is spot on. Each character has a well-fitting personality, and each one is performed wonderfully. Its many cutscenes have weight to them, and as I followed along with the story, I was very eager to get into the next story tidbit to learn more and join Ryōma on this journey. One could say the game dug its hooks into me. But this revenge tale is balanced wonderfully against the more comedic aspect of the game, something the Like a Dragon series has excelled at. It’s not uncommon to engage in a serious battle, with stylistic camera angles and all, only to finish the fight, run around the corner, and bump into a guy accusing five men of eating his mochi. Of course, he stops you and wants you to help him decide who is the mochi thief through some brief questioning. Or maybe you find a dog who is constantly barking, annoying the local neighbors. They want to put him down, and the only way to shut him up is to walk into the Ebisu Pawn shop next door and buy him a bone every time you see him. But like in previous Like A Dragon titles, you’ll also run across heartwarming sub-stories like helping a little boy, and a little girl give their last goodbyes before the little girl moves to a new town.

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To top it all off, what would a Like a Dragon title be without some minigames to keep things fresh between sub-stories and missions? Ishin! Includes a Karaoke bar, dance halls, gambling, mahjong, and chicken races. In all honesty, the weakest of the bunch this time around is the chicken races. The best way to think of them is horse racing, but with chickens. If you enjoy the gambling aspect of horse racing, this might tickle your fancy, but otherwise, it’s neat to see the chickens speed-walk around the track all at once. My two favorite activities were Karaoke and Dancing. Karaoke plays out exactly how the older Like a Dragon title utilized it. Words appear on the screen in rows and under each are a combination of the face buttons that you will need to press in time with the song. Three songs allow you to take the lead; the rest are backup vocals for another singer. Fair warning, though, the final song on the list is a bit challenging, and they even through real-world actors at you during this one with beautiful Japanese ladies doing sensual poses in the background to try and distract you.

The dancing practiced here is the Nihon Buyo style, which is famous in traditional Japanese art. In the game, you are given one to two “+” shaped note highways where you must press the corresponding directional or face button in time with a solid color line that meets with the edge of the shapes. This game can be tricky yet satisfying, especially considering that the “+” shape on the right-hand side of the screen corresponds to your face buttons. You could end up in a situation where you have to hit the left directional button in rhythm and be asked to hit the “O” button in a similar rhythm. I don’t typically enjoy the gambling or Majong in the other Like a Dragon titles, so they’re there if you enjoy spending time with those activities.

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The game is gorgeous on a PS5, but you can tell this was a port of an older PS4 game. NPCs will fade in and out of existence when too far from the player’s actionable area; facial animations can feel smooth and authentic one minute and robotic and jolted the next. For the most part, it was a beautiful game to look at. The characters still retain some of that shiny plastic feel that was very noticeable in games like 0 and the first two remakes. Because it’s on PS5, where fidelity is higher, that plastic feel now looks like plastic with pores. It’s a good look per-se, but it is leaps better than their look on the older generation hardware.

Combat is where a lot of the game has changed. You’re versed in the way of four disciplines, Brawler, Blademaster, Gun, and Wild Style. Brawler is where all your hand-to-hand combat lives, while the Gun style utilizes firearm-based attacks. One of the benefits of the Gun early on is the ability to hold down the R2 button and paint targets who will get hit by the projectile. Otherwise, you aim and shoot at who you want to die. The Blademaster is where I’ve spent most of my time honing in on 3-4 hit combos and blocking attacks. The Wild Style is a blocking-free stance where you constantly move and throw an attack or shot at someone. It’s similar to how you approach the dancing style Majima uses in Yakuza 0. You’re hoping and flinging yourself all over the battlefield, aiming with the gun while holding a blade in your off hand, ready to chop down any foe.

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Outside of the time period, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a cut-and-dry copy of any other Like a Dragon title before it. Luckily, that is an entertaining formula. If you found those other titles a chore, stay away from Ishin! Although the ancient Japanese setting might be enough for you.

A PlayStation 5 code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes