Including spin off titles, there’s now been more than 10 Yakuza games.
Or shall we say, Like a Dragon games, as that’s how the series shall be known in the west from now on, mirroring what they’ve been known as since day dot in the east. It’s perhaps apt for the latest entry as well: being set in the 18th century, there’s not a Yakuza in sight in Like a Dragon: Ishin! It’s just a shame that of all the Like a Dragon games, it’s turned out to be one that has captivated us the least.
Is it because of series fatigue? Perhaps a little. But it’s probably more to do with the fact that Like a Dragon: Ishin! has one of the weakest campaigns in the series, and doesn’t particularly stand out in any other area, either.
The protagonist of Like a Dragon: Ishin! may look, sound and have the personality of Kazuma Kiryu, but he is in fact a gent called Sakamoto Ryoma. Arriving home in Tosa, he’s reunited with who he considers to be his father and his brother, and they soon set together a plan to change the province for good. But then disaster happens, and his father is assassinated in cold blood during a meeting that should have been a secret. Accused of his father’s murder, Sakamoto flees to Kyo. It’s there that he takes upon the task of hunting his father’s killer down, and of course becomes embroiled within a much bigger plot in the process.
The story of Like a Dragon: Ishin! has some real potential, but for much of its 20-odd hour duration it’s simply dull. In many chapters you’ll simply travel back and forth between the hotel you’re staying in and the barracks of the small army of elite fighters you’ve joined to progress your ambitions, perhaps stopping off at the odd location in between to engage in some violence. It all feels a little formulaic and stretched out.
Stick with it, though, and it does eventually pick up. From around the halfway point of the story, you’re likely to have much more of an enjoyable time. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to really capture your interest and give Sakamoto, who goes by the game of Saito Hajime in Kyo, more personality. There are the usual assortment of twists and turns, some of which perhaps feel a little forced, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Though there are some plot holes, too, including one that has really left us scratching our heads.
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Thankfully, like all Like a Dragon/Yakuza games, there’s plenty to do on the side, and mixing these substories and activities in with story progression is the best way to play. Like a Dragon: Ishin! has all manner of weird and wonderful people for you to meet, help and fight beside, and by engaging in their stories you’ll not only form bonds with them but also gain valuable rewards. Delivering letters, clamping down on crime and giving playthings to a young boy are just a few of the substories on offer, and sometimes they’re not only fun, but offer a nice glimpse of Sakamoto’s true character.
When it comes to activities, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has many that you’ll be familiar with, like karaoke, dancing and a battle arena. There are many more though, such as fishing, competitive drinking, and even running your own farm. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do, and if you want to see and do everything that the game has to offer you’ll be engaged far beyond the end of the main story.
Of course, combat is another major component of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, and there’s a lot of it. ‘Solid’ is perhaps the best word to describe it; it’s engaging and enjoyable, but perhaps not quite as flashy as we’re normally accustomed to. Four fighting styles are available, which you can switch between with a simple press of the d-pad. Brawler sees you fighting with your fists, pummelling enemies into submission, while Gunman allows you to combat enemies from afar. Then there’s Swordman, which allows you to take on your enemies with your katana. Add a gun into the mix and you have the last style, Wild Dancer, that is no doubt the fanciest of the lot.
By employing each style you’ll gain orbs that you can use to upgrade them and learn new skills. By gaining experience and levelling up, you earn orbs that can be used to further any style of your choosing, too. To truly master a style, however, you’ll have to seek training. Only by doing this will some of the best skills and upgrades become available. Chances are you’ll come to particularly love one style and focus on it, but all are fairly useful in certain circumstances. The Gunman style, for example, is pretty much useless when faced with a horde of samurai rushing you. But if you’re up against a group of men wielding rifles, it’s pretty much essential.
Adding a bit of flair and depth to the combat is a system called Troopers. Essentially, you gain and develop Troopers by completing short dungeon-like missions where you go up against bandits. They can be gained in other ways, too. Assign these Troopers to each of the four fighting styles available and they not only increase your stats, but also offer a range of additional skills and buffs in battle. Some of these are rather fantastical and out of place, like zapping enemies with chain lighting, while others merely boost your attack power for a short period. With a huge number of Troopers to be acquired and developed, it could become a bit of a timesink for some.
Presentation-wise, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s certainly not as impressive as Yakuza: Like a Dragon or Lost Judgment on PS5. Pivotal story scenes are great, with brilliant cinematography, but others are less grand. As you’ll play, you’ll occasionally run into the odd NPC that looks decidedly worse than the rest as well. Overall, Kyo just isn’t as visually appealing as a usual Like a Dragon setting – the signs and lights used to attract your attention in places like Kamurocho genuinely do their job. Here, one venue is largely indistinguishable from another.
Was it really necessary to remake Like a Dragon: Ishin!? It’s questionable, but we’re glad it’s finally available in the west in some form. It’s not the best Like a Dragon game – in fact, it might come quite low in the pile – but a good time can be had with it nonetheless. Its world might not be all that attractive, and its story a slow-burner, but it has the usual charm and a bucketload of interesting activities to carry it.