Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a remake of the 2014 game titled ‘Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin!’ that had a limited release back in 2014. As the Yakuza series from Ryu Ga Gotoku studio has gained popularity in recent years and Ghost of Tsushima’s blockbuster success brought a lot of fandom around the samurai history, it made perfect sense for the brand to remake one of its classics using Unreal Engine 4. Having never played a game from this studio before, I had a rough idea of what I could expect as I had seen brief gameplay footage from other games in the series. However, I was still unsure of what I was getting into. After finishing the mainline story, I can safely say that Like a Dragon: Ishin! offers a crazy ride even for those who are playing a game from this series for the first time. However, I must point out that there are some aspects of the game that might be frustrating to players who are used to modern open-world games. Without wasting any time, let’s jump right into what this game has to offer.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! presents a mainline narrative that is in complete contrast to the light-hearted side missions this game has to offer. While there are moments that you would find funny, the mainline story is driven by an overarching theme of revenge and justice that establishes an austere tone. The story begins as we follow the footsteps of protagonist Sakamoto Ryoma, who has just returned from a year-long sword training in Edo to his home town Tosa. As we get to know more about Tosa, we learn how the society is divided into three sections – Goshi (general people), Higher Goshi (A rank above general people), and Joshi (high-class people). The class divide issues have frustrated Toyo, Sakamoto Ryoma’s father and Magistrate in Toso, and Ryoma’s brother Takechi Hanpeita, who leads Tosa Loyalist Party. A series of twists and turns, which lead to the murder of Toyo result in Sakamoto Ryoma fleeing the city to Kyo to avenge his father’s assassination. Without giving too much away about the story, Ryoma has to hide his identity and gets entangled in a political mess as the story progresses.
The story is divided into 14 chapters and each chapter keeps you on your toes as there are countless twists in the story. While the narrative deals with themes such as betrayal, empathy, loyalty, and friendship, the crucial message that the story delivers can resonate even in today’s times in most modern societies – Merit should precede the class that you were born into. This can make you wonder if we have really progressed much since the mid-1850s Japan. While the mainline story campaign is impressive, the character development of the protagonist is a bit questionable. Sakamoto Ryoma feels like a one-dimensional character who is driven primarily by hate more than anything else. In fact, the most interesting character in the campaign was not Ryoma but Okita Sōji, who felt like a loose cannon and had a wide range of emotions on offer.
But overall, the mainline story offered by Like a Dragon: Ishin! is engaging and doesn’t feel like a drag. It took me around 30 hours to finish the main story campaign but you can easily finish it sooner if you engage in fewer side missions.
Coming to the side missions, you can expect a complete flip from the main story. While the main story is serious, the side missions and the mini-games in the game are funny and sometimes downright ridiculous. For example, in one of the side missions, Sakamoto Ryoma’s clothes are stolen while taking a bath and he has to chase down the thief through a busy market in his underwear, resulting in him being chased by the local crowd for obscenity. In another side mission, Ryoma found a local Sumo wrestler who couldn’t find enough food to satiate his hunger and take part in the competition. He claims that if he can enter the competition and win, he will be able to afford more food and asks Ryoma to help him out of this catch-22 situation.
The mini-games involve fishing, chicken racing, and as a part of a side mission where you save a girl’s home from being sold off by its landlord, you also get to do farming in this game.
And these are just a few, there are plenty more on offer here. Side missions and mini-games in this game are extremely amusing and I couldn’t help myself but indulge in these every now and then.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! has an interesting combat system consisting of four styles – Brawler, Swordsman, Gunman, and Wild Dancer. Brawler is for those who prefer hand-to-hand combat; Swordsman, as the name suggests, is a style focused on fighting with a sword. With Gunman, you can go for guns (which, feels odd in the beginning considering the Samurai setting), and finally Wild Dance, which was a personal favourite for me, as it combined the use of sword and gun. Each style comes with its benefits and caveats. For example, the defence in Wild Dancer style is limited to dodging the attacks but in Swordsman stance, you can block the enemy attacks with the sword.
While the pace of attacks is better in the Wild Dancer stance, the effective damage dealt with each move in other stances is more. However, choosing the right style for a particular combat is part of the fun. I mostly found myself using the Wild Dancer and Swordsman styles the most. The skill tree for each of these styles can be invested in using Training and Style orbs. Whichever style you prefer, you can choose to go all in.
One notable aspect of the game is Trooper cards. In this system, you can have several squads of troopers who bring in different abilities with them and help you out during the battles. This help could be in the form of an attacking move or by restoring your health. Especially in boss battles, these could come in really handy. You can edit and upgrade these troopers as you progress through the story.
Another aspect of the game is collecting virtue. You can cultivate virtue by doing good deeds for Kyo and its people. This can be earned by helping them solve their problems or shopping at their local shops. Virtues can be exchanged for blessings. With the cultivation of virtue, reputation in town increases, easing up your way to do your business. Tasks mentioned in Diligence records help you earn virtue quickly. In exchange for virtues, you can get blessings. Blessings increase the capacity of your inventory and grant other benefits.
There are prize tickets lying in the streets all over Kyo… collect them and you can participate in Prize Drawings. These tickets can also be bought at certain stores. Luxurious items are available through Prize Drawings and these can be taken part in at the lottery stand. Eventually, another stand opens up which gives you participation in the exchange of 5 tickets and offers better prizes. Both of these stands seem gimmicky and don’t offer good value. Once you get a prize, you can’t get it again and eventually get scrap paper as the reward 95 percent of the time.
Now let’s discuss the issues. The movement in the game is highly restricted. For example, you cannot even jump in this game. You can only move across designated areas and that’s where the issues start to pop up. While navigating through the city, there is hardly any way to avoid unnecessary battles with local bandits. These battles award you little to no benefits and offer no real challenge. After a while, they start to feel more interruptive than engaging. One way to avoid some of these battles is fast travel, which comes in the form of palanquin bearers. However, these are found in very few places and offer limited options to go around. As the entire map of Like a Dragon: Ishin! is not large, you end up going back and forth between two places for almost the entire length of the mainline story campaign. While the world seems alive when you move across the Kyo market, there are NPCs elsewhere standing absolutely still for you to interact with for side missions. However, you can put all these issues aside in comparison to the most frustrating aspect of Like a Dragon: Ishin! I’m talking about the loading screens that show up when you move between two areas. And I’m not even referring to a large area. Even when the protagonist moves into his house or goes back outside, a loading screen pops up. Whether it was a stylistic choice to pay homage to the original game or an overlooked aspect, for a game on PS5 in 2023 to present loading screens every time when you move in and out of even a house feels like torture.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! does not allow you to tweak any graphics settings, which is surprising. As far as visual settings options are concerned, you can enable cinematic mode and some gameplay elements but apart from that, there is simply nothing here. Does that mean the game doesn’t look good? Absolutely not. Kyo city looks beautiful in this game and if there was an option to explore this city more, it would have been an extremely inviting addition. However, do not expect the game to compete with other visual stunners in the last few years as it can simply not compete with the likes of Ghost of Tsushima among others. However, if you are going for the Like a Dragon series, you pretty much know what you are coming for, so your expectations will likely be tilted in another direction anyway.
Notably, in the chapter ‘Kyo Ablaze’ where the entire city of Kyo can be seen burning, there were frame drops in the areas that depicted fire. As soon as you move to the areas that are not ablaze, you will notice the animations getting smoother. This seems like an optimisation issue and can be addressed in a future update. Apart from this, I had no performance issues with the game.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a crazy ride that offers incredible storytelling and some enjoyable combat experience. While the game is marred by some issues, as it is a remake of a classic, some of these issues are understandable. With some engaging and downright ridiculous side missions, the game has a lot to offer beyond its main story campaign and will keep you engaged for a long time. For the fans of the Yakuza and Like a Dragon series, the inclusion of gun fighting could be one of the biggest appeals for this game. As someone who had never played a game from this series before, I can safely say I can’t wait to check out the other titles.
Rating: 3 / 5
- Engaging story
- Combat gameplay
- Funny side missions
- Restricted movement
- Loading animations while moving between areas
- Inefficient fast travel