Like a Dragon: Ishin! Based on the long-running Yakuza series, which in itself has a dozen or so titles, spanning everything from the Sony PSP to the Nintendo Wii U, is a remake title based on the previously Japanese exclusive game of the same name, forgoing the Dragon Engine in favour of Unreal Engine 4.
Despite being a spinoff game set in the 1860s, Like a Dragon: Ishin! feels very much cut from the same cloth as the mainline titles, as the game features gameplay and story elements that feel wholly in line with the series proper, heralding a return to its iconic beat-em-up gameplay style, which Yakuza: Like a Dragon axed, instead opting for a turn-based approach.
Like a Dragon: Ishin!, although accessible to newcomers thanks to an original story, is first and foremost made for fans. The game prominently features characters from a swath of the mainline series returning in the guise of new roles, something that adds a lot of entertainment value for those familiar with the source material.
Set during the end of the Edo period, Like a Dragon: Ishin!’s story is one of vengeance, in many ways paralleling themes present in Yakuza 0 and its PlayStation 2 counterpart, but instead set against the backdrop of a tumultuous Japan. Under the strict control of the Bakufu, or the militaristic shogun government, players are thrust into the straw sandals of Kazum…Sakamoto Ryoma.
Ryoma, who, after returning from a year of honing his swordsmanship, is forced to leave his home and become a mole amongst the very people who set him on his quest for vengeance by joining the Shinsengumi, or the policing forces directly controlled by the Bakufu.
Gameplay in Like a Dragon: Ishin! starts off like your typical Yakuza game, with four distinct fighting styles, Brawler, Swordsman, Gunman and Wild Dancer, which, outside of allowing the player to use a sword, gun and a combination of both, feels very familiar to what series veterans expect out of a Yakuza game. If you’re new to the series and expect gameplay reminiscent of something like Ghost of Tsushima, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is, at its core, a 3D brawler.
“…if you stick with Like a Dragon: Ishin! long enough, things open up considerably…”
Fortunately, if you stick with Like a Dragon: Ishin! long enough, things open up considerably in terms of combat variety. Instead of just juggling between 4 types of fighting stances, Chapter 4 introduces players to the Trooper system. On the face of it, the Trooper system is a simple passive quest mechanic that allows you, as a high-ranking Shinsengumi captain, to send soldiers out in search of passive bonuses and rewards. In reality, these missions are fully playable and generally take the form of mini-dungeons with unique enemies, objectives and rewards.
The best rewards for completing these missions come in the form of Trooper cards. These cards feature everything from foot soldiers to exotic animals and even celebrity cameos. Trooper cards can be levelled up as you progress through the game and equipped to match your fighting style. When equipped, these cards can be used to unleash dramatic special attacks, and passive buffs generally add to the already over-the-top combat.
In addition, each of the game’s four different fighting styles can be levelled up by earning Soul Orbs in combat, completing side quests, and gaining Virtue by interacting with characters in the overworld. Thankfully, many of these skills take time to unlock in Like a Dragon: Ishin! offers a host of mini-games and side quests, including both returning and new activities such as gambling, fishing and farming.
Farming, in particular, brings with it a new homestead for Sakamoto Ryoma to embellish as the player sees fit, as well as allowing the player to grow and sell vegetables, cook them and use them in the game’s many side quests.
Finally, both Sakamoto Ryoma’s sword and gun can be upgraded, including bullet and blade upgrades that can be forged by collecting rare materials. These upgrades are generally time-consuming but well worth it and provide an incentive for the player to take part in trooper missions and side quests between the game’s story chapters. At first glance, Like a Dragon: Ishin! may appear to be a simple beat-em-up action game, but due to the many systems and upgrade paths available to the player, the game features some of the more nuanced and richer gameplay loops found in the series (or at least in the titles I’ve played).
Like a Dragon: Ishin! masterfully balances its often serious and bloody story beats with silly and over-the-top action sequences that make for a distinctly Yakuza experience that fans of the series should not miss.