Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

Richard Walker

You can never have too much of a good thing, at least when it comes to Yakuza games. Or, should we say, as this is the first game to fully embrace the series' rebrand: Like a Dragon. A remake of 2014's Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin, which originally only saw the light of day in Japan, Like a Dragon: Ishin! (the exclamation mark is entirely warranted) is most definitely more of that good thing, and a chance for a western audience to at long last experience what was previously considered one of the more obscure franchise outings.

In fact, it was for some time considered unadaptable to a western audience, but, on the strength of Ishin's narrative and its bold characterisation, that clearly isn't the case. Like a Dragon: Ishin! is unreservedly wonderful. Transposing recognisable Yakuza characters to a historical setting, inspired by real-world 1860s Kyo, Ishin has you slipping into the sandals and haori of Sakamoto Ryoma, who looks like Kazuma Kiryu, but is not Kazuma Kiryu. With us so far? Good.

A low-ranking goshi samurai, Ryoma soon finds himself in trouble – much like Kiryu often does – as he returns to his hometown of Tosa, having committed 'dappan', leaving his master's domain to become a ronin. When his 'Pops' is murdered, Ryoma embarks upon a quest to find the masked assassin responsible, which leads him on a search for users of the Tennen Rishin combat style. This leads you to join the Shinsengumi, a faction of deadly samurai warriors, whose ranks comprise all manner of familiar faces from across the entire Yakuza series, albeit recast in various historical roles.

Gradually, Ishin's story spirals into a sort of whodunit, as Ryoma crosses suspects off his list, while working alongside his confidant, Nakaoka Shintaro (who, fittingly, has the face of Yakuza's trench-coated detective, Makoto Date). Of course, this being a Like a Dragon game, the main storyline is but one facet of the overall experience, and, as you'd expect, Ishin is brimming with amusing substories, excellent mini-games, and other distractions that regularly pull you away from the beaten path, although that magnetic central narrative thread will invariably pull you back in.

Karaoke, gambling, shogi, buyo dancing, fishing, and (yes!) chicken racing all vie for your attention as you wander down Ishin's labyrinthine streets, but the real substance is to be found in those bite-sized substories - one minute you'll be chopping wood for an old man or listening to a chatty woman's meandering stories, the next you'll be running away from a perfume-addled madman. And, along the way, you'll forge friendships with countless Kyo denizens across the region's shops, taverns, and restaurants. You can even pop into the local brothel, and try impressing courtesan Anna with your drinking game prowess.

All of the bonds formed and deeds carried out earn 'Virtue', a spiritual currency that can be used for all manner of things. You can exchange it at shrines for 'blessings', which include perks like increased sprinting duration, better fishing rods, more inventory slots, a reputation boost, or improvements to your farm. Yes, farm.

Gain access to Ryoma's villa, and you can experience the 'Another Life' subplot with Haruka (who ardent Yakuza fans will know as Kiryu's adopted daughter), wherein you can cultivate and harvest vegetables, then use them to cook meals within your cosy homestead. Some dishes require fish, making indulging in a spot of angling at the riverside or at sea slightly more crucial than it normally is. At the Shinsengumi barracks, meanwhile, you can tackle a range of battle dungeons, where you can cut down bandits through networks of caves, honing your trooper skill cards, and gathering valuable materials you can take to the blacksmith in order to forge new weapons or enhance existing ones.

As is the case with every Yakuza game, there's a startling breadth of content to immerse yourself in, but not before you've got to grips with the combat, which encompasses four different fighting styles. Brawler style has Ryoma using his fists and picking up weapons, in the traditional Yakuza way; while Swordsman puts your skills with a razor-sharp katana front and centre. Gunman has Ryoma slinging a six-shooter (albeit one that never needs reloading), while Wild Dancer combines katana and gun, enabling Ryoma to dispatch foes in a whirling, graceful flash of blades and bullets.

All four styles have their uses – and prove equally gratifying - and each level up individually, granting Spirit Orbs that can be slotted into skill trees to unlock new abilities, just like Yakuza 0's big circular skill trees. Ryoma also has a single persistent level, unlocking a Training Orb, which can be used with any fighting style skill tree, for each level gained. Training with masters (including stalwart martial arts trainer Komaki) unlocks further abilities, increasing the suite of moves you'll have at your disposal, which, as ever, include brutal Heat actions that enable you to mash up enemies in typically bloody fashion. Combat does come with occasional camera issues (getting obscured by scenery), but not to a degree that it ever conspires to mar the experience.

For a Yakuza fan who has been looking with envious eyes at Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin being confined to Japan for the last nine years, Like a Dragon: Ishin! represents a golden opportunity to finally immerse yourself in 1860s Kyo – a place steeped in rich detail and character; you can almost smell the udon and sake. Boasting an engaging tale of revenge and revolution, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a cracking remake and stellar localisation of what could have remained a Japanese exclusive, but in making the jump to the west, it's something that has seemingly lost none of its authenticity, its unique flavour, and every one of the fundamental elements that make RGG Studio's series so enduringly, and consistently, appealing. Now how about a remake of Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan?

Like a Dragon: Ishin!

If you've been wondering what all the fuss surrounding the Yakuza series' foray into Japanese history is about, then wonder no more. Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a superlative localisation of a compelling samurai story, that is every bit as good as the series' other best outings. Brilliant.

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Predictably excellent music and superior voice acting, Ishin! has also been given a superb localisation. RGG Studio has delivered yet again.


Lavish Unreal Engine 4 visuals that don’t quite measure up to the sumptuous graphics conjured by the Dragon Engine, but look marvellous nonetheless.


Every bit as immediate and enjoyable as any other Yakuza/Like a Dragon game, with that lovely, crunchy button-mashing combat and deeply involving mini-games.


Ishin's story alone will keep you hooked, while 72 substories, loads of mini-games, and the 'Another Life' sub-story add masses of extra value.


A typically solid list that covers all of the bases - story milestones, substories, mini-games, and more. Legend difficulty, too, as always.

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