Like a Dragon: Ishin! is the latest title in the popular Yakuza franchise. However, it’s not as new as some people think. Originally, the game came out in 2014 as a launch title for the PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, it only came out in Japan. In 2023, the game was remade using Unreal Engine 4 and released worldwide, and I, for one, am thankful it did!
Like a Dragon: Ishin! Gameplay
Set in late-Edo Japan, during turbulent times of class wars and oppression or the British seeking colonisation, the game’s world will feel new to fans of the series. The gameplay itself will, for the most part, feel familiar. In the game, you play Sakamoto Ryoma. Ryoma is a samurai who, on returning home, witnesses his father figure’s death and vows revenge. Travelling through Kyo will unravel a sinister plot threatening Japan as you seek vengeance.
Throughout the game, you will explore and live a life in the Another Life portion, allowing you to take it easier with activities like farming, cooking, and trading. Of course, it wouldn’t be from the Yakuza franchise if there weren’t a variety of minigames to discover. From dancing to karaoke, chicken racing to cooking, the diversity of life in this period is brought to the front. I love these little side quests and minigames because they make the world feel more real and enriched.
It’s not all perfect, though
Players have reported issues regarding framerate drops, stuttering and crashes. On PC, I noticed some minor stuttering during cutscenes (on a high-end PC), and these mostly went away following a patch. Some of the NPC interactions and pathing also occasionally felt awkward, reminding me that this was a remake of a much older game.
As with all Yakuza games, the cutscenes are frequent and lengthy, so while the flow of gaming can take a hit, they’re a joy. Building on the story and narrative. Someone with better editing skills than me could assemble them together and make a Japanese cinema-inspired short movie with them.
I can’t fault the fun this game offers, though. With the main quest, the side stories and the minigames, this is a wonderful historical action game with a unique but fitting story. I particularly like the nods to real people of the time, even though this story is a work of fiction. Similarly, whether using a keyboard/mouse combo or a controller, the controls felt smooth and responsive.
Combat in Like a Dragon: Ishin!
Combat in Like a Dragon: Ishin! is what you’d expect from a game in the Yakuza series before the 2020 Yakuza: Like a Dragon implemented turn-based combat. The free-form combat makes the action sequences more fluid and works well with a controller or traditional keyboard/mouse.
You have four styles to pick from when in combat: brawler, swordsman, gunslinger, and wild dancer. Each has its own unique set of moves, combos, and playstyles. Brawler is a martial arts style, while katana relies on the sword. Gunslinger is great for ranged combat, but if you want a truly unique experience, pick wild dancer when you can. This is a more agile blend of swordsman and gunslinger, and wielding both as you dance around the screen dispatching foes is genuinely satisfying.
The combat is slick and looks great. It can be challenging to get sword fighting to feel and look good in a game, but Like a Dragon: Ishin! does this very well. As you fight and build up combos, you will get scored at the end and can earn points to level up the skills in each combat style’s skill tree. Side quests around trainers in the game world can also help improve those skills. This was a nice blend of gameplay mechanics and story mechanics to make you feel like you were improving naturally. In addition, weapons and equipment can also be improved by visiting a blacksmith. This is the first time a mechanic like this has been introduced in a Yakuza game, and it’s great for adding to the immersive experience.
You can also obtain Trooper Cards, which allow powerful abilities to be used with each fighting style. Combat is well thought out and, while challenging, never felt impossible.
Audio and Visuals
The remake feels incredibly well done, for the most part. The game is set in late-Edo Japan, and the world has been created with incredible care and attention. Walking through towns feels like stepping back in time, and taking in a spot of virtual tourism is great.
The audio is well done, from NPCs talking amongst themselves to the impressive voice acting during cutscenes. Combined with atmospheric music escalating to high-tempo scores during combat, the world comes alive.
Visually, while some of the textures can still look a little flat, the upgrade from the original to the Unreal 4 Engine is clear. Textures, hair, and models all look much better and again draw you into this world. Animations are also on point for the main characters and during combat, and the cutscenes are cinematic. My only gripe, if I was to have one, is that sometimes the NPCs can feel a little awkward, and it swiftly reminds you that this is a remake of an older-generation game.
Final Thoughts on Like a Dragon: Ishin!
It’s important to remember that this is a remake, so sure, it has some awkwardly outdated NPC pathing and interaction and graphically, some textures look a little flat. Though these are minor issues, I’m nit-picking as a reviewer. I can’t deny that I loved being transported to late-Edo Japan and embarking on this epic story, playing all the little minigames, exploring the world, engaging in katana swordfights and more. The care, attention, and enhancements this game received set it above every other game in the Yakuza franchise. It’s a must-play.