Like a Dragon: Ishin! is an action-adventure game and is a spin off from the Yakuza franchise. Unlike the main series that deals with modern settings, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is set in the 1860s, a time in history when Japan was in the middle of a revolution that saw the end of the samurai era. Play as the legendary Sakumoto Ryoma and fight with both guns, swords and your fists as you try to find a murderer.
From the beginning of the game, it is quite story heavy and battle scenes are a bit few and far between while it establishes the characters and settings. It can be a little hard at first to remember all the buttons due to the infrequency of battles but later on, there’s a lot more random fights around towns where you can train your skills and learn new ones from local dojos.
To be honest, I usually don’t get far in action games. I don’t play this genre often enough to be any good at them and my hands tend to cramp up. But I was really pleased to find that in addition to choosing the difficulty settings, there’s also an array of accessibility options to make your life easier in avoiding repetitive strain injury. Instead of needing to button mash, you can simply hold down the buttons to perform a combo of attacks, which has meant I can enjoy the game for longer sessions.
Although it certainly doesn’t mean I can snooze my way through boss fights, it’s still beneficial to pay attention so you can block or do special attacks for heavy damage! It’s been quite fun to be able to fight with both a sword and gun, as you have appropriate weapons for both short and long range attacks.
I suppose I should mention that I’ve never played a Yakuza game until this one, and while it may be an odd entry point, it makes sense for me as I quite like the historical setting. The game is rich with Japan’s traditions and culture and there’s so many nice little details in the buildings as you explore the towns.
Overall, the animations are pretty good, aside from a few clunky transitions from standing still to running, I quite like using the walk function for that more immersive feel of strolling through the busy town. The facial animations are especially good, which is important for a semi-realistic art style. I like that the cut-scenes are like watching a movie or tv show in their use of focus, framing and lighting to help portray the story and keep you visually engaged.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! does not have an English dub option and only has the Japanese voices with various other subtitle languages. I much prefer to play Japanese games in their native language and am unphased by the lack of voice options, but for some players it may take some time getting used to reading subtitles. While I’m certainly not fluent in Japanese, I know enough to notice that some translations in the English subtitles are somewhat localised into our slang instead of keeping their Japanese nuances. It doesn’t affect the overall story, however, sometimes I feel like it alters the insight into Japanese culture.
While on the surface this game looks like it’s all about the serious plot and beating up bad guys, as you play further in, you will discover there’s plenty of fun little side quests and mini games to get side tracked with. I chanced across music-rhythm games while exploring the towns, such as a karaoke bar and dancing lessons! There’s also weapon crafting and cooking to unlock as well. These sorts of activities are not just frivolous ways just to kill time either, as you will be rewarded with things like virtue points and items that can be used to level up your character.
As someone new to the franchise, I would also recommend other newcomers to give this game a try, especially if you love historical stories and action games. For long-time fans of the Yakuza series, there’s probably heaps of references and familiar gameplay mechanics you will understand that I certainly don’t. Overall, I think there’s a good balance here for everyone to have fun playing the game the way they like best. From a variety of weapons to the quirky side quests, there’s lots to try out aside from just ploughing through the main story.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! is available now on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Windows (PC), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
This game was played on PlayStation 5 for the purpose of this review.