Like a Dragon: Ishin! is one of the Yakuza franchise’s lesser-known titles in the West, but the translation of “Ishin” to “Restoration Extreme” is now more fitting than ever, considering this formerly Japanese-exclusive PlayStation 4 launch title is now being remade and finally making the journey to the west. At a recent event in NYC, I had the opportunity to preview the title and take a leap back in time in the Yakuza universe.
For my preview I tackled Chapter 3 of the game, titled “Mibu Wolves,” which centers on Sakamoto Ryoma using the alias Saito Hajime as he tries out for the Shinsengumi, an elite band of Japanese fighters in the Bakamatsu era. He’s on the hunt for his mentor’s killer, who he knows uses the Tennen Rishin fighting style, and has narrowed down his suspect pool to someone involved in the Shinsengumi. Ryoma, like his historical namesake, is a rebel and hits immediate friction in his trial to join the Shinsengumi, but he refuses to let that stop his mission of revenge and justice.
Even jumping in at Chapter 3, the plot is easy enough to pick up on and doesn’t require prior knowledge of the Yakuza/Like a Dragon franchise, which I myself have limited familiarity with. Ryoma is easy to sympathize with, and the behavior of some of the Shinsengumi, whether historically accurate or not, makes a perfect antagonistic force for him to fight against. The trademark bizarre humor of the franchise is still out in force despite what could ostensibly be a more sobering time period, with the hilarity and randomness of the sub-stories almost completely undercutting the seriousness of the main storyline dealing with a samurai seeking blood vengeance for a fallen mentor and deceiving one of the most notorious groups of fighters in Japanese history. Somehow, it works very well together.
Even I know that the best parts and generally biggest parts of any Yakuza game are the sidequests, mini-games, and assorted shenanigans that happen in between any real plot development, and Like a Dragon: Ishin! is no different. In just the short time that I played the demo, Ryoma learned Buyo dancing, found himself part of the historical Ee Ja Nai Ka protests, was nearly arrested for streaking, and helped two small children repair their friendship before one of them moved away forever, amongst other activities. Buyo dancing in particular was a fun mini-game, as your dancing requires pressing buttons on the D-pad while the music plays in order to execute moves. While it starts out simple it quickly gets more complicated and challenging.
There is a ton of things to do in the game and at one point I completely forgot I had a story to advance, as it’s easy to get lost running around and doing whatever strikes your fancy. In addition to quantity, the side missions contained a huge amount of variety. From finding the right thing to say, simple battles with thugs, to puzzles and navigating the streets during chase scenes, they don’t feel repetitive. Instead, you do feel like you’re in a very rich, colorful tapestry of city life in the Bakamatsu period, albeit one where many of the people have decided to be as overdramatic and strange as possible.
Having never played a Like a Dragon game before, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Like a Dragon: Ishin!'s combat and could only hope that it was easy enough to pick up in the limited amount of time that I had to complete my demo. Fortunately, the basics are fairly easy to grasp and the game lets you pick between four different combat styles, which you can even switch mid-fight if you need to. This came in handy during one boss fight when I was able to circumvent swordplay and simply shoot the guy, while I stayed safely across the room and out of his attacking range. Controls are smooth and while the basics are easy to pick up, there are good building blocks for anyone who wants to work on using different fighting techniques.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is fresh and entertaining, and not just because of it being localized for the first time. It’s a breath of fresh air for the Yakuza franchise in terms of setting, but meshes so well with the humor and set-up of the main series of games, while still being accessible for those who aren’t as familiar with the franchise, like me. While I’m not usually a fan of remakes and remasters of games that have come out within the last 15 years, I’ll make an exception for Ishin! and I’m now eagerly awaiting the game’s full release in February.
TechRaptor previewed Like a Dragon - Ishin! at an event hosted by Sega. The game will be launching for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on February 21, 2023.