Like a Dragon: Ishin! Review

If you’ve ever wondered what the Yakuza series protagonist Kazama Kiryu would have been like as a samurai in the late Edo period of Japan, then boy have I got the game for you! It’s Like a Dragon: Ishin!, a remake of the PlayStation 3/4 title Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin!, which sees you playing as real-life samurai Sakamoto Ryōma, who happens to look and sound exactly like Kiryu.

As with the Yakuza series, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a third-person action RPG, which sees you wandering around doing tons of side quests, getting into fight after fight, and playing mini-games for hours on end. Oh, there’s also a really great story, but I’m not going to lie, this review would have been out weeks ago if I’d concentrated on the story.

Set in Japan in the mid-1800s, you play as Sakamoto Ryōma as his life implodes and he has to change his identity to discover who killed his adoptive father. Along the way he joins the Shinsengumi, a brutal organisation which “police” the town of Kyo. For the most part the game is inspired by historical events so it’s quite informative. Certain terms have entries in the glossary, which can also be accessed while characters are talking, so among other things you’ll learn that Kyo is now known as Kyoto.

Unfortunately, the glossary doesn’t explain everything. I can overlook things like food items not being in there, but things like Shinsengumi aren’t despite the organisation being a major part of the game. The main character knows all about them, so it’s not even explained in dialogue! Right at the start of the game we see people bowing to some people without an explanation of what makes someone a Joshi or a Goshi, we just have to gather from context that one is “better” than the other.

Apart from that, throughout Like a Dragon: Ishin! you get a good sense of life in Japan in the 1800s. I was surprised, and I’ll admit a little disappointed, that developer Ryu Ga Gotoku resisted the urge to base Kyo on their fake city of Kamurocho as I’m a fan of their previous games, but I definitely wasn’t disappointed. There are restaurants, bars, shops, apothecaries, even a not-karaoke karaoke bar! Of course, there are plenty of places for gambling as well as fishing, training, and Sakamoto even gets a bit of farm land. The city feels alive in Ryu Ga Gotoku’s signature style, with people to meet, and plenty of people to beat (up).

Combat in Like a Dragon: Ishin! has four styles, as might be familiar to fans of the developer. However, this time as well as your fists you have swords and a gun; there is one style that is just the gun, one that is just the sword, and one that combines the two known as Wild Dancer. Fans may baulk and say that Kiry- I mean Sakamoto doesn’t kill, and even after shooting people 30+ times with a 6-shot pistol without reloading, I can confirm that they don’t die. Stab them through the stomach? They brush it off and run away moments later. All of the blood spray that covered the walls during the battle? Shut up. Sakamoto called in a literal bear to attack an opponent? Also shut up, I swear to Ebisu.

You, too, can call in a tiger to non-lethally maul your enemies!

Honestly, I was a little concerned that fighting would be too different, but I’ve never found myself wanting to avoid combat because of the mechanics. Each style has its own upgrade path, and the more you use a style the more orbs you get to upgrade it with. Luckily, there are items that you can get to increase each style’s experience, so you can choose to buff it without actually utilising it, in case you don’t like slowly beating people up. Yeah, unlike Kiryu, it turns out that Sakamoto is kinda wimpy and his fists don’t do a whole lot of damage…

As alluded to earlier, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has plenty of substories, or side quests, to sink your teeth into. Whether it’s helping a child eat their veggies, working out why an amnesiac keeps getting knocked out, or co-writing the next great Japanese novel, there’s a ton of variety. I’ve played all seven of the action Yakuza games and both Judgment titles (I skipped the JRPG), and it amazes me how Ryu Ga Gotoku keeps thinking up these ludicrous situations. You’ll know what I mean when you feed a man a bento, made with care, by a loving wife.

While not always tied into substories, you’ll also meet a lot — a lot — of people who you’ll form bonds with. I was honestly annoyed at how many shops I needed to spend thousands of mon just to fill that meter. Filling the bond, whether it’s through giving a lonely woman vegetables, giving a lucky cat money, buying things from a shop, or eating at a restaurant (and tons more) will often be worthwhile. You might get a lot of cash, or just a lot of Virtue. Mainly Virtue. Sometimes you get a pet out of it, though, which lives at your farm.

What is Virtue? Well, the Yakuza series has Completion Points, where you do certain things and get one point, and can redeem them for passive perks. Virtue is like that, except you get it for everything. Picking vegetables gives you a few Virtue, saving someone from assault nets a handful, but completing a bond gets you thousands. You definitely need them, because you can redeem them to increase your sprinting stamina, your inventory space, unlock fishing rods, and improve your farm.

Again with farming, so I should probably talk about Another Life. Sakamoto is introduced to this girl who lost her parents, and can’t afford to pay the landlord monies owed. He offers to buy the house and allow her to keep living there, and he’ll help to run the family business as well. The house has a small garden that is used to grow vegetables, which you can then sell as part of that business, as well as fish that you catch and food that you cook. Virtue can be redeemed for a bigger garden, better growing rates, and more, so you’ll want to complete bonds to gather Virtue! It’s a time consuming cycle, especially if you want to grow ginseng which literally takes about an hour of real time to grow, as opposed to daikon which takes about a minute and a half.

Two things that I have never liked in Ryu Ga Gotoku titles are baseball and fishing. Well, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has turned me around on both of them. Fishing is really simple, you throw in the line and wait for a bite, then hit a button. Baseball, however, isn’t technically baseball. It’s “slice cannonballs in half at the pier”, because this mad scientist has decided that this was a good use of his time, but people don’t want to do it because he’s firing cannonballs at them. It’s a lot easier to do than baseball has ever been, and there’s a second version where you shoot the cannonballs instead!

One thing I feel bad about is that I just couldn’t get my head around all of the character names. I’m notoriously bad with names anyway, but Ryu Ga Gotkoku decided to make the characters look like existing characters, so I couldn’t always remember who people were talking about. That’s Detective Date, not Nakaoka Shintarō, what are you even saying? To be fair I didn’t help myself any by equipping the skin that makes Sakamoto look like Kiryu. The default face looks the same anyway, but with the skin it’s literally the hair, grey suit, red shirt… It was like “What if Kiryu was in Quantum Leap?”, because the characters would talk about his Shinsengumi outfit and I was clearly seeing that trademark suit.

No that’s not Majima despite looking, sounding & acting like Majima

My only issue with Like a Dragon: Ishin! is in how it sometimes feels like one of the older Yakuza titles. Enemies will straight up disappear if you interact with something, rather than just disengage their pursuit. NPCs will get latched onto level geometry and just run in one spot even after I collide with them. Though very rare, I noticed hitboxes during fights not always being where they should be, either because an attack missed or hit when I shouldn’t have. In one cutscene the camera had been placed behind a wall for one angle, so it kept just showing a close-up of blood-stained wallpaper.

These tiny issues don’t detract too badly from an amazing game, and Like a Dragon: Ishin! is definitely something that series fans need to play. Newcomers might have an easier time getting into it since the faces won’t confuse the names they already know, and the combat has more variety. Overall, it’s great fun and makes me hope for a Western release of Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan! and remakes of both Kurohyō titles.

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