With the release of Like A Dragon: Ishin!, the Like a Dragon franchise has come to the West. Previously, Ishin! was a game that SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku have said there wasn’t enough interest for a North American launch. Games like Ghost of Tshushima proved that there was a market for samurai related games. Thus, we finally get this game in America.
Ishin!’s story is all new and vaguely familiar
The game opens with Ryoma imprisoned for daring to stand up for a woman and child in need. Surprisingly, he finds himself freed by his father figure. After he is a free man, Ryoma meets with his father and finds out that he has plans to overthrow the current caste system government.
Ryoma and his brother agree to help his father oust the emperor and begin the Meji Restoration. That night, an attack on their hideout happens and Ryoma’s father is slain. Ryoma helps his injured brother to escape but has to abandon him and flee as a wanted man. Thus, begins Like A Dragon: Ishin!
Adhere to the samurai code
The combat is in the vein of previous entries and yet feels completely different. Combat has four different stances to choose from. There is katana alone that acts very much like a cat and mouse game. If you swing wildly with no abandon, you will find yourself taking a lot of damage. This stance requires blocking, parrying, and striking at the openings.
The dancer or sword and gun combo is fast, fluid movements and requires a lot of dodging. To be effective, this stance requires precise button presses and a sense of surrounding to be successful. This is my favorite stance and can make you feel like John Wick. Floating along, slicing, shooting, and dodging in an almost rhythmic fashion, I found this stance, sublime.
Next up is the gun stance, my personal least favorite. This stance offers no real defense and a fast trigger finger to succeed. It feels very good to blast a charging enemy and send them reeling, but the bullets outside of that lack a tactile feel. Additionally, this stance doesn’t have the flow of the dancer stance and loses something in translation. It’s cool to wield a gun in a Like A Dragon game but still it lacks the thud of beating something down.
Speaking of which, lastly is the brawler stance. This feels the most like previous entries to the Like A Dragon series. If you have played any other games in the series, you’ll be right at home with this one. Expect face stomps and giant swings aplenty.
Setting is everything
The primary draw for Like A Dragon: Ishin! is the setting. Feudal Japan, right as firearms are being introduced, is a fantastic setting. The Meji Restoration was a time of great upheaval. Swords were losing favor for guns, and the Bushido Law was leaving, so the samurai way of life was disappearing.
In that regard, Ishin! is a welcome break from Kamurocho and all of its cityscapes. The only drawback is the drabness. The overall color palette is muted. There are a lot of browns and grey tones. Honestly, there isn’t much that can be done as the time period constitutes the palette. Still, some cherry blossoms and greenery would have done much to improve things.
I did find the intermingling of guns and swords to be exciting. Slashing and blasting gave me flashbacks to Samurai Western, and if you know that PlayStation One classic, you’ll know what to expect here.
You have to go back to go forward in Like A Dragon: Ishin!
Unfortunately, gameplay and presentation wise feels like a step back, mostly because it is. After having recently completed all of Lost Judgement, you realize how far the series has come. The limited inventory slots, turning in points at shrines, the wheel and marble upgrade system seems outdated. Consequently, everything presented here is very Yakuza Kiwami 2-ish.
A lot of the old standby side quests are here as well. I hope you’re in the mood for shogi and fishing. Although, chicken racing is a fun diversion, and karaoke is replaced by a dancing mini-game that is challenging and fun.
Not that honoring previous games is necessarily a bad thing. Just know going into this one, it has some of the old hiccups that you have to deal with. Honestly, it makes sense though as this is an older game being upgraded here. SEGA couldn’t be expected to change everything. What’s here was top notch not long ago, it’s just that newer games in the series have introduced some welcome changes, and they are missed here.
Not top shelf Sumi-e but no slouch either
Graphically, Like A Dragon: Ishin! is solid, but not up to the more modern games in the series. Obviously, this game is running on an older version of RGG’s dragon engine. Yet, there are some nice effects and as always, the sheer brutality of the battles will grab your attention. Everything here runs at a nice 60 frames per second too.
In all, Ishin!‘s not bad, but there are a few annoyances like skin textures being bland, and less detailed geometry. Honestly, it won’t wow you, but the graphics shouldn’t deter you either. For fans of the series that have waited a long time for this entry, it won’t be much of hurdle at all.
End of an Era for Ishin!
With the release of Like A Dragon: Ishin!, we have received most of the Like A Dragon games outside of one PlayStation 3 entry, and the two PlayStation Portable entries. Fans of the series finally get to experience this special entry. For the most part, it doesn’t disappoint. If you know what the game is and it’s age, I doubt you’ll have too many complaints.
For those new to the series, this is a solid jumping on point, but some of the subtleties will be lost. Seeing Kiryu Kazama’s and Goro Majima’s faces on Samurai is half the fun. The core gameplay is as solid as ever. Even some new ground with guns being introduced as a main weapon adds to the overall appeal. Go in with the understanding that this is an older game remade, and you’ll find a lot to love. Tell them Goro sent you.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! is available now for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.