Like A Dragon: Ishin PS5 Review – Nine years ago, when the PS4 launched, Japan received an exclusive launch title called Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin. This game never made it out of Japan, but Ishin also released well before the Yakuza franchise’s popularity finally took hold in the West.
Now, in 2023, a remake of that game receives a global release in the form of Like A Dragon Ishin. Was it worth the wait? Oh, hell yeah.
Like A Dragon: Ishin PS5 Review – The Same Great Style in A New Timeframe
Sakamoto Ryoma takes on the protagonist role in Ishin, with his first task asking him to participate in a hostile demonstration against the upper class to impose the will of the people on the elites.
However, before any of that can take place, the man spearheading the decision, Yoshida Toyo, who also stands as Ryoma’s mentor, is killed by a mysterious assassin with a unique fighting style.
Security finds Ryoma over Toyo’s dead body and pins the assassination on Ryoma, forcing him to flee and go into hiding. He retreats from his hometown of Tosa and takes on a new alias while he lays low in Kyo. His new name is Saito Hajime, who, like the actual historical figure of the same name, soon takes on the role as Third Captain in the hostile organization, the Shinsengumi.
His one reason for joining such a terrible group: All members receive training in the Tennen Rishin style, and the assassin who killed Toyo used a distinct version of that same style. Here, he hopes to find the man who killed his mentor and exact revenge.
Ishin brings in many historical figures from the late Edo Period that revolve around the Shinsengumi. Naturally, some liberties are taken, but the liberties balance well with historically established tidbits.
Creating A Scene
Yakuza fans will already know the formula to Ishin before they start the game: somber narrative, cheeky subquests, goofy and touching moments, and mini-games. That formula certainly holds true, making this a good entry point for beginners.
Equally so, seeing all these familiar faces take on different roles freshens the formula nicely. Over and over, I point at the screen, shout the name of the new character’s Yakuza counterpart, and make weird excitement noises.
The game creators seem to expect reactions like that in how they pace the game. With each introduction, you see the name plate appear, another Yakuza staple, and then the camera holds on their face for a few extra seconds to let you settle back into the premise. Even better still, the game holds the juicy narrative parts until after these moments have long passed. This grants each moment its due time in the foreground with enough time to cool off from each reveal’s honeymoon phase.
To boot, the sheer scope of the political consequences in Ishin alone make this a riveting story for just about everyone. Unlike many similar stories, the overall consequences never go away but the focus remains on the characters, keeping this an intimate affair above all else.
Overall, the narrative maintains a relatively steady pace. The only slow section of the game comes after arriving in Kyo. Kyo is the second setting in as many chapters, and establishing a setting takes time. Having a second setting introduced on the coattails of the first one adds some extra drag to the beginning. The fact that Kyo expands out far more than Tosa requires more time to introduce this new environment.
In its defense, from the get-go the game showcases the standard formula found in the Yakuza games by dropping substories in your lap almost everywhere you go. These never prove demanding, but they do create context within the locale and add extra personality to the generally somber main story.
On that note, the game exposes you to these subquests by placing main objective points across the map from each other. This leads to a lot of running back and forth from one end of the map to the other. If you just want the main story, you’ll be either running a lot or paying to use the palanquin to get around.
Shades of Tan
To pile on, the color tones of the game generally align with the browns of the buildings or the blue of the water. Foliage and trees change things up, but those only appear on the periphery of town or on your farm. Even without considering the heavy neon color palette from the Yakuza games, the base color of the world lacks much variety.
Granted, this game takes place at the end of the Edo Period, so the game can’t be blamed for time period setpieces. It simply is a part of the game.
Equally so, Like A Dragon Ishin! interjects vibrant colors, usually on clothes, when something or someone substantial appears. This is when the neutral backdrop lends itself to the foreground, bringing an extra focus on the subject simply by contrast. Plus, the last legs of the game feel a significant shift that, because of the base palette, makes you feel the change that much more.
Aside from the colors, the environment features so much wonderful, vivid detail. River water shimmers, evening lights cast shadows, and storefronts stand packed with wares and decals. In addition, while there are no graphical options, the game is silky smooth the entire time.
As a fan, the coolest storefront is Don Quixote just because it appears in every Yakuza/Like A Dragon game. It’s always jam packed with different kinds of wares you can’t find in-game anywhere else.
Finding Don Quixote also showed me something new: You now enter stores and restaurants as part of the city map instead of loading into a new location. Locales in this franchise always feel realistic and lived in, but this addition adds even more to it. Stepping into a store right off the street makes it all feel so cohesive. It’s a small thing, but I think about it every time I walk by a store.
I did come across some goofy glitches along the way, mostly wandering citizens getting caught on things, either seeing them run in place or stand at impossible angles. They never inhibited gameplay, and they only happened to anonymous people wandering around.
Dishin’ Out Side Stuff
The Yakuza games routinely include mini-games, and Ishin stands as no exception to that tradition. The first you see is a farm that you buy (which has a great little side story, by the way). This allows you to grow different vegetables and eventually rear chickens and even get a cat; you can get a dog too, of course, but cats are cooler (don’t @ me).
You can cook at your house as well, which lines up with your farm for you to make money. Produce, along with other items you collect, can be ordered by NPCs, and you have your items delivered. This gives you a great deal of money and makes the effort worth it.
Many of the mini games don’t unlock unless you start chipping away at the subquests. Until then, much of the map feels sort of empty. You have to open it up yourself just by helping people and being a part of their lives.
Everything you do grants you Virtue. You then use Virtue at a shrine to add perks to different parts of the game, like increasing sprint length, expanding your farm, and even increasing the Virtue you gain. Unlike Yakuza games, this currency keeps coming, allowing you to max out everything more progressively.
The game also offers more things to unlock with Virtue and doesn’t hide these points exclusively behind completing specific objectives. Fulfilling everything feels more rewarding in Ishin, not just because the side stuff is fun but earning more Virtue lets you improve your experience across the board.
The weirdest and most Yakuza mini game is the one that replaced the batting cages. I’ll leave it to you to see for yourself, but it involves cannons.
The other major mini-game comes in the form of Trooper missions. Players you recruit assist you on missions, but those recruits accompany you as cards. Four cards come with you at any one time, and they all have different effects, like area-of-effect lightning, healing, or damage boost.
Naturally, missions grow harder as you progress, which challenges you to mix and match your cards. This is where the true meat of this game mode comes from: managing your builds to maximize your chances of success.
As long as that formula speaks to you, you’ll have a good time. I personally love finding a build I’m comfortable with and use it to focus on beating the missions. You can do this because your cards level up and unlock a couple specific skills.
However, some missions ask from you something completely different than that of the standard missions. You need at least a few different setups to come out victorious every time. I struggled a bit with this, but in this mode I also prefer the cards that go boom instead of the finesse ones.
The best benefit of these cards is you take them with you everywhere you go, and each combat style gets its own card loadout. Yes, for example, in regular fights, you can electrocute enemies. This side of the Trooper cards fits my playstyle just because the main story doesn’t throw the kind of insane challenges at you the way the Trooper missions do.
As overpowered as this sounds, they balance well with enemy health bars. In fact, if you don’t use these abilities, cutting through bosses can easily take far longer than it should. The game is designed to cater to these powerful cards. So make sure to use them, or else you mash your Square button into dust.
The best part of these cards is you can choose if they automatically activate when available or manually activate. I’m not a big fan of the fact that this setting can only be changed at the Trooper hub in the Shinsengumi camp, but the option is there.
It’s also important to say that these cards can come from enemy drops or from in-game card packs, packs which are only buyable with in-game currency and NOT real money.
Bringing Swords To A Gunfight
At the end of the Edo Period, the life of the samurai faded out. Ishin plays into this with the introduction of guns, which Ryoma also uses in combat. His four styles are Swordsman, Gunman, Brawler, and Wild Dancer.
Wild Dancer, the only one not self-explanatory, gives Ryoma a sword in one hand and a gun in the other. This might sound strong, but it’s very much a finesse style. It can distribute heavy damage, but it also makes up for it by leaving Ryoma more open to attacks. He can parry and dodge, but he cannot block. It’s a higher skill style that rewards you for mitigating any damage through specific timing.
Gunman often feels too easy. Just stand and shoot and dodge occasionally when someone charges you. It doesn’t always work when up against aggressive enemies, but most enemies, even in groups, just stand there Assassin’s Creed-style while you unload your infinite ammo into them.
Guns have always been scarce in these games because these games are programmed for melee combat. In the other Yakuza games, if you get a hold of a gun, enemies go down fast, but you have very limited ammo.
As you level your styles, you unlock points to place in a grid allocated to each style. With each level, you receive either a universal point or a point specific to the style you unlocked the point in. Even better still, you can swap out universal ones by using a style-specific point, allowing you the flexibility to put that universal one in a different style grid. Ishin gives you fantastic control over how you want to develop Ryoma.
Balancing Goof With Gore
All in all, combat leans much harder into its arcadey tendencies than its brawler roots. At the same time, the game hands you all the tools you need to lean into the hand-to-hand sides as well.
Combine this with the ability to craft and collect your own weapons and armor, you receive a ton of control over Ryoma’s strength and dexterity. Not many games include this kind of depth, which makes Ishin a welcoming entry in terms of combat.
Unfortunately, getting deep into crafting takes dedication from the beginning to grind for material and money on top of finishing subquests. If you don’t, you won’t be doing much crafting until end game.
Honestly, crafting feels more designed for when you finish your first playthrough and carry it all over to Legend difficulty or Premium Adventure, which lets you continue to explore Kyo and do all the side stuff. You definitely need crafting on Legend, but playing around with it much earlier would have made it more fun to mess with stats at the beginning.
Also, if you decide to play the game on Legend difficulty, many of these balance statements I bring up lose some of their exploitive benefits just because of how much more challenging enemies are. You still can use these exploits to a certain degree, but they’re much harder to maintain.
Bringing the Beloved Formula to The Edo Period
This is very much a Yakuza-like game, but it serves as both a jumping off point for beginners AND a freshener entry for franchise fans. Combat balancing has its oddities, pacing lags more than it should, and much of the setting carries the same color palette throughout most of the game.
All that aside, Like A Dragon Ishin serves as another strong reminder of just how special these games are. It combines the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, silly and serious that all come with life and blends them all together into one cohesive package. Ishin has the added benefit of including history in that mix.
Like A Dragon Ishin stands as a fantastic Like A Dragon game and I cannot help but recommend it to absolutely everyone.
Like A Dragon Ishin! is due out on February 21, 2023 for PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.