Like A Dragon: Ishin! Is a Wonderfully Wacky Hack and Slash Yakuza Samurai Game (REVIEW)
Like a Samurai Western Yakuza
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 11:03 AM CST
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Written by Alex Richardson ; Edited by Andrew Hamilton
Reviewed for PS5
Code Provided by Publisher
1860ish Japan, a man returns from spending 15 years in training to become a master swordsman. Dedicating over a decade of his life to perfecting his art making his sword an extension of his arm, faster than any other. Nothing could make him a better warrior.
...There is nothing more dangerous than a revolver with unlimited bullets and a man using a katana like a stabby baseball bat...
So many other games out there feature samurai and gangsters and some of those are actually pretty okay games but nobody brings the dichotomy of serious drama with the goofiest ass Japanese stuff you’ve ever seen quite like this team. That’s right today we are talking about Like a Dragon: Ishin! Ryu Ga Gatoku studio has brought us a spinoff from their main series of games. Ryu Ga Gotoku otherwise known as the Yakuza Series in the US. While we have had the 7-ish main line games from this studio not as many of it’s spin-offs make it here. Though that has begun to change as we’ve seen the likes of Judgment, Lost Judgement, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon all make their way west. This title is actually a remake of release from 2014 by the same name. This is, however, the first Western release and allows a whole new audience to experience the story of Ryoma Sakamoto, who just so happens to look nearly identical to the main series recurring protagonist, but that is neither here nor there.
Ishin takes place predominately in Kyo or what would be known as Kyoto today. With danger and enemies lurking around every corner while you search for an assassin with a unique fighting style. Make no mistake this is a very serious game ..about a man who never loses, has a pocket dimension’s worth of bullets in his 6 round revolver and sings karaoke in his free time... Okay honestly if you have ever played any of the Yakuza titles you know the kind of over-the-top the top craziness that can happen around every corner. Just because this title takes place during a time of political and civil unrest doesn’t mean they will be toning anything down. With a good mix of dramatic intense story, entertaining mini games, dungeon crawls, and more side missions than you can know what to do with there really is no shortage of things to do. The main story revolves around Ryoma Sakamoto a man who joins a revolutionary front by request of his adoptive father and brother. Through a series of events Ryoma is forced to flee his home and take on the alias of Hajime. From this point on his focus is to find the man responsible for making him flee his home.
Like every Yakuza title that has graced our systems a lot of emphasis is put on stylish and unique combat systems with a focus on high energy impressive heat actions and this game is no different. There are four fighting styles that are used in order to handle different situations. Brawler is a good all-around style. Good at dealing and resisting damage but not great at anything. It is the only style that allows you to use scavenged weapons though. Swordsman focuses on single enemy combat. Gunman focuses on keeping enemies at range and finally wild dancer which is for controlling groups of enemies. In theory this works perfectly however in my case I found the combat to be exceedingly slow in the beginning. Once you start unlocking skills the combat definitely picks up and becomes more enjoyable and starts to flow a lot better. My biggest issue is the changing of stances in general though. When in combat to change stances, you have to be still for a moment then input which stance you would like to enter. As I started to get into more complex encounters, I found myself either stopping and getting hit or more often just not changing stances at all. While this is by no means a deal breaker it can definitely make things more frustrating than they need to be. This is an unfortunate side effect of being spoiled by newer released titles such as lost judgement where combat flowed together much more smoothly.
Now where this game nails all the points is in its atmosphere. It can be incredibly hard to pinpoint story beats to not feel rushed while also not letting gameplay feel like a slog. The opening few hours of the game are very cinematic and story heavy but is to be expected of these titles. Where it shines is the smaller beats that break up what could have become a very one toned story of revenge. Leveraging the humor and relationships you build with other characters against hunting down the person who caused your character so many problems gives greater depth to who Ryoma is as more than just a samurai. The locations and NPCs are designed to give the feeling of being an active city no mater where or when you are doing something. The way things seem to happen naturally while you roam gives the city a breath of life that makes it seem things would happen even if you weren’t there. Whether it’s a woman being harassed into debt or a blacksmith trying to prove how good they are. The side characters feel as though they are living there own lives independent from yourself.
Let’s be honest though. It’s not truly a full fledge Yakuza game without some wacky minigames that border on being more fun than the main story, and Ishin has plenty. Just for fishing alone there are 3 types of locations including deep sea fishing where you can catch pretty much anything even a great white. For those who are more rhythmically inclined there is karaoke or a dance school. There are chicken races mahjong and gambling dens for those of you who like to make a buck off of games of chance and skill. Not to mention an entire homestead that you can customize upgrade farm and get pets for. If that’s not enough there’s a not so mini game of recruiting and upgrading soldiers that you command. This ties in directly to your combat so even if mini games and management aren’t typically your thing this avenue is worth exploring.
The trooper card system is one large departure from the original source in that this game is better because it has Rahul Kohli in it and the original does not. In the original game these cards could only be used while doing dungeon crawls. Now they are open to use in the entire game once unlocked. These cards can do anything from minor buffs to defense up to releasing an electric blast that chains and stuns enemies. This open card system allows combat to become exactly as normal or chaotic as you want. There’s nothing like shooting lightning into someone only to unleash a hail of bullets into them for them to get up an apologize two seconds later. Don’t worry apparently bullets are non-lethal.
If you’re looking for all the charm, tedium, action and over the top world of a traditional Yakuza game, this game checks all the boxes. You still get all the absolutely bonkers takedowns you could want wrapped in an interesting story that can at times feel like it’s slightly stagnating. Where it tends to falter is in terms of the general systems including the sometimes clunky camera and player movement. This is unfortunately a holdover from older systems and constraints that were around at the time of the original release. If you’re a fan of this genre and didn’t get to experience it due to being a limited release you will definitely enjoy this title. Unfortunately, in my opinion it is almost spoiled from the numerous upgrades we have had in other recent titles from this studio. Like a Dragon: Ishin! Is another enjoyable if not somewhat overbearing hack and slash adventure, not quite hitting a bullseye for newcomers and doesn’t offer much in the way of new stuff for returning fans. Ishin gets 7 out of 10 bullets from my six round revolver. If you enjoyed this review why not leave a like and subscribe for more. And hey if you like action games check out our other reviews. For Hardwired I’m Alex Richardson.
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