Like A Dragon: Ishin Review: How The Yazuza Samurai Spin-off Stacks Up Against Ghost of Tsushima


In Like A Dragon: Ishin, developer RGG Studio delivers another melodramatic storytelling entry to the Yakuza franchise, this time set in the late-Edo period of Japan. Ishin offers an enticing period piece that swaps the gangs of the modern criminal underworld for political factions yet retains the series’ action-brawler gameplay and ridiculous hijinks.

The game’s setting offers a vivid reconstruction of Japan’s past, with streets filled with menacing men, markets, restaurants, and bars that represent the era’s cuisine and tons of side content that reflects the culture and traditions of the time. While the setting may not be as dazzling as the neon-lit streets of the modern-day, Ishin’s low-key setting in Kyo (now modern-day Kyoto) offers a refreshing change of pace. The Bakumatsu period of the Edo era is a fertile ground for Ishin’s historical fiction, and it uses this period to tell another story of betrayal, conflicting ideals, and seeking personal truths while fitting it into a pivotal time of widespread violence and societal turbulence.

The game uses the same character models and voice actors from the Yakuza pantheon, creating an immediate familiarity that draws players into the game’s world. The dynamics between each character make for some hype moments and thrilling battles, especially with its prestige-level cutscenes that frame the story’s pivotal moments. Facial close-ups and elegantly choreographed duels sell the emotion established in each cutscene, making the melodrama feel earnest, as the series always does. However, the game takes its time to get the ball rolling, with the first half sort of spinning its wheels before having real consequences and character motivations take center stage.

Players who are familiar with the Yakuza series will enjoy the little nods and references in dialogue, visual flourishes, and musical themes along the way, but newcomers may find the frontloaded story and establishing factions and political terminology challenging to follow.

The weapons-focused combat system is new to the Yakuza series, as weapons were always optional in the mainline games, but it works the same as previous entries, with a combination of basic combo strings and more complex abilities. Although it comes at the cost of Ishin feeling more like a numbers game than other entries. The series has always featured role-playing elements, but in Ishin, you must regularly upgrade your weapons and armor to make it through later battles. In other words, grinding is almost a necessity, making the city’s blacksmith one of the most important NPCs. The combat system is rarely dull, and there is a battle dungeon perfect for grinding experience, money, materials, and new weapons/equipment, as well as for acquiring trooper cards.

The game also features many side activities and distractions that provide plenty of opportunities to obtain more resources. Like A Dragon: Ishin is filled to the brim with things to do, making it hard for a player to blitz through the story. The game includes mah-jong and karaoke, chicken races, and a mini-farming sim, among others, which provide goofy levity compared to the more self-serious story. From a gameplay perspective, the game is doing everything right.

However, Ishin’s execution is far from perfect. Although the game features a mix of basic combo strings and complex abilities, the game’s combat system is repetitive and dull at times. Upgrading gear feels more like a chore than a fun activity. Additionally, there is a lot of grinding, which can quickly become tedious. The game’s blacksmith requires a lot of money and materials, some of which can be bought from other stores while others are random drops from enemies. Even with the help of new weapons from bosses, you will only be doing double-digit damage while your opponents’ damage output is in the hundreds. As a result, players are more likely to fall back on healing items, which feels more like a grind than an exciting game mechanic.

Like A Dragon: Ishin! is trying not to fix what isn’t broken, but it does not try anything new. Although the game’s fundamentals may feel dated, and the first half of the game may be slow, the story’s pivotal moments and characters’ dynamics offer thrilling battles and hype moments. Despite the game’s shortcomings, Like A Dragon: Ishin! provides hours of fun and entertainment with its mix of gameplay and side activities. If you like the Yakuza series or samurai games, Like A Dragon: Ishin! is worth playing.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5.

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