Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a historical samurai adventure game developed by Ryu Gu Gotoku Studio and published by SEGA. The game launched on February 21, 2023, on PlayStation, Xbox and PC and is a remake of the 2014 original game, Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin!, that was only released in Japan on PlayStation 3 and 4. While I loved the engaging story initially, it wore thin when it took over time from playing the game, as I enjoyed the dynamic combat a lot.
Set in Japan in the year 1867, known as the Bakumatsu era, it is a time of great political unrest, and the game follows a lone swordsman named Sakamoto Ryoma. His simple life is thrown into chaos when his mentor is assassinated in a political plot and Ryoma takes the fall. His only lead is the assailant’s unique martial arts style of the Shinsengumi, the ruling Tokugawa Clan’s elite samurai forces. Vowing to avenge his fallen master and restore his name, Ryoma flees to the capital and joins the Shinsengumi undercover. The final days of the samurai era grow near.
The story of Like a Dragon: Ishin! is super immersive and interesting for the first few hours, but like my time in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the time spent watching the dialogue soon overtook time actually playing the game. As much as I like a good, engaging, rich story, it’s almost too much story at once when all I want to do is chop up bad guys with my katana. The character models and voice acting are both really well done so it is interesting listening to their plights.
Thankfully the various minigames everywhere were a good distraction – karaoke is always a good laugh, as is racing chickens (in as humane a way as possible, of course). Cooking at the Udon Shop was intense, and then growing crops at a farm was a nice occasional escape from the dialogue and combat. Like a Dragon: Ishin introduces a new game system called Virtue which can be gained by completing side-quests, story events, gaining Completion Points, and other tasks. Virtue points can be exchanged at shrines for for abilities and items.
Action combat is largely similar to previous games in the Yakuza series. We control Ryoma and have access to four fighting styles which you can switch between – Swordsman, Gunman, Brawler and Wild Dancer. Swordsman uses a katana, gunman a pistol, brawler uses hand-to-hand combat and wild dancer uses a combination of katana and pistol, which is the style I used the most. I found myself dodging and keeping enemies at range with the pistol and then using the katana to block heavy blows or deliver blows of my own.
As you fight you build up heat which lets you perform special moves when in a good position. However, if you fail the maneuver, it can open you up to getting hit hard, so there’s a bit of risk v reward in its use. I generally used this if I was confident with the health I had left. You also collect and level up Trooper Cards which grant temporary power-ups or special abilities, such as extra health, new attacks or stat boosts. Several of these cards feature cameo appearances from special guests like wrestling icon Kenny Omega, actor Rahul Kohli, and more which was a nice surprise when you found a new one you recognise.
Overall, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a nice step up graphically on the previous games and I really enjoyed the combat styles available. Upgrading weapons at the blacksmith makes a nice difference to the game play. But it is a fine line between playing a game and watching a story. Sadly, I found this goes deeply into more of a story line and left me wanting more game play. If you love heavy story lines though, this game is for you.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by Five Star Games and Like a Dragon: Ishin is out now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.