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Like A Dragon: Ishin! review – Kiryu’s return does everything except disappoint

The Dragon of Dojima shows his true strength in the city of Kyo

If you’ve played pretty much any game from the Yakuza series starring Kazuma Kiryu you will generally know what to expect from Like A Dragon: Ishin! There’s a main storyline of warring political factions and betrayal, kooky substories to enjoy, minigames like karaoke to uncover, and of course, there is Goro Majima. The difference in Like A Dragon: Ishin! is that it is set in Japan’s Edo period, and Kiryu plays one of Japan’s most well-recognised samurai, Ryoma Sakamoto.

The new setting has done a number of things for the game. If you’re a fan of Japanese history, you’ll recognize names, and events and get a feeling for Japan at the time. It’s obviously not all historically accurate, it is Yakuza after all, but there will be a glint of recognition from the stories of historic Kyoto. If you’re not into history, the substories do a good job of trying to introduce you to it, but certain story beats are bound to whizz by, and lack of knowledge can leave the ending a little confused.


Despite this, it is undoubtedly Yakuza’s tightest story yet. While some games in the series can see you lost in all the underhanded play and turncoats, by following a smaller set of characters the plot is that much stronger. If a character has been in the series before, they are bound to end up here, with Akiyama, Saejima, and Majima all playing prominent roles. However, if you are au fait with the series, it makes it that much easier to determine who is really good and who will turn against you.

One of the greatest strengths of the plot is how it handles death. As it is set in the past, anyone can die at any point without affecting the Yakuza canon. Knowing this makes playing tense, as your favorites could take their final bow at any moment. That is of course except for Kiryu. At this point we know that Kazuma Kiryu is an unkillable machine, and despite how many bullets he takes, or shots he fires into others, neither him nor them will be snuffed out. Kiryu doesn’t kill, and can’t be killed, and this is where the tension lies. In order to protect his identity it seems that Kiryu taking someone’s life can never be far away.


Speaking of bullets, this is another aspect rarely seen in Yakuza games. Kiryu has four basic styles, Brawler, Gunman, Swordsman, and Wild Dancer, with the last one Kiryu – I mean Ryoma – wields both a gun and a sword. Ishin! encourages you to try all of these out at different points, and the last three feel no weaker than the other. Brawler is the odd one out, but it feels like it has been added to let fans play Yakuza as they always have. It can be strong if you have charged up your heat or there are breakable objects nearby, but requires far more strategy in order to do well.

Despite the fact that Kiryu is now armed to the teeth, he will still not kill enemies even with a katana to the heart. This may seem strange, and it definitely is, but the enemies in the other games stand up fairly well against a table to the face, or being thrown out a skyscraper. Speaking of which Heat Actions are back and they are as joyfully dramatic and silly as they always have been. Yakuza’s choreography has always been amazing, and the weapons, clothing, and architecture of the period make it all the more exciting.

Like a Dragon Ishin

The substories don’t disappoint either. There are 79 to find, and each feels unique and full of humor. Whether you are breaking up a disruptive dance troupe, or fighting off a bear, you will truly feel like you are in a Yakuza game. Karaoke is here with favorites like Baka Mitai, and we see the return of chicken racing, but there are also new minigames like fan dancing for those who want to test their rhythm game prowess.

Another major addition is Another Life. This is an area outside of Kyo where you live on a farm with Haruka. It’s basically a farming sim, but the vegetables you grow and meals you cook with them are often necessary for substories and relationship bonding. Ishin! does well to integrate this new part of the story into the game as a whole. There is also a dungeon crawling section which fell a little flat for me. The stellar rewards make it worth playing through the tedium, but only just.


One thing the dungeons do introduce are special abilities. You can equip up to four, and they can provide certain buffs, or special attacks. Not only does this provide new strategy to the gameplay, but also gives you more reason than ever to complete substories, fill in the Diligence Records and move steadily towards 100% completion. Completing certain tasks like relationship bonds give you new abilities, and after all who doesn’t want to unleash a tiger on an unsuspecting bandit.

After you finish the main story you will find yourself returning to Kyo. Even 65 hours in, it seems that I’m still discovering new things to do; new minigames to play, new missions to find, and more skills to unlock. Despite how long I’ve spent with Ishin! I don’t want to give up, and I’m sure I will continue finding more things to do long after I think I’ve finished. It may not have overhauled the Yakuza formula, but it’s the small things that make Ishin! one of the series’ best.

Score: 9/10 

Version tested: PS5