Like a Dragon: Ishin takes Yakuza back in time without skipping a beat

Like A Dragon: Ishin screenshot showing combat in daytimeSega/RGG Studio

Like a Dragon: Ishin swaps a modern-day crime drama for the late Edo period while maintaining all of the Yakuza franchise’s slapstick silliness and character drama.

2020’s Yakuza: Like A Dragon was something of a reset point for the storied franchise. Pivoting away from longtime protagonist Kazuma Kiryu to focus on affable low-level thug Ichiban Kasuga, and switching to a more JRPG-inspired combat style, it certainly left many wondering just what was next.

While we’ve got to wait for Like A Dragon 8, the next installment in the mainline franchise, fans will be able to try something a little different in 2023 as Like a Dragon: Ishin takes the characters from Kiryu’s saga and drops them into a new setting. Or should that be an old setting?

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Familiar faces

Like A Dragon ishin Ryoma cutsceneSega/RGG Studio
Like A Dragon: Ishin’s protagonist is a Kazuma Kiryu doppelganger.

I went hands-on with Like a Dragon: Ishin at MCM Comic-Con last month, and while it’s not an entirely new adventure, this remake of Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin certainly looks the part.

My session began in true Yakuza fashion with a lengthy sit-down conversation between Kiryu, known here as Ryoma, and his fellow captains. The facial animations and voice acting have always been great in Yakuza games, and the same definitely holds true here.

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Kiryu/Ryoma’s trademark stoicism, the deep focus from his eyes, and a wonderfully realized new robe all highlight the attention to detail, and that’s mirrored across all of the characters.

Even antihero Majima can be found here (known as Okita), and his languid body language makes it clear that yes, he’s not changed much outside of the name.

Man of the People

Like A Dragon: Ishin screenshot showing the open world areaSega/RGG Studio

I played the Afternoon Mode portion of the demo, which meant the sun was out, and the game’s central street was there to be explored. The twisty side streets are full of minigames, but my favorite encounter was with the proprietor of a small restaurant, and the conversation between her and Ryoma about when best to observe tradition, and when it can be left in the past, was well-written and a perfect dichotomy with the game’s more violent interactions.

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Naturally, there are always thugs to fight in a Yakuza game, but Like a Dragon: Ishin’s combat feels somehow even more comical than ever before. That’s largely thanks to new Soldier Cards that act as powerful abilities. I’m not sure if it’s because of the demo parameters, but I never felt I was waiting long for my Soldier Cards to recharge, meaning I was able to drop a Hadouken-Esque fireball with impressive regularity.

Like A Dragon: Ishin screenshot showing combat at nightSega/RGG Studio

Beating up each of the small groups of opponents, in turn, was a thrill only beaten by their hilarious apologies after a fight, but Like a Dragon: Ishin allows Ryoma to switch between fists, swords, a gun, and a combination of each. The melee options are fun, but there’s something to be said about a firearm that doesn’t do a great deal of damage but just feels satisfying to use. It also doesn’t hurt that it adds to the comedic value — after shooting, stabbing, punching, and Kamehameha-ing an opponent, having them apologize before moving on with their day is just so distinctly Yakuza.

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Final Thoughts

Having missed the boat with the Yakuza franchise, I’m particularly interested to see if Like a Dragon: Ishin can grab me. From this early outing, though, the odds look good — from the madcap combat, to the well-realized world, and to the gorgeous cutscene, this could be a great starting point.

Like A Dragon: Ishin launches on February 21, 2023

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