Almost a decade after it was released exclusively in Japan, the stylish combat and ridiculous mini-games of Like A Dragon: Ishin! are finally making their way to the rest of the world.
While the Yakuza franchise has received plenty of love over the years, the historical spin-off Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin! has remained out of reach for many fans. But with an Unreal Engine 4 remake titled Like A Dragon: Ishin! heading to western shores (and on multiple platforms), that’s all about to change.
During a preview session at Berlin’s Samurai Museum, we were given access to Chapter 3 of Like A Dragon: Ishin! – as well as a chance to explore the game’s open-city world – and while it was only a small window into the game, I left impressed and wanting more.
Set in 1867 during the Bakamatsu era, Like A Dragon: Ishin! follows the swordsman Sakamoto Ryoma as he seeks revenge for his mentor’s murder – for which he’s been framed. With a new alias, Ryoma travels to the capital city of Kyo and infiltrates the Shinsengumi to find the person responsible.
Although Ryoma is a real-life samurai legend, RGG Studio has taken some creative liberties with a blend of history and fiction that makes for an enticing setup. The fact that this is a spin-off title separate from the main Yakuza games also means it’s a great entry point for anyone new to the series – while longtime fans will still feel at home with franchise staples and some familiar faces.
Let’s start with the star of the show: The combat. With the potential for endless flashy combos and four styles to switch between on the fly during battle – Swordsman, Gunman, Wild Dancer, and Brawler – I spent most of the preview session attempting to master each one because it’s just so satisfying.
For players who prefer slow and controlled combat, there’s the standard Swordsman style which rewards perfect timing with significant damage, while the Gunman style is great for targeting a dangerous opponent from a safe distance. Brawler style is essentially bare-fisted combat, which is risky but fun, letting you grab your opponents or even pick up environmental objects to use as projectiles.
While I spent most of my time using the Wild Dancer style – a speedy mix of swordplay and guns which is undeniably the most enjoyable – the game works best when you mix and match each style. There are also plenty of weapons to craft or upgrade, and an extensive skill tree that you’ll gradually climb to improve your combat abilities.
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The game’s hub – the city of Kyo – might feel small by 2023 standards, but it’s consistently impressive how much content has been squeezed into each street. From tea shops to brothels, gang ambushes that test your combat skills, and quirky side missions that require you to help townspeople in need, there’s plenty to keep you occupied outside of the main story.
Then there are the mini-games. Oh, the mini-games. Want to sing your heart out in karaoke? Sure thing. Go fishing? Why not! Place a bet on chicken races? You can do that, too. Some of these mini-games definitely work better than others – chicken racing does lose its novelty quite fast, as it’s very much a ‘sit and watch’ experience – but they’re all fun in their own way and they’re entirely optional.
While there’s not much to them other than pressing the right button at the right time, I really enjoyed the karaoke sessions and traditional Buyo dancing lessons, where multiple song options, difficulty levels, and a desire to beat my own high score kept me coming back for more. It’s a nice break of pace from the bloody fight scenes and serious plot.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! is a stylish, over-the-top beat ’em up with a healthy side of ridiculous mini-games that should put a smile on anyone’s face. It looks great, thanks to the use of Unreal Engine 4, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the game has in store when it’s finally out and I can experience more than just one chapter.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! launches on February 21, 2023, for Windows, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S.