Games: Like a Dragon: Ishin mixes revenge, politics and violence with Yakuza's trademark silliness

Like a Dragon: Ishin
Like a Dragon: Ishin

Like a Dragon: Ishin (Multi)

By: Sega

WITH over 20 games under its kung-fu belt, Sega's Yakuza series has been delighting Japanophiles for as many years, yet two of its more aggressively 'local' entries never left the Land of the Rising Sun.

However, fans can now rejoice, as this decade-old oddity finally washes up on Western shores – the final PS3 Yakuza, now rebuilt in the Unreal Engine and re-titled Like a Dragon: Ishin, is a far cry from the modern crime dramas. As if the Tojo clan hopped in a DeLorean to enact their samurai fantasies, Ishin sees your favourite characters play dress-up, doling out period pain in 19th century Kyoto.

Set in 1860s Japan at the end of the Edo Period, the arrival of Western ships spooks the ideals of loyalists who yearn to rebuild the old empire and expel foreigners, like Jim Allister in a kimono. Ryoma Sakamoto (who looks and sounds an awful lot like franchise star Kiryu Kazuma) returns to his hometown of Tosa only to end up jailed for defending a woman from higher-class samurai. Thus begins 30-odd hours of classic Yakuza shenanigans in a typically melodramatic tale full of twists and turns.

19th century Kyo is vastly different to modern-day Kamurocho and Yokohama, the settings for Yakuza's mainline games, yet Ishin retains the core of what fans love. All your favourite characters are still here, essentially playing roles in a costume drama that mixes revenge, political struggle and violent blood-letting with Yakuza's trademark silliness.

Like a Dragon: Ishin
Like a Dragon: Ishin

The neon strips and roaring traffic of Kamurocho may be gone, but its timber-framed 19th century equivalent is no less dazzling as you get lost in Kyo, where citizens can be befriended, bars frequented and random street toughs beaten to a pulp. And it's not just your knuckles they'll kiss. Four different fighting styles range from the stock fisticuffs to guns, swordplay and Wild Dancer – a flashy combination of both.

But being a Yakuza game, it's the mini-games where Ishin's most delightful nonsense can be found, and its familiar open-world is chock-full of side dishes – from chicken racing and proto-karaoke to drinking games down at the olde brothel. You can even turn rube with an extensive farming mini-sim, as you harvest crops to pay off a young girl's debt.

Alas, it's not just Ishin's setting that's old-fashioned. The visuals, while sharp enough for modern hardware, feature stiff animation and the kind of scenery pop-in not seen since the noughties, and there's none of the quality-of-life gloss that typifies recent titles – it is, after all, a PS3 game given some spit and polish.

Still, if you're Ishin for some classic Yakuza, this long overdue samurai spin-off draped in period dressing will tide fans over until the main course – Like a Dragon 8 – lands next year.