Like a Dragon Ishin! is a samurai epic with a modern spin

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The upcoming months are looking great for fans of the Like a Dragon franchise – formerly known as Yakuza. A new mainline game with dual protagonists Ichiban Kasuga and Kazuma Kiryu sharing the spotlight is scheduled for release sometime in 2024. Meanwhile, a spin-off game titled Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name will come out next November. Expectant fans can check out the latest trailers and fresh news on their favorite Japanese gangster series at

But 2023 also saw the release of another Like a Dragon installment no one had seen coming. And while this review has been a long time in the making, the avalanche of news about the franchise got me thinking now might be the time to give my two cents on this Like a Dragon spin-off.

Released in February 2023 for international audiences, Like a Dragon Ishin! is no new title. The original game came out in Japan almost a decade ago. For years on end, despite countless foreign fans calling for a localization, neither Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios nor Sega seemed to have any such plan. But the tables turned in 2019, as franchise producer Daisuke Sato let out that a worldwide release was “under consideration.” Fast-forward to 2023, and what used to be a pipe dream for hardcore fans is now a localized game available on Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, and

A first trip to the past in the series, Like a Dragon Ishin! takes us to the late Edo era. The game is specifically set in the rather chaotic Bakumatsu period, which toppled the Tokugawa shogunate as Japan transitioned from a feudal political system to a new form of government heralded by the Meiji Restoration. Prompted to action by their imperialist ideals, political activists known as Shishi or Ishin played a major part in overthrowing the shogun to rebuild the nation around the unifying figure of the Emperor.

This historical spin-off has us navigate these troubled times in the shoes of samurai Sakamoto Ryōma, a real-life opponent of the shogunate. As he becomes entangled in a brewing coup d’état after returning to his hometown of Tosa and gets wrongfully accused of murdering his adoptive father, Ryōma narrowly escapes captivity and vows to prove his innocence. But as many notorious assassins as grim commanders of the shogunate police and ruthless daimyo will stand in the way of clearing his name and unmasking the true culprit. And bare-knuckle brawling our way through these fierce foes is on the menu.

Like a Dragon Ishin! sticks to the formula established by its predecessors, only with a historical twist. The game doesn’t do anything much different from its present-day counterparts, as it contains more of the same gameplay elements. An open-world setting allows us to explore the ins and outs of the castle town of Tosa and the Japanese capital of the time, Kyo. And if I’m being fair, I found this virtual tourism refreshing while roaming the back alleys of the red-light district of Gion instead of the neon-clad streets of Sotenbori and Kamurocho, the seedy modern-day areas introduced in previous entries.

Other franchise staples are returning with a bang, such as gambling minigames. Kyo’s Rakugai district boasts a gambling den where to play poker and some slightly more exotic casino games like Koi-koi and Oicho-kabu. As fun as they may be, though, these limited options aren’t enough to satisfy avid players. That’s why visiting platforms like might come in handy to scratch that gambling itch. Such websites list hundreds of up-to-date casino offers on an array of curated online casinos. From welcome packages to deposit bonuses and cashback deals, rewards can be claimed with just a click. Users may even sort through all promotions using advanced filters. And the best online platforms offer everything from innovative machine slots to live dealer poker sessions.

Besides making precious coins in the early game playing poker, I also enjoyed tapping into such quirky minigames as chicken racing and prepping and serving fast food when I wasn’t drawing my katana to come to blows with thugs or fist-fighting my way through Kyo. And with gorgeous environments serviced by a soundtrack blending Japanese traditional instruments with electronic tracks, Like a Dragon Ishin! is a joy to explore. So, for all its lack of gameplay novelty, this spin-off game is definitely a must-try if you love the series.