10 ways Like a Dragon Ishin differs wildly from other Yakuza games

By Lee Brady,

Like a Dragon Ishin! brings the action of the Yakuza games back in time to 19th-century Japan, and that's not the only way this upcoming PS5 game drastically alters the esteemed Sega game series.

Like a Dragon Ishin will not only usher in the series name change from Yakuza to Like a Dragon, but it'll also mark a massive shift in setting and style for Sega's beloved games. So, to help you get to grips with one of the most exciting upcoming PS5 and PS4 games of 2023, here are ten things that set Like a Dragon Ishin apart from the Yakuza games.

Ten differences between Like a Dragon Ishin and the Yakuza series

Like a Dragon Ishin!Like a Dragon Ishin! star Ryoma Sakamoto.

You play as Ryoma Sakamoto, not Kazuma Kiryu

Don’t let the permanent scowl fool you — that might look like Kazuma Kiryu, star of the Yakuza games and icon of the best PS5 and PS4 action RPGs, but that’s actually a dude called Ryoma Sakamoto. Like a Dragon Ishin recasts some of your favourite Yakuza characters — like Goro Majime, Makoto Date, and Akira Nishikiyama — as classic Japanese historical figures in 1860s Japan.

You probably won’t notice much difference in Ishin’s casting, for the most part. Sakamoto looks and sounds and acts exactly like Kazuma Kiryu. He’ll still be gormlessly incapable of saying no to the requests of strangers, and his classic ‘honourable criminal’ moral dichotomy will remain perfectly intact. If it helps, just imagine Kazuma Kiryu as a real-life actor and this is Sega typecasting him as though he is Tom Cruise or something.

No Yakuza means no convoluted Yakuza politics

Even if you dipped your toe into narratively earlier games like Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami, you probably had your head turned around at one point or another by the sheer density of names and factions fighting to dominate the underworld. There’s a reason every game comes with an in-game chart explaining who all the characters are and their relationship to one another — Yakuza games can get very convoluted.

Like a Dragon Ishin offers a clean break from the usual confusion by moving events to a dramatised version of real events in the 1860s. If you’re ever lost, you can just use Wikipedia to find out who the Bakufu were, or why the Shishi opposed them. There’s still Yakuza-style infighting, for sure, but luckily it’s all colour-coded — you can tell which side people are on by whether they are or aren’t wearing a big blue haori. It’s still convoluted, but marginally less so.

Like a Dragon Ishin!A lot less Kiryu-chan going around in this game.

Sayonara Tokyo — Konnichiwa Kyoto

Do you ever find yourself feeling boxed in by the Tokyo and Osaka cityscapes that so visually dominate the entire Yakuza series? Well, how does a trip to 19th-century Kyoto sound? Like a Dragon Ishin offers the most visually appealing break for Yakuza diehards possible, swapping out the bustling streets of Kamurochō for the more sedate blue skies and sandy roads of Kyō.

While still busy in its own right, bumping into a lady walking her pet shiba inu sure makes for a nice change from bumping into a dude screaming loudly on his mobile phone about his financial woes. Plus, Like a Dragon Ishin will have a first-person camera mode for any players looking for an alternative to those ten-hour videos where people walk around Tokyo on Youtube.

Like a Dragon Ishin!"Yeehaw!" Or whatever gunmen say.

They gave Kazuma Kiryu a gun

There’s something on the face of it that seems so wrong about a guy who looks like Kazuma Kiryu — the Batman of Tokyo — shooting people with a revolver. Kazuma isn’t a stranger to weapons, and in fact, he does use guns now and then in the series for the odd chase scene. Like a Dragon Ishin, however, will let Ryoma Sakamoto fire a gun whenever he wants, and that’s both very funny and genuinely alarming.

Like a Dragon Ishin!"Prepare for sword!" Or whatever swordsmen say.

They also gave Kazuma Kiryu a sword

Unlike guns, the real Kazuma Kiryu does use swords — optionally, at least, if you equip them or find a spare one lying around in the sword-populated gutters of Kamurochō. There’s nothing optional about Like a Dragon Ishin’s approach to swords, however, what with Ryoma Sakamoto being a real-life samurai and all.

You swap between swords and guns in Like a Dragon Ishin just like you would your usual Yakuza fighting stances, and you can even combine a gun and sword in the Wild Dancer style. So, when you’re out of bullets, know that your katana has your back, and advise others not to get killed by it — your sword traps the souls of its victims. Alright, not really, I just wanted to reference my absolute favourite line from 2016’s Suicide Squad.

In case you get bored, you also get superpowers

The Yakuza franchise has always been known for its less-than-firm grip on reality — people give the Uncharted games a lot of flack for ludonarrative dissonance, those moments where the game action feels utterly disconnected from its narrative, but have you ever played a Yakuza game? If you think stabbing a dude in the chest and then shooting him in the heart would kill a guy in Like a Dragon Ishin, prepare to be surprised when he bows and apologises for being a jerk seconds later.

That’s not even really ludonarrative dissonance, that’s more like ludoludo dissonance — even the game rejects any possible resonance between the things it shows you. So, you might also not be too surprised to hear that the Trooper Cards from Like a Dragon Ishin allow Sakamoto to summon tigers, bears, and black holes in the thick of battle. It looks fun, just don’t think about it — seriously, stop thinking about it.

Like a Dragon Ishin!Prepare to forget what you came here for.

In case you get really bored, you can also play Stardew Valley

Alright, not the actual Stardew Valley, but Like a Dragon Ishin lets Ryomo Sakamoto take a break from conspiratorially searching for his mentor’s murderer to get deeply invested in becoming a farmer. Like, Animal Crossing-deep; like, you legitimately will get indebted to a landlord and need to pay him back with the crops you grow on your farm. That kind of deep.

Yakuza games have always had absorbing minigames before, but farming in Like Dragon Ishin is a whole different kettle of fish — a sizeable portion of players are likely going to start that farm game and simply stop playing the main story entirely. That’s how much players love a good farming game, and Ryu Ga Gotoku studio should really have thought this through a little more. Now no one is going to learn a thing about Japanese history unless it pertains to the history of Japanese crops.

Like a Dragon Ishin!It's definitely still a Yakuza game when it comes to minigames.

The game will be more Japanese than ever

Much like Sega’s other Japanese tourism simulator, Persona 5, one of the best things about the Yakuza games is how they let us gaijins immerse ourselves in virtual Japanese culture. Sure, it can be a little caricature-like — maybe everyone in Tokyo really is a misanthropic weirdo ready to fight to the death over one more bite of takoyaki, but the goofy music implies this is only half-true.

True or no, getting to bounce into an arcade or a maid cafe from a period-accurate Japanese street is one of Yakuza’s great thrills, and Like a Dragon Ishin might just offer the greatest dose of Japanese tourism from the series yet. 19th-century Kyō looks way different, is stuffed full of references to classic Japanese food and facts, and if you’ve ever wondered what differentiated a samurai from a sword-bearing bandit, Like a Dragon Ishin can hardly wait to tell you in excruciating detail.

Like a Dragon Ishin!Some scowls never change.

The combat might feel a little bit more simple

Like a Dragon Ishin isn’t a brand-new game — it’s actually a remake of a 2014 PS4 title that was released exclusively in Japan. The remake brings a few big changes alongside refreshed graphics and stronger performance on PS5, including a revised cast of Yakuza characters playing a role in the story and the aforementioned superpowers.

One thing that isn’t likely to change too drastically, however, is the core combat of Like a Dragon Ishin itself. If you’re a fan of the games that came out after Ishin, including PS Plus Extra gems like Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6 The Song of Life, you might notice some quality-of-life improvements brought to the series are missing, including Extreme Heat Mode and using heavy attacks to get more money. Not a big deal, really, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Like a Dragon Ishin!Like a Dragon role-reversal.

You’re not a criminal this time — you’re a cop

Alright, again, a little misleading — the story of Like a Dragon Ishin follows Ryoma Sakamoto as he joins an organisation called the Shinsengumi on the search for the man that murdered his mentor. The Shinsengumi (the guys in the blue haori) were not actually cops, but rather the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo — a secret police militia run by the magistrate to protect the interests of the ruling party, usually with violence.

The honourable Sakamoto will, obviously, not be too on board with all this Gestapo business — especially since he’s only joined up in order to kill somebody within the Shinsengumi hierarchy. Still, it’ll be quite the change for the series to not only be working alongside the cops (which happens a lot in Yakuza games) but also effectively be the cops. No wonder this is the Yakuza game where they gave Kazuma Kiryu a gun.

That's the list! Let us know if any of these details have piqued your curiosity in Like a Dragon Ishen! — or whether the notion of being a superpowered cop has kind of turned you off the whole idea. Sound off in the comments below, whatever your take may be!
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Shadow x Sonic Generations), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
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