As a huge Yakuza fan, I’ve always been partial to the spin-offs games. The main series games are great, but it’s the spin-offs that show how experimental the series can get. Judgment (which is own series now), Yakuza: Dead Souls (I’m really hoping for a remaster of this SEGA!) and now…Like A Dragon: Ishin!

It’s perhaps, the wildest experimental spin-off yet.

Of course, don’t take my word for it…Watch this gameplay of me playing from the Thailand Game Show!

Instead of the glitzy glamour of Kamurocho, you get to run around as part of the Shinsengumi in feudal Kyoto, during Japan’s Bakumatsu era. If you’ve watched Rurouni Kenshin, then you know that was a pretty lawless time, when samurai clashed regularly for the slightest reason.

In fact, if you’ve watched Rurouni Kenshin, then the name protagonist Sakamoto Ryoma (this time a real influential figure in Japanese history) takes as an alias will be incredibly familiar.

Saito Hajime.

While based on a real captain of the Shinsengumi, Saito Hajime being a household name’s probably due to Rurouni Kenshin’s influence. I can certainly attest to that, and I know many people can too. I wouldn’t have heard of the name if it wasn’t for the anime.

In the two different demo sections (Day and Night time) available that I played, I got a pretty good impression of how the game’s going to be.

One words seems to be the most apt here; awesome.

Take the open ended exploration parts of Yakuza, its quirky side quests, brutal fights and then mix in samurai lore and what you get is Like A Dragon: Ishin!

In the Day Time demo, I was able to freely run around (well, the demo expired as soon as the 20 minutes were up) Kyoto, talking to the people in the area and tangling with wandering bandits. I also got to try out a side quest which involved some basic geography and locations on an old globe.

I felt that loading between areas was a bit on the lengthy side (especially since I was playing on a Playstation 5) but perhaps that’s just the demo.

In the Night Time demo, it’s more action and less wandering.

Ryoma (as Saito) and his fellow Shinsengumi are tasked with apprehending a dangerous criminal and it’s all hands on deck as they raid his hideout. Fights are fast and furious, with Ryoma having four distinct combat styles; Pistol and Katana, Katana, Pistol and Bare Knuckles.

While I never did get the nuances of each style (40 minutes of playing will do that to you), I gravitated to Pistol and Katana the most. Slashing people up and then finishing with a pistol blast seems to be the most effective way to kill. Plus, the spinning dodge looks cool when paired with the style!

Just take a look at the gameplay video and you’ll be sold on it too!

Everything run silky smooth (apart from some pop-in), gameplay is responsive and the game looks like great for a remake.

Despite the new setting, this is classic Yakuza. It feels like Yakuza, it plays like Yakuza and it has that same off kilter humor…and propensity for violence.

Come next February, Like A Dragon: Ishin! should prove to be a worthy return to form (especially for those who hated the direction Yakuza: Like A Dragon) for the action series as it ditches the turn based gameplay of Yakuza: Like A Dragon for the more traditional style.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.