A review of Judgment feels a little superfluous, to be honest. If any of your attention has been garnered by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s latest release, you’ll know that it’s a spin-off from that developer’s Yakuza series. If you know and like the Yakuza games, it’s likely you own Judgment already. The rest of you probably don’t care and are saving up for the next title you view as a ‘must-have’ in your library.
Let’s assume for a second that there are a few of Critical Hit’s readers who are on the fence. If you’ve ever been interested in the Yakuza series but found investing in it a rather daunting prospect, Judgment is probably its best entry point after the superb Yakuza 0. It contains much of the sort of content that turned Yakuza into something of a cult phenomenon in the West and you don’t have to worry about getting bogged down in the lore swirling around the trials and travails of one Kazuma Kiryu.
The stone-faced Yakuza doesn’t feature in Judgment, having seen his epic saga conclude in last year’s Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life. Instead, players step into the sneakers of Takayuki Yagami (henceforth known as Tak), a biker-jacket clad private detective working in the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho. Along with the help of his mate Kaito, an ex-Yakuza, Tak spends his time on small cases – such as chasing down debtors. Tak has severe baggage as the plot kicks off; turns out he was a hot-shot lawyer at one stage who left the practice after he successfully defended a man charged with murder, only to hear the man murdered his girlfriend a mere two weeks later.
Judgment’s story begins with Tak and Kaito taking on a case of a Yakuza captain named Hamura at the behest of Shintani, one of Tak’s former legal colleague’s. The police have charged Hamura with murdering a rival Yakuza member and gouging out his eyes. Since the victim is one in a series of eyeless cadavers that have turned up in the Kamurocho district, Tak doesn’t think Hamura’s responsible – despite the fact that he’s a massive prick. However, once his investigation clears the Yakuza captain, Tak sets about finding the real culprit – whom he dubs “The Mole” – and in the process draws the ire of some very powerful and dangerous individuals.
As is the case with most Yakuza games, Judgment’s story is its main selling point. Anyone who’s a sucker for crime thrillers will be utterly sucked into Judgment’s plot as Tak’s investigations take him deeper and deeper into Kamurocho’s underbelly. The game’s yarn is labyrinthine (seriously, once you’ve finished it, time how long it takes to recount it to someone) and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s layered to boot. Judgment’s main narrative focuses on a murder investigation, sure, but as time ticks by the case itself becomes a backdrop in front of which many of the characters grow, evolve and question both some of choices they’ve made and the emotional millstones they’re carrying. The voice acting is incredibly good and available in both English and Japanese – purists will probably plump for the latter, but anyone put off this series of games by the prospect of reading subtitles in lengthy cut scenes now have the option not to do so.
While Judgment’s main story is engrossing, it’s essentially a springboard for players to use to dive into the game’s content surrounding it – and as is the case with Yakuza games, there’s a shedload they can get stuck into. Judgment is bursting at the seams with side-quests, mini-games, chance encounters and, naturally, fights. While Tak pursues the main murder case, he’ll inevitably pick up side cases that run the gamut from fairly pedestrian to batshit insane. These include chasing down a wig that’s blown off a local celeb’s head, gathering evidence on a salary man for a divorce case and busting a bloke called the Panty Professor, who is using drones to steal knickers off washing lines. Yes, really.
Yakuza fans will probably be smiling knowingly at this stage; Judgment’s combination of a thriller storyline with screwball side quests is plucked straight out of its parent franchise. The mini-games on offer don’t deviate much either, in this regard; players can spend time at gambling tables, in arcades playing classic Sega titles, drone racing, playing darts, hitting baseballs in the Kamurocho batting cages and more. They can take Tak on dates where he can romance NPCs and there are series of NPCs players can interact with in various ways to build Tak’s reputation in around the precinct. There are some notable omissions from the main series (the absence of the karaoke mini-game borders on sacrilegious), but there’s more than enough to here to justify the price of admission. Hell, players can even spruce up Tak’s office with knick-knacks and a record collection if they fancy it.
As Tak shuttles between interest points on the map, he’ll inevitably encounter gangs of thugs and Yakuza who want to beat the snot out of him. Players have access to two fighting styles – Crane for large groups and Tiger for one-on-one confrontations – that they can switch between on the fly by tapping down on the D-Pad. It’s a bit of a letdown from Yakuza 0’s four fighting styles, but Tak also comes armed with a wall jump that allows him to turn the tables on rushing enemies by launching off walls with high-powered attacks. Players can also grab nearby items – traffic cones, restaurant signs, bicycles – that deliver more damaging attacks than Tak’s fists.
Like Yakuza, button-bashing will only get you so far; it’s worth learning combos, side-step commands and unlocking new attacks because in some battles Tak will be faced with enemies that can inflict ‘Mortal Wounds’. These essentially lower his overall health bar and the damage can only be repaired with Med Kits, which are only available at one point in the map (from a surgeon who lives in a sewer). In a way though, this makes Judgment’s combat more engaging and defeating tougher enemies very satisfying indeed.
Once again, if you’re a Yakuza fan, this all sounds very familiar. What distinguishes Judgment from its forebears are Tak’s detective mechanics, which aren’t exactly ground-breaking. Occasionally Tak will have to tail a suspect and this involves keeping his distance and ducking behind the odd car, sign or doorway if his target turns around (which happens a lot). If Tak’s spotted a meter quickly fills up and if it reads full players will have to load up a save. This isn’t a million miles from the sort of stealth/tail missions that Assassin’s Creed threw in the rubbish skip after Black Flag and, while they’re not a massive pain in the neck, they aren’t exactly brilliant either. When he’s not quietly tailing a suspect, Tak’s usually involved in a high-speed foot-chase and that’s simply navigated through series of quick-time-events.
The other main detective mechanic involves scoping out a crime scene. This essentially involves panning around an area in first-person view until Tak spots a clue – which will be indicated by the control pad shuddering. Again, this isn’t a massive pain, but when one considers how much better this sort of mechanic was implemented in the Arkham games, Judgment starts to look a little behind the times by comparison. There are a couple of instances where Tak uses a drone to investigate a scene – such as a Yakuza head office – and those are admittedly more fun, but they’re also few and far between.
The only other gripe one could aim at Judgment is that its interrogation scenes have no challenge to them. While players may miss out on the odd bit of XP (which is earned by asking questions in the right order), there is no fail-state and they can simply barrel through the conversation trees until they get the desired result. Sometimes they’re called upon to present a correct piece of evidence, but once again, there is no penalty for messing that up.
Next to Judgment’s strengths, though, these complaints sound more than a little churlish. With its slick street-fighting, massive wealth of side-activities and quests and a fantastic murder-mystery plot, Judgment is arguably one of the best games to come along in 2019. Intriguing, visceral and at times utterly bonkers, it’s also a great gateway into Sega’s Yakuza series. If you’re still on the fence about this franchise, Judgment is the best reason to climb down off it.
Last Updated: July 31, 2019