Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
While Judgment might not bear the actual Yakuza moniker, it is still very, very much a Yakuza game. Developed by the Ryu Ga Gotoku team over at SEGA, and set in the neon-lit mostly fictional streets of Kamurocho, players take control of former lawyer turned personal investigator/detective Takuya Kimura. The game primarily focuses around a series of murders, the serial killer dubbed Mole, and how all of this ties into events in Takuya?s life both past and present. It?s a solid tale that really spirals out into different areas, featuring city and police corruption, a subsidiary of the Tojo yakuza clan, and more. It also has some of the more wackier elements, mostly via side stories, that the Yakuza series is also well-known for.
But again, despite not featuring series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, Judgment is pretty much in line with prior Yakuza games. Kamurocho feels largely unchanged, with a layout and locations that are virtually identical to recent Yakuza titles. You?ll have various restaurants, arcades, a batting cage, an underground sewer area, and more. Some of the more familiar locations aren?t necessarily accessible, like host club Stardust, but still end up being factored into the story. Sadly, there was no karaoke mini-game to compare Takuya?s singing chops to Kazuma though.
Most of the differences found in Judgment?s gameplay revolve around the detective aspect of Takuya. You?ll come across story missions and side missions that?ll employ P.I. style shenanigans, like tailing suspects or investigating crime scenes. Tailing is basically a mini-game unto itself, where you?ll have a target NPC highlighted in front of you, who will occasionally stop, look behind them, and require you to duck behind nearby cover to remain unseen. The tailed individual will occasionally switch things up and circle around you, or sprint ahead, often into a mass of people or other objects. It?s honestly not a particularly challenging segment when it pops up, but does add some variety to the more standard beat ?em up fare that the Yakuza series is known for.
The crime scene investigation bits are a little more frustrating, mostly because they all devolve into the equivalent of a hidden objects mini-game that doesn?t always make sense. During these segments you?ll have a zoomed in, first-person view of a small area, and you?ll need to use a cursor to highlight points of interest until you uncover the one or two points that matter. This can get a little tough without any standout visual indicator, but early on you can devote some skill points to an ability that?ll cause the controller to vibrate when you pass over something, which I found vital when it came to relieving some of the more tedious aspects of these seek and find sections.
Combat in Judgment is in line with the other Yakuza titles though. Takuya has two combat styles, one focused on 1 vs. 1 fights, the other on group encounters. Both consist of light and heavy attacks that you string together into different combos, along with a meter that fills over time that allows for more powerful EX attacks. If you?ve ever played a Yakuza game before, you?ll instantly understand how combat works, and if you haven?t, you still won?t have much trouble picking it up after the first couple of fights. You can still get into the Yakuza equivalent of random encounters, as small groups of enemy yakuza roam the streets of Kamurocho, and will rush you if spotted. You can also make use of objects in the environment, mostly bicycles, plastic orange cones, small crates, and the occasional enemy dropped weapon. Judgment doesn?t feature the same inventory/equip function that more recent Yakuza games do however, so you?ll only be able to fight with whatever you find on the ground during combat.
The story elements of Judgment are certainly its biggest selling point, but it?s a strong selling point at least. I really enjoyed the overall main story plot, and most of the side stories are entertaining, even if they are far less serious overall. It?s also nice to have a completely fresh cast of characters here, and I found most of the side characters, like the members of Takuya?s former law firm, his right-hand ex-Yakuza man Kaito, and the villainous Captain Hamura, to be great additions to the Yakuza stable. Also, and I think this is the first time since the original Yakuza, Judgment features an English voice cast, which is really well performed. I defaulted to Japanese voices at the onset, and about halfway through switched to English, and ended up sticking with the English cast throughout the rest of the game.
I?d say Judgment is worth checking out, and certainly marks the best jumping on point for the world of Yakuza since Yakuza 0, even if it isn?t technically a Yakuza game. A whole new cast, new story threads, new mechanics, and more, mean that everyone can give this a shot without being bogged down by 6 or more games worth of 40+ hours of storytelling. So if you?ve ever been on the fence with the series, I?d say give Judgment a shot, and if you like it, go back and check out the Kiwami remakes or Yakuza 0 for a very similar experience.
Note: SEGA provided us with a Judgment PS4 code for review purposes.