Developed By: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Published By: Sega
Reviewed On: PS4
Coming off the Shenmue, Yakuza and Kiwami series, I was thrilled due to the fact that Judgment consists of many things I really love in film and gaming which is the legal aspect of the games like Ace Attorney, the charisma of Takuya Kimura playing as the main protagonist Takayuki Yagami, and the brawler gameplay of Yakuza. However, the first thing I noticed as a whole was that this is a completely modern take with how different the new character is with fighting motivations and having fun in Kamurocho.
Unlike Yakuza’s Kiryu way of getting the truth fist first, Judgment’s main character Takayuki Yagami takes his own sweet time following his targets, taking pictures as evidence, presenting his evidence, chasing and in the end mostly fights his target into submission which struggles to maintain the perfect balance between fun and tedious repetition. Aside from that, there are interesting concepts and ideas that were mainly underutilized.
Story- How far would you go for the truth?
Judgement portrays a story of a fallen from grace, lawyer Takayuki Yagami turned into private detective as he further investigates a serial killings involving victims with their eyes gouged out. This well written main story ties in the mystery, twist, motives, and past relations perfectly. The chapters always ends in a detective twist with a summary in past episodes like a TV episode.
Yagami relentless pursuit for the truth is actually believable to the audience due to his lawyer background narrative in the past. The well written narrative touches down from the logical all the way to the emotional level of presentation like making new partnerships out of bad blood, organisations, honor and righteousness. The only hiccup is the main story at times has some side cases that is compulsory to be done before proceeding into the main story, which may hinder the flow of the story.
Gameplay – Here We Go!
Unlike its predecessors, Judgment felt more streamlined in terms of getting side quests or as they call it here, Side Cases. These Side Cases appear as a blue case file over the main map and although in total there are 50 Side Cases, getting access to them is not as simple as it looks. This is because access to Side Cases is tied directly to the Friend mechanic. Appearing as a green handshake symbol on the main map, these friends are who Yagami have to complete tasks for to fill out their friendship meter. Maxing out the meter will unlock access to more Side Cases. At one point I did feel it was weird how I could not tell the difference between which friends I had already maxed out and the ones I need to until I noticed that the only way to do so was to pay attention to the shade of green on the icons. Light Green means you have more work to do while Dark Green means you already maxed them out. It is a strange gameplay decision to not remove maxed out friends icons entirely but just have them in different shades. The Side Cases though provide some really wacky scenes such as dealing with a trio of perverts terrorizing the city or even just finding someone’s lost relative. The rewards for these cases usually include Cash or SP or both.
SP stands for Skill Points and is points used to buy and expand Yagami’s fighting moves and gives new abilities. Anything you do from talking, investigating clues, looking for cats, fighting and completing cases will grant you SP and you can do so by using the in-game cellphone. Some of these abilities are quite useful like expanding your life bar, give you stronger attacks and raises your alcohol tolerance level.
During some Side Cases, Yagami will have the choice to investigate the environment to clues that stand out in the first person or even take important photographs to document. Unfortunately what could have been a very well thought out gameplay mechanic is reduced to merely just fulfilling criteria listed down at the side of the screen instead of allowing players some form of freedom to investigate and unravel mysteries on their own. Cases are also very lenient with no option to fail the cases as choosing the wrong option just results in a slap on the wrist and narrows the player down the correct path.
During the Cases as well, you will be tailing tediously behind a target and hiding behind corners of a pillar/cars/walls/signboards when the target turns back towards you and you will be doing this very VERY often. What made it so underutilized is that, Takayuki Yagami can actually wear disguises to suit the crowd he is in while tailing or use drones for tailing without being seen or maybe even add an extra optional QTE (Quick Time Events) to blend in the crowd like talking to a person, hide in a cone/box like Majima or taking a newspaper, punch 2 holes and read, to make these missions extra fun and diverse but none of it ever happens. The player is always subjected to the same tailing and hiding gameplay that wears out its welcome too fast and just keeps on going. Even when it comes to disguises, you can only equip them in some special moments and not at any time which feels half baked. He is supposed to be the best detective in Kamurocho, let him be one.
Aside from tailing the player will also get chasing scenes to apprehend the target which is just fixed QTE prompts that not long after first doing it, you can do it with one hand. I felt that it could have been better by making him use the skateboard more, to make cool QTE grinds along the paths instead, and taking out more random dudes along the way or just finding a way to have it more diverse. Again it’s another mechanic that just gets tedious shortly after it is introduced.
In terms of roaming around Kamurocho, instead of one time fixed key lockers to get free items in the Yakuza series, Judgment instead gives the player more by dropping items around Kamurocho such as parts used for Drone upgrades or after defeating enemies they will drop health item or even money. Hence, you will end up running around each area, just to pick things up as who knows it might be useful down the line. And why is it very important to craft these items?. Judgment doesn’t give Yagami any option to wear armour, weapons and cloth for extra protection. That is why you may need to craft or buy certain potions as enemies get tougher later on.
As an added challenge, Takayuki Yagami is weak to certain enemies full aura attacks and guns, that will permanently reduce his max HP in a new feature called Mortal Wounds. When mortally wounded, players will need to visit a doctor or consume a Medical Kit to restore the full life bar. That’s why players will feel more cautious being in certain fights as he is not Kiryu after all.
Aside from being unable to equip weapons, Takayuki Yagami will also not be able to hold guns, knives and swords as it breaks away from enemies hands immediately. Swords, guns and knives are only applicable for usage in the Virtual Reality minigame. This breaks away many gore aspects of the series that I am used to but fits well into the more morally centric protagonist that we have this time around.
In terms of fighting, it is pretty fun with only two battle stances to choose from, be it Crane style to thin out the herd or Tiger style to really do some damage. Other than that, you will be running up walls, dodging and countering enemies as a means to survive.
After some time, I find myself choosing Tiger style for efficiency purpose over the flamboyant Crane as it’s Karate Kid Wax On and Wax Off hand attacks directly opens me up for an incoming crowd attack after a combo. There were times being drunk unlocks a one-time new cinematic signature heat move involving drunken boxing that fends off multiple enemies. It’s a shame that it could have been a stance on its own for more interesting depth as well.
Minigames are also lesser due to lack of arenas, bowling, karaoke, and with less gambling options (only poker and Blackjack in any casino). Replacing it with a new modernized arcade zombie shooter Kamuro of the Dead, Drone Racing and Virtual Reality Boardgame which in itself has many other minigames depending on the spaces you run on via dice roll.
Like his shimmering leather jacket, you will first notice the gritty road puddles glimmering with lights as you roam Kamurocho which is just breathtaking. The graphics here are a step ahead with nice colour use, effects, details and not to mention Takayuki Yagami’s ever-flowing hair which I believe is the main reason every gang members wants a piece of him.
The facials expression throughout the game is detailed, be it the main character, NPC’s, the interactions and even the glorious battle auras in the story mode. The occasional video calls in the story are nothing to shout about as it shows awkward stoic faces from time to time. Overall it mostly suits the game world and is worthwhile just playing the main story alone.
Jaw Dropping Sounds
The voice acting in Judgment is done very well throughout the main storyline and I would expect no less from the creators of Yakuza series. Regardless of whether you are playing it in the original Japanese Audio or the English dub, both are excellent choices depending on your taste (I always love the original Japanese dub as it provides authenticity to the performances). Music is presented well depending on the activity, type of fighting stances and even the main storyline that presents the upbeat jazzy detective mood to the epic intense boss fights. However, roaming around Kamurocho may seem quiet at times due to the dim ambience and surprising lack of crowd chatter.
What I Loved
- Graphics, sounds and storytelling is top notch
- Takuya Kimura from Hero drama series presented his character well both in voice works and facial expressions
What I Wished was Better
- Time-consuming tailing and chasing scenes should add more depth to the gameplay to keep it from being dry or repetitive
- Add more interesting fight stances like drunken fist which activates when you are drunk and ends once you are sober
- More optional case solutions rather than putting a tick to the boxes
- More variety in the sound ambience in Kamurocho depending on the area the main character is standing on
I am not saying that this game isn’t good, this spin-off will be catering to a different audience with a new main character who has less wacky side cases, fewer hostess minigames, and bloody gore. But with that being said I do think that Yagami is a worthwhile protagonist and can launch a series of games on his back. Hopefully, whatever that was underutilized mentioned above will be improved later on with a sequel (I believe there is!). Any Yakuza fan has to play it with an open mind and accept that it’s completely different on things that we were accustomed to. Overall, it delivered what it was supposed to do which is rich storytelling, voicework, sounds and some good fight scenes, with much more room for improvements.