Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release date: June 25, 2019
Available on: PS4
When the Yakuza series, which began on the PS2, wrapped up its Kazuma Kiryu storyline last year, one was hoping that wasn’t the last we saw of the Kamurocho district in Japan. With its many side activities and warring yakuza clans, it was just too good a setting to say goodbye to. Happily, the folks at Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio had a better plan in mind: What if we mixed in the action/exploration of the Yakuza games with the courtroom/detective set up of the Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney franchise? The concept definitely had possibilities.
Happily, the idea paid off, and the game Judgment was born.
Judgment follows the exploits of Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer with the Genda Law Office who has a serial murder case fall into his lap. With former Matsugane clan member Kaito, Yagami looks into the case where three yakuza have been found brutally murdered with their eyes removed. What starts with all appearances as a dispute between two yakuza clans proves to be much more. The story has plenty of twists and turns, and is fairly well written, providing an enjoyable ride from the start of the game’s 14 chapters to its finish some 30 hours later (my first run was a little over 33 hours, but your session could vary depending on how many side cases and activities you indulge in).
The game play will be a familiar one to long time Yakuza fans, as you explore the district of Kamurocho (plenty of familiar sites for fans) looking for clues to your case. Naturally, Kamurocho being on the seedy side, you’ll encounter ne’er do wells and other street thugs who wish to do you harm. Good thing Yagami can throw a kick or a punch. In fact, he might be able to give Kiryu a run for his money.
Combat and leveling up is a bit more streamlined this time around. Yagami employs two types of fighting stance, that on Tiger and Crane. One is better suited for single combat, while the other works better on groups of attackers. You level up and learn new attacks/abilities by using skill points. Instead of being divided into different types, as in Yakuza 6 , skill points are all one type, allowing you to use them however you see fit. Eating plays a role again as well, though you can only eat when low on health. Other health items can be found at the Poppo stores, with potent medicine having to be administered only in one spot on the map. Health supplies are a little scarcer, but the game has four difficulty levels to accommodate players of all skill levels. For those looking for a greater challenge, Legendary difficulty opens up upon finishing the main story line.
Finishing the main story also opens up the Premium Adventure mode and Premium New Game Plus. Both can be started fresh or carrying over from a completed save file. Speaking of save files, it’s a good idea to make multiple ones, as there are spots where you can lose large chunks of progress, and the extra file can be helpful to go back and prepare better. There are only a couple of segments that are like this, but it’s good to be prepared. Elsewhere, between the autosave feature and manually saving, you can preserve your progress nicely.
As with the Yakuza games, Judgment has a great cast of characters. Yagami makes for a very solid lead, and Captain Hamara of the Matsugane clan makes for a fine villain. There are two notable female characters, Saori from the Genda Law Office and Mafuyu the assistant prosecutor, who play a nice role here. The are a couple of cameos fans may recognize from previous titles, and plenty of quirky and odd citizens to deal with. Some of these can become Yagami’s friends, and doing friend missions nets valuable skill points plus could get you an item or two.
Aside from friend missions, there is plenty to do in Kamurocho to occupy your time outside of the main story. There are 50 side cases to solve, which range from more serious type affairs to the sillier. All are fairly engaging, and each nets a decent reward. Tailing and photo missions some will find as the most repetitive and/or tedious, and thankfully they are without much difficulty to accomplish. Some go on too long, but most are short enough to not be much of a bother. Outside of missions, there is the batting cage, casinos, and video games to divert your attention. Most video games are your standard affair, with Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (a fighting game) and Kamuro of the Dead (an on rails zombie shooter, a la House of the Dead ) being the two standouts.
With all its goodness, Judgment isn’t without its flaws. Conversations among the citizens, as well as character models, can get repetitious, and the constant harassment by the Keihin gang can grow tiresome. It’s still too easy to bump into people, and chase sequences (which are more a series of QTEs than you being more in control) can get frustrating, as failing them means retrying or Game Over. Also, making wrong choices doesn’t lead to any more of a penalty than trying again. This would have been nice to be more complex (and maybe lead to branching story lines), but it does keep things from turning into too much of a lawyer simulator. None of the game’s flaws are deal breakers, with the majority being minor annoyances at best.
That’s because that Judgment is just fun to play. The story is well written, the characters likeable and varied enough, and the combat is smooth and a joy to use. The game provides plenty of content over its 14 chapters, and there are plenty of things to do to having you dive into the Premium Adventure mode after finishing the main story and spend plenty of extra hours with the game. Both Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown and Kamuro of the Dead are meaty enough to stand alone in their own right (at the appropriate price point, of course), and are both fun to play. Plus, there are kitties to find.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has another winner on their hands with Judgment , and could be another franchise to stand alongside the Yakuza series. Long time fans will find this an easy purchase, and it makes a terrific jumping on point for newcomers, especially with the addition of an excellent English vocal track to make a viable alternative to the standard Japanese track. This is a must play title, and playing a martial arts detective just makes for good times.