As I walked through the streets of Kamurocho, I was hit with a strong sense of nostalgia and deja vu; I was home. It’s been too long since I’ve visited the batting centre, grabbed a drink at Bantam, or cleaned up the streets of thugs and delinquents. However, despite knowing this town like the back of my hand, including all of its seedy underground establishments and the location of every hostess club, there was something new and exciting about returning to the place where my love for the Yakuza series began. Judgment isn’t Yakuza, even though the similarities are impossible to miss, it’s an improvement on the series and one of the best games I’ve played which is set within a familiar and infamous location.
With its new take on various mechanics, the addition of original activities to try out, one of the most interesting stories I’ve played this year, and new fully-voiced English vocal track, Judgment blew me away and had me hooked for over 95 hours. Have I completed the game? Yes. Have I achieved 100% within the game? Hell no! There’s so much to see and do in Kamurocho, the road to platinum is a long one!
So, stop thinking about Yakuza and come with me as we explore the world of Judgment, a world filled with crime, murder, thugs, and political agendas…
*mild spoiler/info about the first chapter*
The year is 2018, the streets are littered with Yakuza and adult entertainment vendors, both out to seek their prey – one for pain, the other for pleasure. On this night, a Yakuza member is caught up in an altercation with a lieutenant from another clan, resulting in their body being found the next day with their eyes gouged out. Thanks to video evidence and some witness testimonies, the lieutenant is arrested and sent to court in order to stand trial for his actions. However, his lawyer reaches out and asks our protagonist, Takayuki Yagami, to help out with the investigation and to clear his client’s name. We accept the proposal placed before us, but proving someone innocent when so many things are pointing towards them being guilty is a hard sell!
Why were we summoned to help? Yagami was once the best lawyer within the same firm as the one helping out the Yakuza lieutenant, having left due to an unfortunate event a few years prior and set up his own detective agency. The event was one that will unravel as you progress through the game – you had worked a case, believed the accused was innocent, achieve a ‘not guilty’ outcome, only for the client to murder his girlfriend and burn down their house a few days later. This tragedy pushed our protagonist over the edge, to a place where justice must prevail and those responsible need to be found and exposed. Yagami doesn’t work alone though, he has a local ex-Yakuza on his side and a number of informants and colleagues around the town.
Despite his instincts, Yagami fights for the Yakuza’s release within the eye-less murder case, although proving this guy’s innocence only means one thing, the real killer is still out there. So, instead of claiming victory and moving on, finding the real person behind these horrendous serial killings and bringing them to justice becomes Yagami’s number one priority; whatever the cost. Just who is this ‘mole’ and what is their reasoning behind the things they do? Is it a deranged serial killer with a thirst for blood, a mental individual with a violent personality, or is it someone you know and see every day? If there’s anyone who can find out the truth, it’s the Yagami Detective Agency…
The world of Judgment is visually similar to that of Yakuza, yet very different when you look at the core mechanics and what you’ll actually be doing. As our protagonist is a detective, from a background of being a well-respected lawyer, there’s nothing he loves more than solving a case – regardless of how trivial it is. As such, you’re taken along for the ride as the new primary gameplay mechanic is actively piecing together crimes, solving mysteries, spotting hidden objects/people, and even stalking people without being seen. As such, there are no ‘Substories’ or ‘Side missions’, instead we now have ‘Side cases’.
Whether you take a case to stalk a husband and take a picture of his infidelity, track down a bunch of lost stray cats, or seek out a group of perverts who are terrorising a poor innocent girl, every single case is just as unique and interesting as the ones we’ve seen in previous Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio games, although there are only 50 of them this time around. When you’re not working on a case, though, you’ll either be in the street fighting, testing out the local food and entertainment to fill in your completion chart, progressing through the story with its intriguing narrative, or simply walking around and taking in the amazing visuals.
Despite the wide variety of gameplay and mechanics on offer, there are a few which outstay their welcome if you’re going for the 100% and platinum milestones. However, this is to be expected with a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game, and something I’ll cover later on, just don’t expect this to be a nice and easy 40 hour game like Yakuza 6 was. Judgment returns to its roots and expects nothing but the very best from you if you want those elusive trophies. That being said, I’m on 95 hours now, having completed Judgment at around 65-70 hours, and I’m still loving all of the activities I’m engaged within. Let’s take a look at the entertainment and pastimes in Kamurocho this time around…
Kamurocho Entertainment Board
I feel I have to start with the bad news, news which almost had me in tears when I realised it wasn’t there; there’s no karaoke bar! We’ve also lost a few other notable locations such as New Serena, Bowling, The park, and the casino in the sewers. All’s not lost though, they have been replaced with new bars and food joints, a VR game, new casino locations and drone racing. So, some things are gone yet replaced with new and exciting activities to play with. Also, just in case you weren’t aware, Kamurocho is the only city within Judgment – which was initially a disappointment but it makes sense as the story unfolds.
So, let’s take a look at the games you’ll be playing for hours and hours in order to gain money, unlock new items, or generally just have fun with!
The Sega Arcades are back with fully emulated versions of Virtua Fighter 5: Showdown, Space Harrier, Puyo-Puyo, Fantasy Zone, House of the Dead, and many more… That’s right, there’s a full House of the Dead mini-game called Kamuro of the Dead. It’s essentially a light-gun game where you use your controller to aim, but it’s based on the streets of Kamurocho – just like Yakuza: Dead Souls. Now, I feel the developers missed out here as the game does use motion controls to shake off biting enemies as they grab you, but there are no motion controls for the actual aiming. I would personally love for this mini-game to get expanded and released as its own game, especially if it was placed into VR with Move and Aim Controller support!
Speaking of VR, this new game replaces bowling (as it’s in the same building). Think Mario Party crossed with the Nyan cat and Clippy, the Microsoft Word paperclip assistant. The premise is simple, get to the exit without dying or running out of dice rolls. Here, you can be thrown into random battles, get given gifts, have to destroy tonnes of objects, or stripped of all your rewards by a giant Nyan cat! As this isn’t set within the world of Judgment, it’s in VR within the game (not actual VR for us), the game imposes new rules like giving you dual lightsabers or a rocket launcher in some fights. Although it’s awesome and the rewards for completing the game are incredible, I wish we had these funky weapons outside of the game in the real world as well!
Drone Racing! As a detective, one of your best tools is your drone – it allows you to spy on people in their rooms, get into obstructed places, and gather evidence without being noticed. However, you can also pimp out your ‘toy’ and participate in single, tournament or online races in order to unlock new parts and trophies. I won’t lie, I suck at these as I end up bouncing off the walls, breaking my drone, coming in fourth or fifth place, and generally being booed out of the building. I have won a few races though, I just find there’s no point racing online or against ghost data unless you have pimped out everything, as you’re put against Japanese ghost data – people who have had the game for months already.
I can’t believe this is in Judgment, but there’s a crowdfunding application on your phone which is essentially Kickstarter. Over time, new ‘projects’ will appear for you to invest within. Some of them offer tangible rewards which will be sent directly to your mailbox (so nothing like Kickstarter then), and others will unlock new moves or even game modes in things such as Paradise VR. The interesting thing about the campaigns is that they will automatically fund themselves up to 50% if you wait and let the general public help them out. The other 50% HAS to be paid by yourself in order to approve the project. It’s an interesting concept and not really a game or entertainment, but it’s something to do I suppose…
If none of the above excites you (which they should), then you can always fall back to the classics such as Darts, Blackjack, Poker and Mahjong. Yes, everyone’s favourite game, Mahjong, is back with its own little spot on the completion chart which requires you to achieve a certain amount of points during play. I rarely have an issue with completion checklists, but the Yakuza-based ones are always a bit over-the-top.
I do miss the Karaoke, but I really enjoyed Kamuro of the Dead and Paradise VR.
As the investigations and exploration aspect takes centre stage, I’m so happy that the team have managed to pull off a bunch of interesting and intuitive mechanics which lets you complete the cases effectively. As I previously mentioned, you’ll be helping people from a few locations with things as trivial as finding someone son based on a photo they’ve taken, to fighting against a secret boss who has appeared in every Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game so far! But just how do you solve your cases? There are multiple gameplay mechanics in place, some just require you to talk to the client and deliver items or perform a service in order to be successful, others get a bit more hands-on…
Observe and report
I loved this mechanic at first, but over time it began to get a bit tiresome and slightly repetitive. You follow people as they walk towards their destination, taking cover behind objects whenever the target turns around or hears you bump into things. Most of these are short but some can last a long time and if you fail, you’ll usually be sent a good few minutes back. I admit that these segments are really well done – especially as it evolves into following groups of people and not just one person – but after you’ve done about ten or so, I was done with them.
Chase the culprit
At various times you’ll be put into run-mode, automatically running after your target ala endless runner style. This segment forces you to do various QTEs in order to avoid obstacles and groups of people. Just like the above stalking mechanic, this is cool at first but over time it does get a bit repetitive as you know what button to press for certain actions and you just want it over as soon as possible. Although, the way it all works and how it seamlessly has you both running through the streets without any loading or transitions, is very good.
There are times where you don’t want to follow or sit near a target as you fear they may recognise you. Thankfully, Yagami has thought of this as he carries a bunch of costumes around with him, unlocking more as you progress through various cases. Some of the disguises are simple, such as a janitor or worker, and others are more outlandish such as a vampire. My one complaint is that we can’t dress up as these characters outside of a situation that needs a costume. I would have loved to play the entire game dressed as Count Yagami. However, from what I can tell, there are no alternative costumes in both normal and premium mode of the game – although we may get some with post-release DLC?
I Spy, with my little eye…
The core mechanic you’ll use in numerous instances is the actual investigation mode. Whilst in First-Person, you’ll be looking around for various clues and evidence at the scene of a crime and important locations. You’ll also gain extra points for spotting random things, such as people on the roof, and even a trophy if you spot a stray cat in every investigation segment. I thought these segments were great as they made you really feel like a detective. At times, you’ll even take control of your drone as you stake out and investigate various events.
For those Phoenix Wright fans out there, there are a few court sessions you’ll also attend which requires you to present evidence to the court ala Ace Attorney style. You must flick through the evidence you’ve collected via the means from above, piece together the truth of what’s happened, and then present them as evidence that backs up your claims in order to win. I personally wished there were more of these as I love the Ace Attorney games, but there are only a few.
Will you be my friend?
As you help out people on the street, you become friends with them once you’ve provided enough service. These are all unique and range from simply talking to someone and finding them an object, to completing every event within the batting range and buying a golden baseball bat followed by two more very hard batting challenges. You have fifty friends to find and help out, making this plus the Side Cases equal the 100 side-events we usually see.
Being friends with someone has various benefits. If you’re on the street and a fight starts, if someone is near you who you’ve befriended and are good at fighting, they’ll join in the fight and help beat up the enemies. If you’re having a fight near a shop run by someone you’re now a mate of, they may throw you a health item. Also, obtaining a certain number of friends unlocks new cases for you to take on within Judgment – so it’s not really a separate entity to the Side Cases, they both work hand-in-hand with one another.
I’m not sure what I think about the friendship mechanics within Judgment. I really liked the fact you get to help out people with their own unique issues and requests, but I’m at 48 friends and 48 cases at the moment and I can’t seem to find the last two. I know where one is, as I have to sell him a bunch of priceless art which I’m tracking down, but I’ve got no idea about the other person. I had this same issue with the cases as well – the majority of them are easy to find as they appear at set times and appear on your map, but a bunch of them only appear when you’ve performed certain criteria and stumbled upon the person as you walk around town.
Judgment is pretty much a reskin of Yakuza when it comes to combat. We have the same weighty combat which is almost a staple to the Yakuza series (as it favours melee over ranged weapons), as well as the return of fan-favourite weapons such as bicycles, street cones, and billboards! The EX moves (attacks where you hit Triangle to pull off brutal cutscene-like moves) have been toned down yet still gives you a very satisfying result. When I say toned down I mean you no longer scrape the opponent’s faces across the floor, yet you do still technically break their neck with some of the moves you pull off.
We’re also given two fighting stances, the Tiger and the Crane. The Tiger is best used when you’re against a single enemy as you become slower yet much more powerful as you thrust your fist into your foes
punchbag face; the Crane is almost the opposite with its fast but weaker attacks which are best for taking out the groups. Both move-sets are unique, with plenty of moves to learn and master, plus there are a number of new EX and normal attacks to unlock via the in-game Skill Shop by using the multitude of experience you’ll gain throughout your adventure.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in a few Yakuza games recently, you can’t carry and take weapons into battles with you, neither can you buy and equip armour or any form of accessories. These two movement styles are great and really help to vary the gameplay (changing between them by pushing Down of the D-Pad), but I still miss the days of having up to four different styles and the ability to customise a loadout before a battle. The upside to this though is that your pants are massive – you no longer have a set amount of inventory space (bar the limited number of an item you can hold), so you can pull out any number of Pot Noodles or Sushi from your pants and nibble on them during a fight.
There is a negative to the combat within Judgment – the frequency at which it happens. Whilst you’re on the streets, you usually get chased every few minutes, although you can run away and avoid them. However, once you reach a point in the story, every 10-15 mins you’ll get a text saying a gang is out for you, at that point the frequency ramps up to a fight almost every 15 seconds or so. It’s rather excessive and gets a bit irritating. To be fair, Judgment has a completion requirement of 1k kills on the street, so it helps, but not when you’re just trying to get from point A to B.
For those who have played a Yakuza game before, I don’t think I have to talk to you about Judgment’s narrative. It’s beyond amazing. The main story is full of twists and turns as you seek the truth, bringing in elements of comedy, thriller, conspiracy, political agendas, and more. Everything is fully explained in both playable and non-playable flashbacks and cutscenes, with no stone left unturned when it comes to ensuring the player fully understands everything which is going on and what they have to do next, without always spelling it out for you.
Now, the fun begins when we take a look at the narrative of the Side Cases… My favourite was the perverts who were harassing a young girl (who became my girlfriend in-game). One was stealing her panties off the clothesline, another (called Ass Catchem) was trying to ‘catch ’em all’ as he grabs people’s bottoms, and another wanted to see people “bask in the shadow of his Scrotum Totem”… Seriously, the narrative writers are bloody crazy at times! There’s another case about uncovering if a guy had sex with an underaged girl, one where you’re being followed by the threat of a cow, and even an undercover role in a hostess club; as the hostess!
Another sad omission this time around is the managing of the hostess clubs, but you do still have up to four girlfriends. As I’m a ‘playa’, I had all of them as I proclaimed my love to them without the others knowing! These are essentially five or more dates with each whilst answering questions, talking to them, and generally helping them out in order to win their love. Again, each of these has its own narrative and very long side-stories, all of which were lots of fun to play through – even though I am a pretty bad boyfriend!
Judgment is as visually beautiful as previous Yakuza games such as Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2. It’s built within the Dragon Engine, so you’re looking at 30fps rather than the 60fps we saw in Yakuza Zero and Kiwami. Visually, the game looks just like you’d expect from a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game, it’s dark, gritty, seedy, perverted, and realistic in its tones. The town of Kumorocho looks great, with subtle changes over the Yakuza series in order to differentiate the two, and a whole host of living people walking around and living their own lives. I especially love that we now have moving cars within the game, cars you can run up to and climb on top of just before they run you over.
The quality of the animations, lip-syncing, combat animations, and the overall aesthetic is second to none. Every single time I loaded the game back up I just literally walked around looking at the world I was becoming more and more absorbed within. However, the textures aren’t the best at times. I don’t know if it’s a streaming issue, as it’s not fully loaded the texture, but there were a number of them that remained a little blurry when up close, as opposed to the crystal clear textures where you can read every last word on posters and documents. As a whole though, Judgment is a great looking and performing game.
Also, the wet surfaces and glass all appear to reflect the actual scenery almost perfectly. Yet another small touch that looks amazing as you play.
Soundwise, you know where this is going… Bloody brilliant. The music is freaking awesome, the voice acting is quite frankly some of the best I’ve ever heard, and the game’s dark atmosphere is perfectly replicated via the mixture of music, voices and ambient sounds. Speaking of the voices, you can play the entire game in either Japanese or English (both with an almost fully-voiced track) and the game seems to lipsync based on the track chosen – or at least it seemed like it was. The subtitles also change based on the language you have. English on English is a literal word-for-word subtitle track, English subs on the Japanese voices delivers a different re-write which is more faithful to the actual translation.
One last point, I said it was only partially voiced – this was a bit confusing but not surprising. Whilst playing in English, I noticed a number of shopkeepers were still talking in Japanese and a lot of Side Cases and Friendship events were subtitles with either no voices or a one-liner. However, the main story events are all voiced perfectly in whichever language you choose.
Judgment is basically Yakuza crossed with Ace Attorney, the perfect combination of Power, Corruption, Crime and Mystery. Expanding upon everything we’ve seen the developer do previously, what we have here is a game that is so familiar yet different at the same time – familiar surroundings and places combined with new games, events and people to interact with. Although the game is heavy on the tried and tested mechanics of the Yakuza series, Judgment brings a lot of its own unique gameplay elements such as investigative segments as you stalk your prey, searching for evidence, and even dressing up in various disguises.
Judgment has a deep and intriguing story encased within a multitude of separate narratives, not many games can pull that off yet Judgment did it flawlessly. I honestly can’t recommend this game enough to both Yakuza fans and people new to this style of game.
Check out my review of the updated PS5 version HERE!
*The negatives below are just things I didn’t like personally, but they didn’t impact the game itself.*
- - Brilliant narrative (both the main mission and the multitude of friendship missions and Side Cases)
- - Visually beautiful with its realistic setting combined with fantastical combat
- - Lots of new mini-games to play
- - Very long main story
- - The music and voice acting are superb
- - The number of battles on the street is a bit too frequent
- - Karaoke and the Hostess clubs were removed!
- - Bloody Mahjong in-game trophy requirements! As well as a long completion list