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Judgment Review

Judgment Review


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A superficial detective experience, but an extremely good Yakuza one.

When it was revealed that Judgment – a spin-off from the 13-year-old Yakuza series – was going to cast the main character as a private investigator based in Tokyo’s red-light district, I had wondered if it would break with Yakuza tradition and focus more on actual detective work; an LA Noire to Yakuza’s GTA, if you will. As it turns out, Judgment is not that game; its sprinkling of detective-oriented gameplay mechanics are mostly superficial and fairly repetitive, rarely requiring much in the way of observation or deduction. The good news is that Judgment succeeds in more traditional ways, with its free-flowing combat, entertaining diversions, and an absorbing serial killer-hunting plot that all combine to make for a better Yakuza game than 2018’s Yakuza 6.

With the exception of a few side character cameos from the Yakuza series, Judgment features an entirely new cast of heroes and villains, and its plot is completely self-contained, making it a no-strings-attached entry point into the Yakuza-verse for newcomers. Further, if you’re a non-Japanese speaker who’s been previously turned off at the idea of playing through dozens of hours of a dialogue-heavy Yakuza game with subtitles only, you’ll be pleased to hear (literally) that Judgment’s English voice dubbing is excellent. Although it seems odd that the lip syncing has been altered to suit the English voices in some cutscenes, but not all.

You Can’t Handle the Sleuth

Main character Takayuki Yagami has a number of detective-oriented tools and skills at his disposal in order to solve both the main mission – which revolves around a serial killer stalking high-ranking underworld figures – and side cases. Some of these methods are quite enjoyable, like piloting Yagami’s camera drone to peer through the windows of multi-story office block in search of a suspect, or using his smartphone to snap photos of a cheating husband heading into a love hotel with his mistress.

Others are less inspired, such as the chase sequences and tailing missions. The former are effectively extended quicktime events in which you run through the Kamarucho streets flicking the thumbsticks to sidestep crowds and tapping the triangle button to vault over obstacles; while the latter are tediously stop-and-start affairs as you tail a suspect whose head is on a permanent swivel, forcing you to frequently scramble into one of the designated hiding zones lest your cover be blown by a rapidly filled visibility meter. Each of these are employed by Judgment far too often, without ever varying the formula to any significant degree.

Despite the fact this game is called Judgment, there’s surprisingly little room given to make our your own decisions.

But the bigger problem here is that despite the fact this game is called Judgment, there’s surprisingly little room given to make our your own decisions. During my first couple of hours I was carefully poring over every update and piece of evidence added to the case file app on Yagami’s phone, but I soon realised that such attention to detail was almost entirely unnecessary. You can brute-force your way through the conversation trees during a suspect interrogation because there’s no fail state, and after an early skill upgrade the search for clues at a crime scene becomes as simple as dragging the cursor around and pressing on anything that makes the controller rumble. I still enjoyed each how each little mystery subplot in Judgment resolved itself, but on only a handful of occasions during my 35-hour playthrough was I left to properly deduce anything on my own; the rest of the time I was allowed to trample along a linear investigation path without any fear of ever arriving at the wrong conclusion.

Street Fighter, Too

Yagami has a background as a lawyer before a tragedy made him turn detective, but just because he’s a gumshoe doesn’t mean he can’t still kick some arse. Somewhere between passing the bar exam and setting up his own detective agency, Yagami found time to master two fighting styles: Crane and Tiger. The former uses a lot of spinning roundhouses and sweep kicks for crowd control, and the latter more powerful attacks best suited to one on one scraps, with the flexibility to switch between them depending on the situation of each skirmish.

But it’s Yagami’s acrobatic abilities that give Judgment’s fisticuffs a freedom of movement not found in any Yakuza game, allowing him to vault off objects and enemies in order to continually change his angle of attack. It’s impossible for enemies to back Yagami into a corner when he can spectacularly flip off the wall behind him, clamp an enemy’s neck between his ankles, and violently wrench their head around like the top of a human-sized pepper mill, for example.

You can also unlock a number of additional combo moves and finishers, but whereas Yakuza 6 features five different types of experience points to spend on Kazama Kiryu’s various traits, Judgment boils its XP system down to a single currency. Thus, the points you earn fighting, solving cases, befriending citizens of Kamarucho, or simply winning a game of darts all go into the one pot and can be spent upgrading Yagami in any way you choose, be it his health capacity, fighting ability, or buffs to other skills like lockpicking. I appreciated the streamlined nature of this setup, and Judgment’s character progression is removed of any form of grind as a result.

There’s also a welcome increase to the tension of Judgment’s enemy encounters, as police can now disrupt street scuffles if they go on for too long. That forces you to finish each fight in a hurry, lest you risk a monetary fine. Certain strong or well-armed enemies can also deal mortal wounds to Yagami, which shatter fragments off the end of his health bar that can’t be replenished by consuming health drinks or food. Mortal wounds can, however, be treated with medical kits, but these are both expensive and only found in one specific area of the map. Rather than risk the inconvenience of having to treat my wounds I found myself employing blocks and quickstep dodges more often in Judgment than I have in the Yakuza games, and feeling more engaged in each fight as a result.

Detective Downtime

Judgment isn’t all cracking cases and smacking faces.

Judgment isn’t all cracking cases and smacking faces, though, and as is typical of Yakuza games there’s no shortage of entertaining diversions to tackle when you need a break from the main story. You can play the pinball machine in Yagami’s office, hit the local arcades for a number of classic Sega games in addition to the spectacularly gory House of the Dead-inspired ‘Kamarucho of the Dead’, customise your drone and race it through the Kamarucho streets in the drone grand prix, befriend and date NPCs, win money in a bizarre VR board game, and then spend it on crowdfunded products via the Quickstarter app on your phone, and more.

Judgment may lack some of the more substantial side activities from previous Yakuza games, such as hostess club management and clan creator modes, but it certainly has a healthy amount of diversity in its optional amusements. Although I was surprised to find the hilarious karaoke minigame traditionally found in the Yakuza series is absent, especially since the Japanese actor who plays Yagami is Takuya Kamura, a former vocalist in one of Japan’s most popular boy bands of all time.

The Verdict

Although I wish there was more depth to its detective work, Judgment’s smooth and spectacular street fighting, eclectic array of side activities, and suspenseful serial killer-based plot makes for the best original Yakuza game of this console generation. With its high-quality English-language dub and all-new cast of characters, it’s also the most approachable for newcomers. Provided you’re happy to serve justice with the swing of a sledgehammer rather than the knock of a gavel, Judgment is well worth investigating.

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