- Game: Judgment
- Console: PS4 (reviewed)
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
A Judgment review code was provided by the publisher.
Kazuma Kiryu’s tale of redemption has finally come to a close. Sega’s Yakuza series put a bow on its epic plotline and steadily improved along the way. Scattered among the mainline Yakuza games developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio are fun spinoffs that ended up being more fun than expected. The development studio’s latest side project, Judgment, falls right into that category. An amalgamation of the best parts of Yakuza and Capcom’s Phoenix Wright franchise, Judgment delivers an engrossing experience that grabs you and never lets go.
This time around, you step into the crime-solving shoes of an ex-lawyer named Takayuki Yagami. After learning about his former career as a public defender during a gripping intro, you take over as he enters the next phase of his life. Yagami’s a soft-spoken but incredibly passionate individual who’s easy to love – his dedication to getting to the bottom of every mystery he gets embroiled in makes him an endearing character. Overall, Judgment features a likable cast of characters that you’ll also begin to appreciate over the course of the game’s exciting murder mystery. The voice work from both the Japanese and English casts does a great job of conveying the game’s bigger moments, which gives you all the more reason to see its story play out until its shocking conclusion. Judgment’s tale is another grade-A effort from the creative minds behind Yakuza.
Judgment follows the usual template Yakuza fans should be used to at this point – you’ll explore a near-perfect representation of Kamurocho, take on a myriad of side quests, engage in all sorts of minigames, and indulge in plenty of good food and drinks along the way. Longtime Yakuza fans may find themselves a bit tired of the city’s unchanged layout, however – the sense of familiarity that will surely wash over players who know about the city’s usual trappings is somewhat of a letdown. The same playable arcade games are carried over from Yakuza 6 (only one new classic Sega title is available for play here) and the minigames you’ve played to death already in past Yakuza games also make their return. While Judgment’s overly familiar side activities are still enjoyable, they don’t offer enough fresh changes for diehard Yakuza fans. The newly introduced drone racing and VR minigames are worth a few playthroughs, though.
What this game does differently from its main inspiration is its use of detective work. Judgment’s main and side stories primarily deal with solving cases, both big and small. Yagami’s investigative talents are put in players’ hands and thankfully, they’re the best part of the game. Searching for clues from a first-person viewpoint, snapping the perfect photo for useable bombshell evidence, running after potential targets and donning different disguises makes for a wholly engaging undertaking. Finding out the truth behind many of the game’s wildly varied investigative jobs never gets old. What does get old is having to slowly tail an important target from time to time. Out of all the ways in which you have to acquire evidence, this activity’s the most tiresome. The rest of Judgment’s crime-solving elements pick up the slack, however.
Yagami’s not just a keen investigator – he’s also a formidable martial artist who can hold his own in a fight. Judgment thankfully returns to the combat mechanics established in Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami by allowing you to switch between two fighting styles at any time. And just like the Yakuza games, taking the fight to random thugs and far more dangerous gang members is always a good time. Sweeping multiple foes off their feet with Yagami’s “crane-style” and powering through a tougher threat with the powerful “tiger-style” maintains its appeal at all times. Judgment’s massive array of upgrades gives Yagami access to even more outlandish special moves, which makes the game’s combat mechanics as strong as its other game-defining features.
On the visual front, Judgment unsurprisingly looks great. Kamurocho’s crowded streets truly come alive in the evening and look even more impressive due to the random activities its populace engages in. The actor and actress’s likenesses used in-game look as close as possible to their real-life counterparts, which gives the game another notch in the graphical quality department. Along with the game’s more serious tones, Judgment produces a ton of hilarious moments throughout. Yakuza fans who’re used to finding themselves in some zany situations should expect to do the same here. Judgment does an awesome job of balancing the game’s hard-edged situations and more lighthearted story beats.
As far as Yakuza spinoff games go, Judgment stands tall as one of the best. Giving the series’ familiar play style a crime-solving mechanics breathes new life into a well-worn formula – running around Kamurocho and using your detective skills to solve its many crimes is a praiseworthy experience. Yagami is a fine protagonist backed up by strong voice work and a magnetic personality.
Thankfully, the rest of the game’s cast is just as interesting as the detective you take control of. While a sense of “been there, seen that” may be an issue for those who’ve played the Yakuza series to death, Judgment’s Phoenix Wright-like mechanics and engrossing storyline should be enough to suck you in. Curious players who’ve never touched a Yakuza game now have the perfect entry point to enjoy.
Our Judgment Review Score: 8.75 out of 10