Judgment Review: It’s strange to consciously say goodbye to a fictional character you’ve been following for more than a decade, and then learn to like their replacement. I was torn apart a bit when protagonist Kazama Kiryu finally left the Yakuza series at the end of The Song Of Life. But while we wait for Yakuza to get serious again, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has created another opportunity to revisit Kamurocho’s base as newcomer Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced attorney who became a private investigator.
And thankfully, despite some nondescript additions to the standard RGG template, by the end of Judgment, it’s hard not to feel like you need to spend tens or more hours with Yagami and friends.
Judgment Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4
- Developer: Sega, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- Publisher: Sega
- Genres: Action-adventure game
- Release Date: December 13, 2018
Judgment Review: Gameplay
Yagami may not be a yakuza, and Judgment may not be a standard Yakuza game. Still, you might think that Judgment’s overarching story doesn’t take over the criminal theatrics RGG Studio has become known for. As the plot begins with a relatively straightforward investigation into a serial killer, Yagami’s investigation of it reveals a massive, complicated and intertwined conspiracy and secrecy plot that spans the history of the cast, the Japanese legal system, Tokyo police, multiple yakuza factions, and higher bets out there.
It’s not a surprising escalation, but it’s told to stick to the screen in such a way – the mystery is gripping, the drama is irresistible, and the performances are excellent. Yagami and his partner Kaito are the main emotional channels, and they remain incredibly empathetic and genuinely likable characters everywhere. They have interesting personal dilemmas and their arcs, and a warm, convincing dynamic together, regularly joke and pull off each other’s chains and share determination when needed.
Kaito is a former yakuza who is the brain of Yagami’s brain. Although Yagami still manages to be an impossible kung fu savant, for reasons never really explained in a meaningful way, and skinny jeans, no less. The two lend a pleasant atmosphere to the otherwise serious nature of the story, and they are treasures. In some ways, Yagami is more credible and better defined as the main character than Kiryu in the Yakuza series.
Where you have often been encouraged to bring Kiryu, a typically unshakable honorary deity, into oddly perverted pursuits through uncharacteristic stays, Yagami rarely behaves in ways that don’t suit you, and you shouldn’t get involved in something that goes against his behavior. It’s a remarkable quality that helps him make him more consistently likable, even if he’s doing something you think is crazy. Judgment’s side activities do their best to reflect Yagami’s nature.
Side missions are usually considered citizens are calling Yagami on for its private detection services. However, it is still a place for RGG Studio’s penchant for absurdism to get a workout. More interesting is the game’s Friend system, which allows you to meet dozens of unique individuals scattered across Kamurocho, through side missions or their discreet activities.
Performing a variety of tasks at the service of a person will strengthen your friendship with them, ultimately giving you access to perks like secret items on a restaurant menu or helping out in battle. It’s a fun themed element that rounds out Yagami’s character as a good-natured, friendly neighborhood PI. The uncomfortably dissolute side of RGG games is still present in Judgment. However, it is usually associated with the more unsavory characters and aspects of the plot rather than Yagami himself.
That means Kamurocho’s more boring activities are gone, including the entertaining cabaret club mini-game. Instead, there is a dating aspect where you can get closer to women that Yagami has befriended throughout the game, regularly interacting through in-game text messages and eventually a series of dates. It feels more beneficial, but only as healthy as a 35-year-old man with a 19-year-old can be.
Elsewhere in the game’s impressive array of distractions, Judgment features an incredibly robust Mario Party-esque board game, a two-player game Fighting Vipers, an original light gun shooter called Kamuro Of The Dead, a naturally made another game-engine version of pinball and drone racing. That’s on top of a beautiful, familiar selection of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, Puyo Puyo, UFO catchers, darts, batting cages, Mahjong, Shogi, and various casino card games, among other activities, all featured in previous Yakuza titles.
There are plenty of other familiar aspects returning from previous Yakuza games, but not all of them shake out to be in Judgment’s favor. For example, while the game’s key cinematics are lovingly rendered, and animated, lesser, more pompous character models with cold, dead eyes still dominate much of the game’s cutscenes and draw some emotion from the otherwise excellent drama.
Kamurocho is another tired aspect, which is a blasphemous idea at first – the neighborhood itself still feels lively, buzzing, and full of things to do. However, this is still very much the Dragon Engine era Kamurocho of Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2, both of which were released a year earlier. But it’s not just the fact that Kamurocho is still relatively fresh in your head if you’ve followed the series closely, it’s the lack of a meaty palette cleanser from Judgment.
Almost all Yakuza games since 2005 originally included a new city to roam freely or at least extra protagonists to add a bit of excitement to the series’ familiar formula. Judgment has a small additional indoor location outside of Kamurocho, but it is purely a story piece. Conversely, many of Judgment’s attempts to add to the core Ryu ga Gotoku template wear out their welcome almost immediately.
Yagami’s position as a lawyer who has had a private eye means that there are many segments where people are chased and chased, taken to places where he shouldn’t be looking for clues and deductions. The possibility of carrying out all these thematically appropriate activities would be attractive if not all of them were mechanically boring in practice. Chasing and chasing people are the greatest offenders, aggravated by the firm reliance on their judgment.
Slowly tracking targets around the city while trying not to see the objectives (they are all agitated) is a tedious, slow, and tedious process often made more frustrating by the infamous RGG Studio motion system, which is clunky at the best of times. An appeal to predetermined hiding places deprives the act of any dynamism and creativity. Chases are faster yet equally monotonous auto-running sequences where you have to steer Yagami left and right within a given path, avoid obstacles, and run the regular quick time event to keep up with a target.
Except for one funny sequence on a skateboard, the game’s myriad chases are all stale at the end, when they should get your heart racing. Searching for clues and drawing conclusions are ready to be the more attractive mechanics because of the game’s legal tendency – Yagami will sometimes have to search an area in first-person for clues or explain a hypothesis or contradiction. But these moments are let down by being incredibly simple, and it would be misplaced to expect something close to what you might find in a Danganronpa or Ace Attorney game.
You get a checklist of things to see during search scenes, meaning the discoveries don’t feel revealing – but finding the hidden cats is the real treat here. Subtract segments feel more like opportunities for the game to ensure you’ve paid attention to the story so far, rather than a chance for you to join the dots and discover the discovery for yourself. While the mystery in Judgment is undoubtedly a journey that will guide Yagami alone, the lack of player authority in the detective segments makes them a useless chore.
There are two different types of lock picking mini-games – which are beautiful, if not very inspiring. There is also a bizarre little exciting mechanic where you have to choose which key to use on Yagami’s keychain when entering particular doors. The most exciting new idea is the addition of a few short sequences where you play as one of Yagami’s colleagues and go undercover, which made me just want that idea to be explored even further.
Ultimately, the bulk of Yagami’s progress is made by doing what all the good protagonists in RGG games do best: scare people. Yagami has two different Kung fu-influenced fighting styles: Crane style is designed to deal with groups of enemies, while Tiger style focuses on single target damage. Combat starts to be a bit clumsy and restrictive – especially the flashy Crane style, whose moves take a long time to recover and see Yagami spend more time flipping than hitting hits.
But this changes over time as your Yagami’s Upgrades combo speeds and attack damage, making the risk of opening yourself up more viable. Tiger style, however, is more complicated and versatile, with a much wider and more potent variety of gestures to unlock and use – including an exploding palm technique that is great to use over and over again. Additional fighting techniques are introduced to work out Yagami’s flashy, acrobatic style and include the ability to jump enemies, jump on the wall, and link attacks to those maneuvers.
The Yakuza series’ explosive “Heat” moves appear as “EX” moves, allowing you to perform devastating cinematic special attacks depending on specific environmental and combat situations. Despite not being a Yakuza game, fighting is your primary interaction with the world in Judgment. However, fighting all kinds of offenders, gangsters, and at some point, a group of academic researchers is still very entertaining. It’s great that there are plenty of opportunities to give some street law.
Judgment Review: Conclusion
It is disappointing to realize during our Judgment review that it is at its best when it gets closer to the shape it came from. Even though the game’s well-known fighting and sideline likes to keep you busy, it’s a pity that the most intriguing and unique additions are also the dullest things about Judgment, as the new character selection is beautifully crafted differently. Yagami, Kaito, and the supporting cast are incredibly endearing, and following all of their movements as they unravel the sinister machinations looming beneath Kamurocho’s surface is a breathtaking journey.
Even though the game’s well-known fighting and sideline likes to keep you busy, it’s a pity that the most intriguing and unique additions are also the dullest things about Judgment, as the new character selection is beautifully crafted differently.