The same, but different.
Judgment

Sega, specifically the Yakuza team at Sega, are really damn good at what they do. The primarily Japanese developer has been on a roll with their stellar Yakuza-focused releases this generation that include Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2, and Yakuza 6. All of these titles have received high praise both from myself and from other media outlets these past few years.

It should then come as no surprise that the level of quality found in those titles does not take any sort of hit with the team's latest release, Judgment. Make no mistake about it; Judgment is a spin-off of the Yakuza franchise that feels familiar enough to long-time fans while also being just different enough to be worth checking out. Judgment changes things up from the mainline entries by placing you in the shoes of detective Takayuki Yagami as he works to investigate a series of crimes on the mean streets of everyone's favorite city, Kamurocho.

Kamurocho has probably never looked better. This is now the third title (that I'm aware of) to use the new Dragon Engine. The first two titles were Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2. It seems as though the team has a firm grasp of how to best make use of this engine on the PlayStation 4 hardware. Most of the performance issues found in its initial outing with Yakuza 6 have been dealt with. Beyond that, the game looks to be a bit more vibrant and with greater detail in some areas when compared even to Yakuza Kiwami 2.

The game's Yakuza roots really shine when you realize you can run around the familiar city, beat up on a bunch of baddies, or partake of a buttload (I believe this is the technical term) of side activities and quests. Judgment mixes things up by adding in detective and courtroom gameplay sequences to this tried and true formula. While these new elements are good, I do wish that there were more of it. I think that maybe the team was worried about deviating too far from the Yakuza gameplay. Perhaps later Judgment entries, if there are any, will push the developers to go in a bit harder with the detective gameplay segments.

Judgment

What exactly does being a detective entail in Judgment? Well, it is probably about what you would expect. Yagami will have to collect evidence at crime scenes. He will question a wide variety of suspects. Piece the clues together and you will be on your way to following important leads that could make or break your case. The game will run you about 50 hours, give or take depending on how much you are hung up doing side activities. In all that time, the lack of depth on the detective aspect is the only real negative that stood out to me.

Just like the mainline Yakuza titles, Judgment's story is a complex tapestry of interwoven storylines, sharp turns, and unexpected surprises. Much like the Yakuza series, there are periods where the story adds a small bit of levity to what is otherwise a serious main story. I have always had a great love of the stories in the Yakuza titles and Judgment is no exception. However, just like many of the Yakuza titles, there are indeed some stretches of the game where the story lingers over a particular point for maybe a tad too long. It is possible that I'm used to that sort small speedbump in the Yakuza storylines, so I didn't mind it particularly much here. If you have not played a Yakuza game before, you may have a bigger issue with these slower segments than I did.

Detective Takayuki Yagami, the main protagonist of the game runs his own detective firm in Kamurocho. Kamurocho is already a city known for all sorts of crime, so it should not come as a surprise when Yagami finds himself wrapped up investigating a series of murders. Though the game does have some light-hearted elements, especially with the side-quests, the general tone of the main story is quite serious. Where some games may pull some punches, Judgment does not hold back.

Judgment

Surrounding Yagami is a wide array of memorable characters, including Yagami's best friend the ex-mobster Kaito. Yagami must deal not only with these characters, but also with a past that haunts him throughout his investigations. To avoid any spoilers, I will not elaborate too much on these characters, but I will say that the cast and the acting are all fantastic. While I did play the game with the original Japanese voice acting and English subtitles, I did give the English voice work a little listen. I can safely say that fans will not be disappointed with whichever audio option they go with here.

In addition to the dual audio options, there are two separate English subtitle options to choose from. One English subtitle option is a more direct literal translation of the original Japanese. The other is a translation done with some liberties that make the language flow in a way more familiar to Western audiences. There are many times where the general tone of a scene can change because of the differences between the two options. Despite both options sometimes offering a different experience during the middle of a scene, they both arrive at the same general point at the end.

That said you are going to have a great time experiencing the story no matter which audio or subtitle option you choose. I feel like not enough praise is given to the localization team on the Yakuza games. They have always been absolutely fantastic, made all the more incredible when you realize these games offer dozens of hours of gameplay, which means there are dozens of hours of text that needs to be translated. Judgment is no exception. The fact that the localization team essentially translated the game twice is just absolutely mind blowing to me. Seriously, I have the utmost respect and the highest of praise for that team.

When Yagami isn't trying to solve a murder case or chase down clues, he can be found picking up any number of side missions found throughout the city. He can take up various jobs both from his office or the local bar from a wide variety of clients. Some of these side jobs range from simple battles against baddies, to rescuing cats, and even some "extreme" missions that are wild even by Yakuza standards. Just like in the Yakuza games, there are a number of memorable characters found in these optional quests.

Judgment

If Yagami doesn't want to take up one of these additional missions, he's free to roam around Kamurocho and see what kind of trouble he can get into. Some side activities include drone racing, which allows you to pilot a little flying drone through courses that find you flying around the streets of the city. There is also a "virtual reality" mini-game in Judgment. Though it's not actual VR, it is in-game VR that finds Yagami putting on a VR headset in the game and playing a board game in virtual reality. As you move your avatar around the board, you will have to complete different challenges based on the space you land on. Sadly, some of the fan-favorite side-activities from the Yakuza game did not make it to Judgment. Perhaps the biggest omissions, at least in my eyes, is the removal of bowling and karaoke. What can I say; I have a soft spot for Baka Mitai.

Yagami has a wide range of skills at his disposal, and I am not talking about his detective ones. I'm talking about his combat skills and mobility. Similar to the Yakuza games, Judgment includes the ability to string together a series of punches, kicks, grabs, blocks, and dodges. Yagami spices kicks the combat up a notch thanks to his greater mobility that allows him to get a bit more vertical compared to his Yakuza counterparts. He can run up walls and jump over enemies with the greatest of ease, providing a bit more verticality to the combat than what you are used to from the mainline titles. It may seem like a little thing, but it really does add quite a bit to the already robust combat system.

The expanded combat system comes at the cost of durability. When compared to Kazuma Kiryu, Yagami is a bit less durable. Find yourself in a tight spot and you can expect to lose a ton of health in the blink of an eye. You cannot engage in combat and expect to button mash your way to victory. Even with these changes to the combat system, it still feels great to take out groups of bad guys time and time again.

Judgment

Judgment never failed to impress me in one way or another. This game should be viewed as so, so much more than simply a Yakuza spin-off. In fact, I would not be surprised to see another Judgment game in the future. At least, I sure hope that we see more from Judgment in the future. Though the story has a few bumps, the writing is generally fantastic as is the acting. Judgment is not a game you will want to pass up.


Score
5 out of 5 stars



Additional Information
Judgment – Developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, Published by Sega
Starting at $59.99 (USD) (PlayStation Store link)
Game was Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 (exclusive)
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.


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