Judgment is a brand new IP from the studio that brought us the critically acclaimed and fan-favorite Yakuza series, and as a game that starts from scratch with a new story, genre, and characters, does it come closer to achieving the success and praise received by Yakuza?
Yakuza is a series that used to be famous in Japan mostly but that started to change with the focus towards making it a global franchise. Sega slowly started to localize every Yakuza game, bringing it not just to the Western audience but also making it multiplatform by releasing it on PC. The result worked out great because Yakuza can no longer be considered a niche series like in the past. It is everywhere now and almost every game has generally been received well by the fans and critics.
Judgment is a new IP from the studio behind Yakuza, also known internally in Sega as Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. They have been working on Yakuza for so long that it is the only thing that most people known them so far–that is until Judgment was released. Judgment is set in the same Yakuza world of Kamurocho as the past games by the studio. This is a fictional city based on the red-light district of Kabukichō, Tokyo. Takayuki Yagami is the main hero of this story who is a disgruntled ex-Lawyer that ends up feeling guilty regarding the verdict of one of his cases.
The life of Takayuki Yagami is an interesting one. He feels guilty about his past but tries everything in his power to redeem it. After he quits being a lawyer, he decides to pursue a career working as a private detective. He is always on the lookout for new cases to solve as he tries to find a way of living, and one day stumbles on a mysterious case of multiple grisly murders which sets him on a path to track the main serial killer behind it. As it turns out with most stories that begin this way, the case that he originally starts chasing becomes a complicated web of power where the line between truth and lie starts to become blurry.
As you start Judgment, there will be a hint of familiarity with how the game plays out. You are roaming in the same city that is present is so many of the past Yakuza games, except it is not the same. Things have changed here and this is evident from the beginning. You will meet several new characters here and while the general tone of the story is still related to crimes within the various Yakuza gangs, the gameplay is not the same. It is more of an investigation-related story with a deeper gameplay system making it feel more like an open world Phoenix Wright game where you have to solve cases and figure out the real culprits by carefully analyzing all facts and evidence.
Judgment places a bigger emphasis on its investigation mechanics. Takayuki Yagami will be given cases to solve and this is not just for the main story but you can also attempt dozens of side cases. The game has tried to implement this system with a Friendship system so if you roam the streets now, it is possible to find someone who can be a valuable friend, and they can even help you discover new cases or solve some old ones. As you build your social profile, the world of Kamurocho will slowly start to open up offering you more opportunities. It is not just a simulation of being a private detective, you can still attempt some of the side-activities like mini-games.
Judgment still has a combat system that appears to be a more stylish form of Yakuza combat. You have two different combat styles one of which works better for a crowd while the other is more suited for a single opponent. You can upgrade the combat style with new moves that are unlocked through SP, which are rewarded by doing various tasks like finishing cases, doing objectives, or side-activities, and so on. You can easily gain a lot of SP which helps you unlock some of the abilities in combat to make it more responsive and with flashier combos.
The investigative nature of the story means that the pacing is slow in the first few chapters, but the plot slowly begins to pick itself in the middle and then never hits another obstacle. Yagami is a highly likable individual who slowly starts to grow on you, and if you are missing Kiryu then this feeling should gradually disappear as you sink more time in the game. The opening screen itself is just so badass with the way Yagami is casually walking while lighting a cigarette. He ends up going through a huge character development of his own as you reach the end of the story.
Judgment builds on the classic Dragon Engine which was first seen with Yakuza 6. This means that there are essentially no major load times when you roam the open world. You can enter any available locations on the map almost seamlessly. There is a slight issue with how the interact button has been tied with sprinting so it is easy to bump into walls and objects while attempting to press it. Aside from it, the controls feel decent enough while the visuals are pretty good for a game of this caliber, especially the cutscenes can often end up impressing due to the highly detailed character models.
The developers have tried their best to make the gameplay feel fresh. Investigating every case, you will have to find evidence, discover clues, interview suspects, and then decide their fate all on your own. This is why it appears more like an Ace Attorney game but with a mix of Yakuza so that you still feel some familiarity with it. It is a good introduction to newcomers, even those who have never played Yakuza, and for those old fans who wanted to see what can be done with an innovative approach to game design instead of repeating the same old formula.
Judgment is one of the more refreshing games of this year. It shouldn’t be ignored if you like a good detective thriller, and even though there is no Kiryu or Majima, you will still enjoy Yagami almost as much as these cult classic characters. If anything, this game has raised my faith in the creative output of Ryu Go Gotoku studio and made it harder to wait and see what they can pull off with a brand new Yakuza featuring a completely fresh protagonist.