For Yakuza fans, they’re well acquainted with the city of Kamurocho. A metropolis that’s as glitzy as it is seedy, we grew well acquainted with the crime that goes on as we followed Kiryu’s exploits across six games (and a couple of excellent remasters as well), but Judgment gives us an interesting twist on this formula, casting us on the side of good for once. Playing as Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer turned private investigator, you’re quickly wrapped up in a meticulously crafted tale of intrigue that will keep you gripped until the end, splicing in new mechanics that make Judgment feel fresh enough to warrant yet another visit to the city of Kamurocho.
The plot of Judgment hits the ground running, and this is by no means uncommon for the folks at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. What stems from this is a lengthy campaign, featuring a few cameos, plenty of excellent voice work, and the stellar debut of what could hopefully be another permanent fixture in the Yakuza universe. Takayuki Yagami may not be as iconic as Kazuma Kiryu, but he’s immediately enjoyable to play as, thanks in part to his quick wits and overall demeanor. Featuring his own, self-made “Kamurocho” style of combat, you’ll make use of Crane style and Tiger Style to deal with large groups and tougher enemies, respectively. The shifts between each style are pretty seamless, but the core concept is familiar enough for fans of the series to not prove daunting to get used to. Yagami even has a few tricks of his own, making use of the environment in ways that Kiryu could only dream of.
Combat is tweaked further with the presence of Deadly Attacks, where your health-bar will be temporarily gimped unless you seek medical attention or use a medkit. It keeps things fresh, but reminds us that Yagami isn’t quite the Dragon of Dojima, as well. Fights are just an utter riot, featuring the same outrageous EX attacks and excellent music to help get your adrenaline pumping. Some of the tracks for the more important fights are especially awesome, and I definitely plan to get my hands on the OST for Judgment as soon as possible. For each of these high-adrenaline tunes however, there are songs that craft a somber or serious tone at the right moment, nailing that noir element that Judgment was clearly aiming to emulate.
This Ain’t No Judge Judy
Another strong aspect of Judgment is the casting. Across the past Yakuza games we get well acquainted with some truly memorable characters, but there are plenty of excellent cast members you’ll run into here too. You’ll engage in buddy-cop style shenanigans with your ex-yakuza pal Kaito, you’ll gather intel for your former rival Shintani, and most importantly, you’ll expose the secrets of the Matsugane family, including the brutish yet calculating captain, Hamura. These are by no means the main players for the entire story, as others shift in and out of chapters accordingly, but I really don’t want to delve into the story details too much as it’s something best experienced going in blind. Each performance is memorable to a degree, but the main cast delivers an excellent performance overall.
The story in Judgment is definitely it’s major pull, but it’s by no means the only reason to play this game, as the series trend of loading an absolutely insane amount of content continues here as well. When not pursuing The Mole, you’ll be able to engage in Drone races, go on dates and assist Yagami’s friends with their own problems. You can even play old Sega Classics at the local arcade, or play a bit of Blackjack, if that’s more your thing These aren’t afterthoughts either, each activity is fully fleshed out, and you can sink hours into them. Unfortunately, there’s a big omission with the ever popular Karaoke and given the likeness for Yagami’s history with music, I figured this would have been a given. Its a little weird to not see this activity present, but the rest are still a blast, especially newcomer “Kamuro of the Dead”, a House of the dead style mini-game. You’re absolutely spoiled for choice in Judgment, and each activity is worth doing as you get points for doing almost anything
Grinding out for skills can be a little tedious towards the final versions of each one, but thankfully they’re worth the effort with each level. This is compounded by how easy it is to get skill points, with you getting points for doing almost everything. Completing activities, eating various kinds of food, and even just fighting off the local hoodlums will have the points flowing in, and you get a real sense of progression with the skills for Yagami. What starts with a basic pair of styles evolves into a pretty crazy set of skills that will have you bouncing off the walls (literally) as you tear through packs of enemies. Yagami feels like a badass from the get-go, but by endgame you feel like you could even give Kiryu or Majima a run for their money.
Sadly, Judgment isn’t quite a polished gem. It definitely pushes the PS4 at points, with bigger fights and certain areas dragging the FPS down pretty easily. There’s no telling what all the Dragon Engine is trying to do at once, but considering the scope of the game and how infrequent loads felt, it likely had its hands full. There was the odd time in combat where the physics seemed to bug out, so its likely also a factor in the games performance dips. The game does also suffer slightly from some added fluff, but for the most part these additional missions help flesh out characters, another feature that Yakuza games don’t shy away from. The plots have their slow points, but they keep you guessing, right up to their thrilling conclusions.
I do feel like one of Judgment’s biggest flaws is people may complain that this is just Yakuza all over again, and they could be right, but I beg to differ. Kamurocho is the same, the yakuza clans are the same ones we know and love from past games, but this actually gives the city a much deeper feeling of authenticity. We see the city through a set of eyes that’s in a completely different position, instead acting from the side of good instead of the side of a criminal, and Yagami and his exploits are thankfully such a riot that I really hope this isn’t the last we see of him. This city feels alive, and despite it’s incredibly seedy underground, it’s a locale in video games that I look forward to returning to each and every chance I get, with Judgment’s story and cast being one I won’t forget.
**A PS4 Code was provided by the publisher**
- Combat Is a blast
- Killer performances from cast
- Music SLAPS
- Tons to see and do
- Story could be condensed a bit
- Performance hiccups