Judgment has found its way to PlayStation 4 owners in the West! How is the latest Yakuza spin-off? Does it do the franchise proud? Find out in our official review!
A Fascinating Whodunnit Mystery in the World of Yakuza
Few games have stood the test of time like the ones Sega produces. We all know about Sega’s uber-successful Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, but westerners may not realize that Sega has another franchise that has produced a total of 16 games. That franchise is beat-em-up series known as Yakuza. Since 2005, Sega has produced 8 titles for the main Yakuza series, following Kazuma Kiryu’s life as a Yakuza in the Tojo Clan, and 8 spin-off games to tell stories about alternate characters. The latest, of which, is called Judgment and it’s a thrilling departure from its predecessor.
Judgment stars Takayuki Yagami, a once brilliant lawyer on the rise turned private detective after a client of his killed a young woman. Consumed by guilt, Yagami left the firm in favor of uncovering mysteries for the citizens of Kamurocho, Japan. When different members of rival Yakuza factions are found dead with their eyes gouged out, it’s up to Yagami and his partner Kaito to figure out whodunnit in what is a fascinating mystery video game experience.
I loved the story of Judgment from start to finish because at no point do you ever feel like you have all the answers. The plot thickens with an interesting cast of characters, each with their own motives and alibis, leading you to go from Chapter to Chapter thinking that you might know who the serial killer is. Only, that suspect has an airtight alibi. Thus, bringing you back to square one.
I found the chase for justice to be quite invigorating, because you’re basically put into the driver’s seat of your very own Law & Order-type mystery. As Yagami, you interview suspects, key witnesses, and chase down every lead possible before you find yourself in court in certain chapters. Where it becomes less like an episode of Law & Order is when you fight said key witnesses/leads (unless of course you’re Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler and then it’s about on par).
Now, it may sound odd for a whodunnit-type game to feature loads of combat. After all, when you think of mystery video games, titles like Clue or Ace Attorney are first to come to mind and neither features the brutal fist-fights Judgment has. Using the same fighting mechanics as Yakuza 0 (where you could switch fighting stances from Tiger to Crane), I found that the combat was used to balance out the overall experience. While mystery games are loads of fun and the plot game be downright enthralling, it can get monotonous for a game to be so linear as to say “Go to Point A, interview subject at Point B, go back to Point A and gather evidence, talk to subject at Point B, and so on”. By incorporating well-timed, and sometimes humorous, encounters, it allowed for me to get pulled into the story further to figure out what came next.
The mind-bending story of the main campaign may be what pulls you into Judgment, at first, it’s the rest of the features and the charming, yet punchy, setting of Kamurocho that keeps you there for hours.
Missions Tailored Toward Interactive Gameplay
As you all know, every good game needs side-quests. In Judgment, these side-quests are called Side Cases and they are quite brilliant. You see, if I’ve learned anything from my time as Yagami-sensei it’s that to be a great detective you have to be able to ask the right questions, use facial recognition using a sketch or photos and your eyes, tail a mark without being seen, take photos, chase down a criminal in the crowded streets of Kamurocho, fly a drone, and beat the snot out of the accused. Only then can you really call yourself an expert detective.
Luckily, Judgment affords you the opportunity to practice these skills throughout different side cases. Where some games tend to introduce a gameplay mechanic and then leave it to the wayside, Sega’s Judgment actually tailor-makes missions to focus on utilizing a specific feature. Thus, creating a balanced gameplay experience that never results in thoughts of, “Why was that in the game in the first place?''.
An example of this are the Twisted Trio Side Cases, about catching three pervy characters who terrorize the women of Kamurocho. It all starts when twin siblings approach you about catching the three fools that are stealing panties, groping women, and peeping on them. In each case you have to fight all three but you are also charged with chasing them down and using a drone. In separate cases, you could find yourself tailing cheating husbands, defusing bombs, or solving ridiculously tricky puzzles.
At times, I wondered if the 12 chapter main campaign was really all that bad compared to the 50 side quests Yagami dealt with. Either way, Kamurocho is an insane place to live.
Robust Content in an Open(ish)-World
I wish I could tell you that Judgment begins and ends with the main campaign and the side quests, but that’s simply not true. Kamurocho is a living, breathing, vibrant city with loads to do. If you want to just get away from the hustle and bustle of the missions and quests, Judgment allows you to go in certain buildings, grab a bite to eat, drink a beer, play Shogi, pinball, or enter Drone Races. While there are limits to how far you can go in the city, there’s enough within it to never make you feel like you need more.
Helping to make Kamurocho unique are the people that reside in the one-of-a-kind city. One of my favorite things to do in Judgment is building relationships. I probably spent more time talking to the NPCs and building my reputation that actually the main campaign, which goes to show how many people there are to talk to. In fact, some characters from side cases show up in what Judgment calls “Friend Events” to add more depth to their character.
For instance, one of the twins from the Twisted Trio shows up as an NPC capable of forming a friendship with. Ironic as it is, he’s actually peddling clubs for sleazy guys to meet up with girls. However, while hilariously ironic, he does it all for a good cause and forces you to use other NPCs you’ve met to grow multiple friendships.
As weird as it sounds, the relationships made in Kamurocho are like a garden. At first, you plant seeds by helping them with minor problems. Your friendship grows with each action you perform for them. When the friendship has grown as high as it can, it begins to bear fruit in the form of food and other much-needed items.
While it isn’t exactly open-world, Judgment is one of those games where you can go a long time before ever progressing the main story. Although, you really should because it’s a helluva story.
Making Detective-work and Courtrooms Into Invigorating Gameplay
There aren’t many games like Judgment. A game where you can solve mysteries whilst getting into badass fight sequences. Name another game where you can get a Yakuza member off for murder and then proceed to beat that Yakuza member with an orange traffic cone. I’ll wait. Exactly. There aren’t any games like that.
The Yakuza series is thrilling and has produced many well-received spin-offs, but I can’t remember a spin-off I’ve enjoyed more than Judgment. Judgment shows that this type of well-balanced genre works and there deserves to be more like it. It makes mysteries fun, amusing, sexy, exciting, invigorating, and so on.
I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with games like Judgment, mainly because there really aren’t that many. What I found was that I thoroughly enjoyed being a detective. I didn’t need to be a Caped Crusader that took down super-powered villains and happened to solve a mystery at the same time. I had fun just being a regular guy in a virtual Japanese city making relationships and solving crimes in a variety of ways. Judgment is a testament to why more studios should attempt to create games similar to it. Hopefully, they’ll add the photo bombing NPCs too, because that’s just fantastic.
Big thanks to Sega and all the team behind Judgment and the Yakuza series for the opportunity to review Judgment. It was a hell of a ride!