The Yakuza series has become quite the staple franchise for Sega as of late. With wacky characters, fun fight sequences, and engaging storylines, Sega would be right to expand upon this series. That’s where Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Judgment comes into play. Taking the Yakuza universe and adding a bit of L.A. Noire and mixing it with some Ace Attorney, you have a winning formula for a solid spin-off.
Players take on the role of Takayuki Yagami, an ex-defense attorney turned detective after a tragic incident. Working with his friend, ex-yakuza Masaharu Kaito, they do whatever it takes to uncover a murder mystery in Kamurocho. Like the Ace Attorney series, the game mixes dark themes and drama with absurd levels of humor. On paper, it sounds like it wouldn’t work, but it blends together so well and keeps things interesting. Merging the action of the Yakuza series, the investigation aspects of L.A. Noire, and the courtroom drama of Ace Attorney, Judgment somehow finds the perfect balance.
The main story is incredibly engaging, filled with over-the-top sequences and gripping plot points. Once I discovered who the killer was, I was on the edge of my seat to see how it all ended. Of course, before it ended, I was catching perverts, finding stray cats, chasing after wigs and more. The side missions can get pretty crazy, which is typical of the Yakuza franchise. That being said, there’s a lot of variety with the side missions, and they definitely help to break up the more serious tone of the main story. The main story will still have silly moments too, but it doesn’t get nearly as ridiculous.
Yagami has his share of problems, but Judgment gives him a great supporting cast to work him through them. It’s worth mentioning that this is the first title in over a decade to have English voice acting. With only the original Yakuza title having an English dub, Sega decided to bring in a solid cast for Judgment. Greg Chun does a stellar performance as Yagami during the main story, though sadly some of the side events uses significantly less voice acting. The cast is filled with other solid talents like Crispin Freeman, Steve Blum, and Matthew Mercer. Some might be skeptical to use the dub for a game like this, but Judgment doesn’t disappoint. Of course, the Japanese performances are still great too.
Despite the solid voice cast, there are still some inconsistencies. Many NPCs will still be voiced in Japanese, though their dialogue is kept to simple phrases. Some of the English lines are also repeated fairly often during sequences relying more on text. Hearing “it’s Yagami” starts to grow old after introducing yourself to several NPC friends. Speaking of friends, they’re an important aspect of Judgment. Yagami can meet people all around Kamurocho and help them with their problems. Doing good deeds will progress your city reputation and unlock more missions and you can even get gifts from visiting good friends.
Like previous Yakuza titles, Judgment also offers optional girlfriends. There are four girls that can be met through side quests, and after solving their problems, eventually you can go on dates with them. The four girls are very distinct and the dates can be a lot of fun, and for those wondering, yes, you can date all four without consequences. Another staple feature of the series is the variety of minigames. Darts, Shogi, batting cages, even full blown Sega arcade games, all of which are there to help you waste time. Nothing beats going through a few rounds of Fighting Vipers while the city is in danger after all. Players can even try a new VR board game to compete for prizes.
Getting to the main chunk of gameplay, Judgment plays for the most part like a normal Yakuza title. Players will roam the streets of Kamurocho, occasionally running into street thugs and other enemies to brawl with. Similar to Yakuza 0, Yagami can take advantage of different fighting styles. Crane style allows for broader attacks to fight multiple enemies while Tiger style focuses on a single opponent. A nice touch is the change of the music when switching between styles, though it would’ve been nice to have the ability to change styles out of combat. It’s a bit inconvenient to start a battle and needing a couple seconds to change styles for the fight. Other than that, combat is just as cinematic and over-the-top as one would expect from this franchise.
Fights will start out fairly simple, but as players progress in the story, the challenge heavily increases. New to Judgment is the “mortal wounds” mechanic, which is when Yagami gets attacked by a more powerful attack. Usually, this comes from getting stabbed, shot, or even attacked by a super attack from a boss. When this happens, Yagami’s health bar will be permanently decreased until he uses a medkit or sees a doctor. This really adds a lot more difficulty, especially during one particular sequence toward the end. Fighting enemies, performing various tasks or even eating new foods will give skill points, which can be spent on new abilities.
Some of those various tasks involve new gameplay types, like tailing people of interests. These stealth segments happen often and are mostly similar, with a couple exceptions. There’s also chase sequences, where Yagami will have to run after someone, using quick time events to avoid obstacles. You’ll also have first-person crime scene investigations, having to uncover evidence or points of interest, not to mention cats. Finally, you’ll have dialogue sequences where players will have to put their detective skills to work. Following the story and looking at case files becomes essential during these moments, as players will have to present evidence to prove their cases. Some of it gets repetitive, but the pace manages to break it up well enough.
When looking at the visuals of the Yakuza series, Judgment doesn’t seem to be a huge improvement over Yakuza 6. It still uses the Dragon Engine, so that was to be expected. That being said, the characters all look great, using the likenesses of various actors to get their defined traits. The environments look alright, but certain textures and objects leave a bit to be desired. The major visual achievements are done with the great combat choreography, being as flashy as ever. It really adds to the presentation, with the story already delivered in an episodic nature, the “previously on” introductions and all.
While the experience in Judgment is mostly good, there are still a few minor hiccups. Load times are pretty frequent, and it seems like it can even happen in areas unintentionally. One date in the game had load times between characters speaking to another, which seemed to be a glitch. Pausing the game could be handled a bit better too. There are occasional sequences that can’t be paused and players also can’t pause when sprinting. Finally, there’s a pinball machine in Yagami’s office that really feels out of place. There were other small things here and there, but due to how trivial they were, they aren’t worth mentioning. Overall, nothing incredibly game-breaking.
Judgment is a great entry point for people looking to get into the Yakuza franchise. There’s no need to play any of the previous games, the story is solid, and the gameplay offers a ton of variety. Even if it can get a little repetitive, there’s a ton of time to kill in Kamurocho. Yagami makes for a fun protagonist and the thrill of a mystery keeps things engaging. The game will last roughly 25 hours without side quests, but add them into the mix and you easily get double that time. When all is said and done, it’s a nice change of pace to be a detective working through the criminal underworld.