Studio RGG and SEGA are known for their flagship titles in the form of the “Yakuza” series, which started all the way back in 2005. Year after year, RGG has put in a lot of work to release sequels in this franchise and make each entry better than the last. While the franchise didn’t gain much popularity and traction in the West despite having a small and dedicated franchise, each game has been successful both financially and critically in Japan pretty much since its inception. All of that changed with “Yakuza 0,” as that was the game that singlehandedly gained the threshold in the West that the series really deserved adn we have discussed this rest multiple times in many articles. The mainline series and the tale of its hero, Kazuma Kiryu, ended with “Yakuza 6: The Song of Life,” but the series continued, and RGG decided to run another series on the side, a spin-off called “Judgment.”
I have been on a “Yakuza” binge for the last few months. I have been playing and 100% completing all the games from the franchise (with the exception of 3, 4, and 5), and I have been having a blast doing so. After completing the last game, I decided it was time to take a break, but during my break, no matter what other game I was trying, I felt hollow. I have been playing “Yakuza” exceedingly to a degree that no other game was able to satiate my hunger for the kind of gameplay, presentation, and storytelling that these games pack, and I wanted more of that. While “Like A Dragon 8” is far away, “Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name” (a terrible name, I’ll keep saying it) is also a ways off, and “Like A Dragon: Ishin!” is pretty much right around the corner, what other “Yakuza” title could I play right now? I wondered. Enter “Judgment,” which takes us back to the streets of Kamurocho with a new cast of characters and a wholly different tone and vibe.
“Judgment” is a detective thriller where, you guessed it, you play as a detective named Takayuki Yagami and solve crimes, the complete opposite of what you do in the “Yakuza ” games on paper. We’ll get into the story and gameplay in a bit, and I have to say that I knew of “Judgment’s” existence well before I even understood properly what the “Yakuza” games are, and to me, this game always looked cool. A cool-looking character running around a cool-looking city block featuring cool-looking combat, and so on. My judgment of the game (no pun intended) couldn’t have been further away from what it actually was. Yes, this game is very cool in every department I mentioned and more, but that’s not all. This game is so much more, and it blew me away instantly, right from its opening, and made me wonder how RGG is so capable and talented in making games like these. I have talked about every “Yakuza” game that I have played so far, and I know talking about “Yakuza: Like A Dragon” is due, and we’ll get to that soon, but today, let’s take a look at “Judgment” and see what makes it worth playing.
While “Judgment” opens as similarly and slowly as other “Yakuza” games, building its characters and the world as it goes, unlike those games, I won’t be spoiling the entire opening here and just how the plot begins and not what kickstarts it. Why? The simple answer is that this is a new franchise, and thanks to its detective roots, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds this game that needs to be uncovered on your own.
The game begins, and we get introduced to a fresh cast of characters in the form of the Genda Lawyer firm, where we also get introduced to our hero, Takayuki Yagami, sitting humbly on top of the mountain that he climbed after successfully winning a case and proving that his client was innocent. Yagami is a lawyer here, as you can guess, and his winning the case is a big deal because in Japan, 99% of the time, the defendant loses if he is taken to court (this is a real fact, mind you). The pedestal Yagami is standing on doesn’t stay solid for long and comes crumbling down as Saori-Chan, the office assistant, receives a call that lets the firm know that the client Yagami successfully defended, Shinpei Okubo, has been caught on charges of stabbing and murdering his girlfriend and setting the house on fire.
In Yagami’s own words, that day, his career as a lawyer died, and the game skips forward three years to 2018, and we see Yagami sitting on the side of the street looking like a homeless person. It’s all a ruse, as we soon learn that he and his buddy Kaito are undercover and tailing a suspect as they run their own detective agency now. We also learn a tad more about Kamurocho itself, alongside the Tojo Clan, and a series of murders in which, on every occasion, the victim’s eyes are gouged out. I know this doesn’t say a lot when it comes to the plot, as this barely is a plot, but I’ll leave it here and let you discover the rest on your own because the plot that follows and the events that transpire will make your jaw hit the floor.
The story here is crazy, and it will go places which you will not see coming. Does it all make sense? No, absolutely not, but the way it’s presented balances all the plotholes out and will make it an edge-of-your-seat experience for you throughout. There’s some social commentary here as well, which doesn’t get too political, at least for Western audiences, and does its job wonderfully. You’ll discover tons of new characters as you go, and by the time it ends, I can assure you that you’ll be left hungry for more from this cast and this world.
While the mainline “Yakuza” series has shifted focus to turn-based combat now, “Judgement” carries forward the brawler/beat ’em up combat this series is known for. The game also cuts no corners when it comes to its minigames and the plethora of activities you can get involved in, Kamurocho. I have covered almost every “Yakuza” game in detail, so I’ll be keeping this section short; on paper, if you have played one of these games, then you have played them all.
The game uses the Dragon Engine, and while the combat that this engine presented was simplified and criticized by the community in “Yakuza 6” and “Yakuza Kiwami 2,” RGG went ahead and fixed almost all the issues the community had. Style switching is back, and Yagami can use two fighting styles. Crane is a fast-moving fighting style that doesn’t do much damage but is great for handling large groups of enemies. Tiger, on the other hand, is a hard-hitting fighting style that is designed for one-on-one bouts and absolutely wrecks everything in its path. You can switch between these styles on the go with the simple press of a button at any time, and they can be upgraded by gaining SP. SP is earned by just about doing anything in the world, and once you start investing it in your skill tree, you’ll see massive differences and improvements in your fighting. Overall, in my opinion, this is the best version of brawling that I have experienced from this franchise, and I can’t get enough of the animations here. Fantastic stuff.
Speaking of combat for just another second, the series’ signature heat moves also make a comeback here and are flashier than ever. They are called EX moves here and work just the same as the previous entries, with you building the bar by landing blows and then unleashing them for devastating damage. The EX moves here are fantastic because, just like in the previous games, all of them are incredibly flashy and brutal, and the variety on offer here is staggering. Enemies can also use heat moves, which, if connected, will deal with what are known as mortal injuries. Mortal injuries cap and reduce your health bar based on the damage you received, which can only be fixed by visiting the doctor or using pricey medkits. You can counter this by maxing out your EX bar and entering EX mode, aka extreme heat mode. This mechanic makes sure that you are always on your toes during combat and aren’t simply button-mashing, and while it can get out of hand at times, it’s a welcome addition that made me play even more cautiously.
Then you have the open-world shenanigans for which the “Yakuza” franchise is known. Things like mahjong, poker, blackjack, arcade machines, and so on are back here and are just as you remember them to be. One major omission that was sorely missed was karaoke. I don’t know why it didn’t return, especially considering that the Japanese voice and face model for Yagami is Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura, who also had his own boy band back in the day. A new addition here is the drone races; yes, Yagami has a drone, and he loves to spend time tweaking it. These races are fun, can get challenging at times, and are a very welcome addition. There’s more to discover, like a crazy VR game that you need to see with your own eyes, and just like always, the side activities on offer here are a blast.
Since the game focuses on detective work, the missions(called cases here) have an added layer to them and are not just simply generic affairs of going here, beating someone up, and continuing. Often times during the story, Yagami will have to “investigate” an area where the game goes into first-person mode, and you have to find clues and so on, then you have to present the right clues to the right people (failure has no consequences here, by the way), which is half baked but is fun as you get to play your detective fantasy. There are also tailing missions, which are frankly very boring and very scripted and annoying at times.
Pretty much everything you know and love from the “Yakuza” games is present here and is further expanded upon, which is a testament to RGG and their commitment to giving us experiences that are well worth playing. There’s a lot more depth and nuance on offer, but just like the story and characters, I leave them for you to discover. Solid stuff all around.
The Technical Stuff
The game was originally released for the PlayStation 4 back in the day, but I played the remastered version on my Xbox Series X, and the game looks and plays incredibly here. 1440p at a rock-solid 60 fps is what’s on offer, and the game is crisp visually and smooth in terms of performance. The weird physics goofs that the Dragon Engine is known for are here, but just like before, they don’t take away from experience, so it’s fine. You can seamlessly enter and exit buildings and restaurants, and the fighting here is quick and very polished. The visuals are a win, and so are the sound design and voice acting. RGG reuses a lot of assets, sounds, and more, as we know, so it’s pretty much the same when it comes to the ambient sounds, interactions, and all that jazz, which is solid as it was. The voice acting is phenomenal, as always, and this is the first game since the original “Yakuza” game that offers an English dub. I played the vast majority of the campaign in Japanese, and it goes without saying that Takuya Kimura and the rest of the cast did a fantastic job. That doesn’t mean the English dub is bad, no sir, not by a long shot. It’s equally fantastic, and Grege Chun as Yagami and Bryce Papenbrook as Kaito steal the show here. Could the offering have been better? Yes, but that’s always the case with everything. The features, fidelity, and technology on offer here are fantastic across the board, and just like the other departments, the game scores a win here in the technical department as well.
“Judgment” is the first RGG game that I wrote about before getting my 100%, and “Judgment” is a game that surprised me throughout. There is not a single thing about this game that I can personally call bad. Everything, despite the similarities, feels new, and the presentation, story, and gameplay here are all of top-shelf quality, something we have come to expect from RGG. The amount of content this game throws your way is baffling for the price of admission, and I love how polished and entertaining this experience is from beginning to end. I loved every single “Yakuza” game I played, and it didn’t take long for the series to become one of my favorites. After playing “Judgment,” I can confidently say that “Judgment” is by far my favorite game from this series, and while I love the “Yakuza” games with all my heart, I love “Judgment” even more. I’ll try and get 100% on this one as quickly as I can while having as much fun as I can and not rushing it; then, I’ll move on to its sequel, “Lost Judgment,” and present my thoughts on that game to you. I can’t wait to get started with that one, and I strongly recommend you check out “Judgment.” RGG Studios are fantastic and have quickly become one of my personal favorites, thanks to the incredible games they make.
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