The Yakuza series is built upon several key ideas – flashy combat, amazing side activities, and a long-running plotline that continues to amaze. The latest entry, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio‘s Judgment, is a separate spinoff that is seemingly geared towards a more investigative angle, set within the Yakuza universe.
But while it ultimately fails to expand upon the idea of having players be an actual detective, the foundations it’s built on remains solid, with a thrilling plot that involves serial killings that transforms it into a title that is actually more Yakuza-ish than the main franchise.
With an entirely new cast of colourful characters, and a few ancillary cameos, Judgment is a perfect way to step into a world that has been fleshed out over the course of several games. Its story is self-contained, requiring no prior knowledge of the franchise, and if you ever wanted a taste of what the Yakuza series is all about, here’s your chance.
As protagonist Takayuki Yagami, an ex-lawyer turned investigator, you have to utilise your unique skills to solve cases. From piloting a drone up in the skies to find suspects, to using your smartphone to capture proof an adulterous couple, these welcome additions help spice things up.
The obligatory chase and tailing missions, however, can be less than inspired. While the quick time events that permeate the chase sequences are easy to understand and execute, the tedious tailings are a major annoyance.
Suffice to say, there is not enough variance in the gameplay, with tasks being limited to walking after a target and hiding from detection continuously. And should you fail, the repetition will make your experience even worse as the checkpoints are less than ideal.
As you make progress in the cases in Judgment, there will come junctures where Yagami has to make decisions during interrogations and conversations. While there are bonuses for asking the right questions, there are no lasting consequences from choosing the wrong options. You can literally brute-force your way through investigations, but that is just not fun.
Thankfully, the combat sequences in Judgment remain the highlight, and rightfully so. With two styles, the Crane and the Tiger, Yagami can effectively control crowds and also go toe-to-toe like the expert he is. You can switch styles on the fly to adapt to any situation.
It would not be a Yakuza game without some flash, and the acrobatics that Yagami can perform in Judgment are both entertaining to watch and satisfying to pull off. He’s highly mobile, able to get out of any situation and changing up his approach to enemies, and the wall flips and beatdowns players can hand out never gets old.
The more dangerous foes can inflict mortal wounds, which knock off segments of your health bar permanently, and no amount of food or drink can replenish that. You will need to use expensive medical kits, or just learn to block and dodge better.
What is new is the addition of police interference. Take too long to settle a fight and you run the risk of being arrested and fined. And all these new changes help make the combat in Judgment much more engaging and more importantly, fun.
There are also plenty of moves and finishers to unlock, all conveniently taken from the same pool of experience, unlike Yakuza 6. There is less management in that aspect, although you still get to upgrade your Yagami in any way you like.
Outside of fights and cases, you can partake in a multitude of distractions around Kamarocho. Play some pinball in Yagami’s office, or head to the many arcade machines. Race your drone, and even go on dates, there is a healthy dose of side activities available, though not as substantial as those found in the main series.
Judgment paints itself as a brand new experience that is part of the larger Yakuza world, but it is the common foundations that have been improved upon that make it shine.
Wonderful combat, a story that keeps you moving along, and plenty of distractions to keep you occupied for hours, it is an evolution of Ryu Ga Gotoku’s formula.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to make it markedly different from the Yakuza games fails to make a deep impression, especially with the more tiresome tailing segments.
However, if you have been hoping for refreshing combat coupled with a good story, and some light detective work thrown in, Judgment is perfect for you to serve justice with your fists rather than with your brains.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Judgment brings a new coat of paint to a proven formula, and makes it shine even brighter.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 7.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10