Judgment Review — Private Eyes, They’re Watching You
Judgment is another winner for Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and provides dozens of hours of mysteries, hijinks, and flying fists to keep you entertained.
I have never played a Yakuza game before. I’ve been wanting to dive into the series for years at this point but outside of playing Yakuza 0 for a brief amount of time, it has been a franchise that has just fallen by the wayside for me. So when Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio announced Judgment, a new spin-off game in the Yakuza series that didn’t carry the story of the previous games with it, I knew I had to finally make this my jumping on point — and thank god that I did.
Judgment is a thrilling game with a cast of characters that you’ll quickly come to adore. While it largely follows the same general formula of the Yakuza games that came before it, Judgment’s focus on playing as a detective and solving cases around the city of Kamurocho never once got stale. Even though Judgment isn’t without its faults, RGG Studio has crafted a wonderful action RPG that balances a perfect line of being completely over-the-top and a serious drama all at once.
In Judgment, you play as Takayuki Yagami, an ex-lawyer turned private detective following a tragedy that takes place early in the story. Alongside his investigative partner Masaharu Kaito and a handful of other acquaintances, Yagami is quickly pulled into a case involving a string of murders that have left victims with their eyes removed. It is here that the story takes off only for the narrative to take many twists and turns over the course of the game.
From start to finish, the story of Judgment has a way of immediately hooking you and getting you invested. Much of this draw, for me, was due to Yagami himself being such a strong central protagonist. Yagami is a fun, kind, and overall just a cool character to play as from start to finish. Even though the narrative is backed by a strong throughline focus on Yagami, the overarching story and uncovering the mystery that lies at the center of Judgment is constantly compelling and will continue to push you forward at all times.
If there’s one aspect of the story I do take issue with though, it’s that sometimes things feel artificially lengthened. There are a decent amount of cutscenes and other story interactions throughout Judgment that sometimes seem to serve no purpose whatsoever in pushing the narrative forward. This happens most often after Yagami will find new clues or evidence in a case that he then goes to share with his cohorts. While Yagami is familiar with the evidence that he has discovered, he’ll then restate these findings over and over again to those he’s working alongside to the point where you as the player begin to feel deja vu. It’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things, but this is something that wore thin at times while I played.
Judgment also has one of the strongest casts of characters that I have seen in a game in quite some time. Even outside of the central characters that are vital to the plot, the ones that you’ll run into off the beaten path are sometimes just as memorable. Part of this is because Judgment constantly encourages you to make friends around Kamurocho. Friend missions are available all throughout the city and if you invest time in completing them, your standing in the city will be increased. This system also makes Kamurocho feel like a neighborhood that you actually live within rather than just a bland open world that you’re constantly sprinting about aimlessly.
Speaking of Kamurocho, the city’s design is immaculate. Judgment doesn’t boast the most expansive open world that you’ll ever see in a video game. In fact, by modern open world standards, Kamurocho is actually pretty small. That being said though, I never once found myself growing weary of the town despite running up and down the same streets for hours upon hours. For RGG Studio to make the city still feel interesting and enjoyable to explore despite not being that large speaks volumes to the game’s quality and further proves that it’s not the size of the world that matters but instead what you place within it.
On the actual gameplay front, Judgment plays pretty similarly to its Yakuza counterparts, especially in the realm of combat. Yagami has two different fighting styles at his disposal with one being primarily used for fighting large groups of enemies and the other being tailored to more specific 1v1 scenarios. Combat in Judgment has a fair amount of depth to it and allows you to really get in the weeds with some more intricate combinations if you so desire. That said, it’s also equal parts simple to use for those who just want to haphazardly smash buttons in random order to defeat baddies.
Even though combat in Judgment isn’t anything all that revolutionary, the one thing that it has in spades is style. Even hours into the experience, picking up a nearby bicycle and blasting someone over the head with it or grabbing another foe and bouncing their face off of the hood of a car never stopped being funny. While you play Judgment, you’ll frequently be accosted by thugs on the street. These encounters are easy to run away from but hours into my own playthrough, I would still always engage with these fights just because the combat was largely always enjoyable.
In addition to combat, Judgment also contains a handful of over mechanics that feed back into the idea of you playing as a detective. One common gameplay mechanic in Judgment that you’ll come across quite a bit is that of a detective mode that takes place from the first-person perspective. Often when you’re searching a certain area for clues, you’ll enter this mode and begin scanning about the environment. This means of discovering new information happens quite frequently and unfortunately, it’s not all that fun. Detective work in Judgment quickly becomes a bit tiring and ends up simply being a situation where you place the cursor over an object in the environment and press a single button. It’s not engaging in the slightest and gets old after the first few times you do it.
In a similar vein, many of the missions that you’ll actually do in Judgment can be rather uninspired. Off the bat to start Judgment, you’re immediately greeted with a tailing mission, which is perhaps my least favorite form of an objective that continues to pop up in numerous video games. Sequences like this get old quickly and continue to pop up over the course of the whole game, unfortunately never shaking things up too much.
That’s not to say that all missions in Judgment are bad though, they’re just very hit and miss. Some of the more enjoyable tasks that you’ll do along the main path of the game include chase sequences and boss fights. There are also quick time events that pop up frequently throughout Judgment and while I’m not usually a big fan of these sequences, oftentimes what is happening on screen while performing these button prompts is so hilarious that you can’t help but just smile and go along with it. One section involving Yagami and a skateboard, in particular, is downright incredible.
When you aren’t doing missions associated with the story, you can run off the beaten path and do a variety of side cases as well. Some of these I’ve touched on already with the friend missions that are spread throughout the city, but there are also more fleshed out cases to take on, too. The best part is that most of these side objectives are often hilarious goofy and involve tasks like finding a panty thief or taking pictures of cats. Much like the main path, some of these side cases can be hit and miss in terms of their enjoyment, but for the most part, I always found myself actively looking to go out of my way to complete these objectives.
And even if you don’t want to do any missions at all outside of the main path, Judgment still offers a variety of other distractions for you in Kamurocho that you can lose your time to. If you want to head around the corner to the local arcade near Yagami’s office, you can hop on the Virtua Fighter cabinet and begin playing to your heart’s content. There’s also an entire sub-section of Judgment dedicated to drone racing that you can get really in-depth with thanks to an expansive customization system.
Basically, there is so much to do in Judgment and if you want to do it all it will take you dozens upon dozens of hours. The game offers an expansive list of tasks for you to complete that will likely keep me coming back for the foreseeable future. If you’re really looking to get some bang for your buck in terms of content that is offered, Judgement should keep you busy for quite awhile.
I also feel like it’s important to mention the localization of Judgment here for us in the west considering the game already launched in Japan last year. While opinions on localized content and the voice acting that comes with it often varies drastically from person to person, I found Judgment’s English dialogue and accompanying performances to be quite strong. And even if you end up disliking the dubbed English that the game offers, you also have the option to switch to subs and listen to the original Japanese voicework. If you found the localizations of the Yakuza games to be great, I have a hard time thinking you’ll dislike what Sega has done here with Judgment.
Judgment is much greater than the sum of its parts. Getting lost in the city of Kamurocho as you solve cases, make friends, and punch thugs into oblivion never stopped being fun even if the missions you sometimes have to do aren’t that engaging. It was easy to overlook most of the issues that I may have had with Judgment just because of how much consistent fun I was having over the course of my experience. While Judgment was my first foray into this world of Yakuza, it most certainly won’t be my last.