Platform: PS4
Genre: Lawyer/detective game with Yakuza-style ass-kicking

Sega has a pretty expensive and detailed Yakuza game engine to make games on thanks to the success of Toshihiro Nagoshi’s Ryu ga Gotoku/Yakuza series in Japan and Asia. But it’s starting to feel a bit tiring now, which is why I’m glad the Kiryu Kazuma saga has been put to bed last year. But we still need a spin-off game or a new perspective set in the same universe where the bustling metropolis of Kamurocho resides, right?

Enter Judgment, now free from its Yakuza continuity shackles (albeit with some allusions). We have a fresh new protagonist with a brand new set of problems and conundrums, yet somehow the Yakuza formula of non-linear exploration combined with the main plot filled with a ton of story and talking heads cutscenes is prevalent.

Sustained!

While some sense of deja vu may creep in, Judgment’s narrative is a tad more personal and small-scale, rather than being too over-the-top and cartoonish like in the last Yakuza game. It opts to focus on the redemption arc of one Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced lawyer who now works as a private eye. Who also knows two styles of kung fu. Who also is in league with the local mobsters in the same city inhabited by the Tojo Clan. You know, the same clan from the Ryu ga Gotoku/Yakuza series.

I’ll also say this: I like this new cast of characters. Our main hero Yagami is aloof yet competent and badass in his own right. He’s not quite as stoic as Kiryu Kazuma, but he knows when to get things done when needed. Other highlights in the cast include the affable yakuza buddy Kaito, the deadpan Saori, the mentor figure Genda, and the no-nonsense lawyer “buddy” Shintani. This is further accentuated by the more personal and intimate story beats leading up to a really good conclusion.

Yes, you still have your bombastic moments but they’re kept to a minimum here. In other words, it’s easy to take this game’s story seriously. Good job on being restrained and disciplined, Toshihiro Nagoshi!

Hold It!

It’s still a Yakuza game at heart, but now with more detective and investigative elements amidst the ass-kicking. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t as fun as oh say, exploring the whole of Kamurocho in a different lens. You have to pull off a bunch of pixel hunts via first-person camera-work to presenting evidence and arguing against accusations Ace Attorney style. You even have a couple of scenes that pays tribute to that Capcom game’s iconic pose.

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You also need to tailgate and trail after suspects and wanted folks while also being stealthy. While not as broken and game-breaking as other attempts, this portion still feels a bit tedious and breaks the pacing, so much so that you dread playing when the other parts are calling your name.

Sustained

Thankfully, the game’s combat and exploration offset this, albeit barely. You still feel the disparity between the game’s nuanced narrative and the actual “Yakuza” half where your relatable protagonist can somehow take on a mob of cops with his kung-fu without breaking a sweat.

Still, whatever action is here is pretty ace and refined; Yagami is more nimble than Kiryu since he can sprint and run up walls to pull off special jump attacks and finishers. You still can pick up bikes and signs to bash people’s heads in, but you can also leapfrog them and counter with your brand of agile attacks. You can also switch between a crowd-control variant Crane style and his duel-focused and armour-breaking Tiger style on the fly.

Yakuza veterans may look and this and say it’s basically a revamped version of Akiyama’s fighting style, but the fact that Yagami’s the only guy you can control means that players will need to adjust to his Tiger and Crane styles lest they get a beatdown on their own. Also, you can suffer from Mortal Wounds where portions of your lifebar cannot be healed via sword or deadly moves, meaning you need to get medkits to heal that bit.

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Exploration-wise, Kamurocho is still a treat to explore and view. With new friends to make in the game’s new take on side stories as well as some Yakuza landmarks still prevalent for players to wax nostalgia over, Judgment’s setting is still the highlight of this “new” action adventure entry.

Innocent? Or Guilty Of Boredom?

A gripping narrative and a refined Yakuza engine with some new combat nuances & aesthetical touches can’t fix the fact that the game’s standout feature, the detective and lawyer bits, aren’t great. At the very least, you’ll enjoy half of what this game has to offer while suffering through the remaining lawyer and detective bits in this 24-hour or so escapade. It’s not subtle in what it’s trying to achieve, but that has never been Toshihiro Nagoshi and his team’s strong point, no?

Pros

  • Action beats are still great.
  • Kamurocho is a vibrant and lively city to explore in.
  • The main plot feels more intimate & intense.

Cons

  • Big dissonance between action and grounded narrative.
  • Detective and lawyer sections aren’t fun.

FINAL SCORE: 60/100

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