Review – Judgment

It’s amazing how I never get tired of playing these Yakuza games. The setting is always the same half a dozen blocks of a claustrophobic Tokyo red light district, the combat mechanics are similar to one another, and you always know the plot will revolve around mob families, treasons, and murder mysteries. Yet, I always scream in joy whenever Sega announces a new one. Even though they will try to convince you otherwise, Judgment is yet another Yakuza, although it does feature some new additions to try to distance itself from its peers (to no avail, may I add), and I’m totally fine with that.

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Meet Yagami. He tries his best, but he’s no Kiryu.

Judgment is the first Yakuza game not starring Kazuma Kiryu, everybody’s most heroic grumpy guy and worst mafioso in the history of crime syndicates. This time around, you control Takayuki Yagami, a disgraced lawyer turned private investigator. The game’s main plot revolves around a serial killer who targets mobsters from a rival clan, and that’s all I’m going to tell you about it. The plot is a good chunk of the reason you play a Yakuza game, so talking about it in detail is like me giving you a reason not to purchase it.

The story is as great as any other Yakuza game, but its delivery is a lot more flawed than in its predecessors. You can see that right away in the first chapter. That might have been one of the longest and uninsteresting parts of the game, as all you’re doing is running from A to B to C to A again, occasionally fighting a bad guy or two, without the possibility of doing side missions. The first chapter alone took me more than four hours. Once that beast is over, the game’s pacing improves a lot, but it gets uneven every now and then. There’s less fighting in Judgment, with these segments being replaced by more dialogue scenes and one of the game’s main features: investigative sections.

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“So here I am, doing everything I can, holding on to what I am, pretending I’m a Superman…”

Being a private investigator means that you will have to occasionally search for clues and collect evidence in a neat first-person mode. Think of it as a tridimensional Ace Attorney mode, but instead of talking to a medium girl in between investigations, you go to the local Sega arcade or break a goon’s teeth with a nearby signpost.

There might be less fighting in Judgment, but that doesn’t mean that fighting isn’t fun. On the contrary, this might actually be the best combat system ever since Ryu ga Gotoku Studios implemented the Dragon Engine on the Yakuza games. The fighting transitions are even shorter, the combos are more varied and faster to pull off, and there’s more than one fighting style to choose from. Yagami is a Kung-Fu specialist who knows both the tiger and crane styles of fighting. The former is best suited for one-on-one fights, while the latter is ideal for fights against various enemies at a time. As always, you can acquire upgrades for your character, such as increased health bars, faster combos, extra sidesteps, and new special attacks. There are less upgrades this time around, and the experience point system has been simplified, but it’s still fun to level Yagami up to the point that he becomes the living incarnation of Bruce Lee in Tokyo.

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I got the reference. We all got the reference.

A Yakuza game wouldn’t be a Yakuza game without its stupid amount of side content. Judgment is no exception to the rule. Your typical minigames, such as Blackjack, Mahjong and so on, are all here. Instead of going to hostess clubs, you can now go out with actual girlfriends like a model citizen. You can play pinball. You can attend the local VR parlor and play a more violent variant of Mario Party which can give you hundreds of thousands of yen in prizes.

You can also go to the Sega arcade and play classics such as Puyo Puyo, Space Harrier, Fighting Vipers, and many others, as well as a brand new game created for Judgment: Kamuro of the Dead. Ladies and gentlemen, you read that right: Sega included a brand new House of the Dead inside Judgment and it’s as fantastic as you can imagine. The only disappointment in the side content department is the removal of the best feature of the entire Yakuza series: karaoke. That’s a punishable offence in my books.

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It took them three games, but they finally fixed the Dragon Engine combat system.

With that being said, Judgment didn’t fully click with me. There are more issues in this game than any other Yakuza I’ve played so far. The camera issues, while small, still persist. The framerate is also way more erratic in Judgment. As the game gets more and more detailed, you will start dreading walking around Kamurocho at night. You know the tons of neon signs will make the framerate sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Technical issues aside, Judgment‘s main issue is that it isn’t as charming as Yakuza. You might even say that it is Yakuza, but at the same time it isn’t Yakuza. The elements are all there, but it’s not as entertaining or engaging as its predecessors and I can tell you why: there’s no Kiryu. Yagami tries his hardest to be a likable character and I appreciate that he actually has a great sense of humor, but he doesn’t have the same amount of charisma as our lovable grump Kiryu-chan. His voice actor doesn’t feature the same imposing delivery as Takaya Kuroda’s magnificent performances either.

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Sega, if you’re not planning on releasing “Kamuro of the Dead” for the PSVR, then you probably hate making money.

Judgment is yet another fantastic game set in the Yakuza universe, but of all games I’ve played so far, this is the least appealing of them all. Don’t get me wrong; the story is great, the investigative mechanics are a nice change of pace, albeit underused, and the combat has been vastly improved. But its uneven pacing and overall lack of charm disappointed me the most. I appreciate what Sega tried to do, but sadly, Yakuza ain’t the same without Kiryu and Majima breaking enemies’ bones with bicycles and nunchuks. Yagami and friends tried their best, but they aren’t as charismatic as their predecessors. It’s still a fantastic game, don’t get me wrong. I fully recommend it to any Yakuza fan. Walking around Kamurocho, beating up mobsters, and playing some Sega classics will hardly get old.

 

Graphics: 8.0

The graphics are even more detailed than in Yakuza 6, but this game features an even less stable framerate.

Gameplay: 8.5

The combat system is faster and more varied than the one present in Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2, even though Judgment features more framerate issues than its predecessors. The investigation segments aren’t deep, but are a nice change of pace whenever they show up.

Sound: 9.0

The voice acting is as fantastic as it has ever been, but the main character doesn’t boast the same charm that Kiryu or Majima had. The lack of karaoke in this game is an absolute sin, by the way.

Fun Factor: 7.5

Judgment suffers from pacing issues, as well as an overall lack of charisma, but this game boasts the best and most varied side content in any Yakuza game out there.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Judgment is available now on PS4.

Reviewed on PS4.

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