Fronting as the Yagami Detective Agency, Tak and Kaito battle through a story of love, deceit, and betrayal in SEGA’s Judgment. Is this Yakuza spin-off worthy of the games’ spiritual predecessor, or was Kiryu the driving force behind the franchises’ success?
In a world where even the kids know kung-fu, everyone can crack their neck, matching tracksuits are cool, and floral shirts are worn by hard men, our protagonist, Takayuki Yagami, and his hard-headed sidekick Kaito stand alone in a struggle to find Kamurochos most notorious and feared serial killer, the Mole.
Fans of the Yakuza franchise will relish in the opportunity of returning to Kamurocho, the iconic town that has featured throughout the series of games. Judgment’s Kamurocho delivers a more vibrant, more immersive, and more realistic city than previous games, but still with plenty of nostalgic opportunities with the visiting of past haunts and a few Easter eggs relating to past characters and events.
Judgment enters as a spin-off of the Yakuza franchise, leaning on the series’ thrilling combat, intriguing story, and huge cast of supporting characters to introduce an exciting new narrative in the form of investigative techniques and detective gameplay. While Takayuki Yagami does have ties to Yakuza and the seedy underbelly that comes with it, he’s a law-abiding detective – for the most part, and much of the game plays into that new direction.
During missions, you’ll be interrogating suspects, searching crime scenes for clues, and deciphering evidence to find the correct conclusion. Much of it is great fun and really rewarding – but not all of it. The majority of the investigative scenes are too simplistic, requiring you to move a magnifying glass around the screen to find a single point of interaction – not all too different from hidden object games. There’s also the missions that have you tailing a suspect – arguably one of the strangest design choices in the franchises’ history.
They are far too common, happening throughout the main story and huge variety of side content. It’s a simple premise; you follow a suspect until they reveal the information you require. While believable and realistic in regards to the detective narrative, they become incredibly frustrating, drawn out, and in a word, boring – a word I rarely use to describe the work of developers Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Some of these missions can last nearly 10 minutes. 10 minutes of walking behind a suspect that often walks in circles, seemingly lacking any purpose other than to waste the players’ time. You cannot avoid them, you cannot skip them, but if you can endure them, there’s plenty of exciting opportunities in between.
When you’re not tailing suspects or searching for clues, you’re whooping ass. Judgment places its combat at the very forefront of the experience with nearly every mission or event resulting in the distribution of justice – with fists and feet the chosen vessels of delivery. Judgment’s combat is much faster, more responsive, and offers more fluidity and the traditionally clunky combat of past games. While still retaining a similar feel, Takayuki Yagami’s combat style is much quicker, with more complex combos and more varieties of attacks. It’s still very much a Yakuza game at heart, but with all the right improvements in all the right places.
The story itself lasts approximately 20 hours, and it’s worth every minute. What begins as a dark but seemingly simple investigation into a series of murders quickly descends into a far more sinister and intricate plot that involves politics, real estate, the Yakuza, the medical industry, and a cure for Alzheimer’s, with plot twists and turns at every available opportunity. In true Yakuza fashion, the story is supported by a wealth of side content that can easily wrack up the hours to the 30-40 region.
Kamurocho’s iconic sub-stories return in the form of Side Cases, familiar detective-like work that includes everything from investigating potential infidelity to the capturing of a group of infamous perverts renowned for exposing themselves to anyone in their path. The Side Cases offer a lot of depth to the game world, providing insight into the lives of Kamurocho’s citizens, which often results in yet further opportunities to understand the lives of those involved. A new system has also been introduced that gives Tak the opportunity to make friends with many of Kamurocho’s residents, a feature that is both rewarding and engaging throughout.
While making friends and exploring Side Cases is a thrilling part of Judgment’s adventure, it appears to come at the expense of the series’ fabled mini-games. Those familiar with the Yakuza games have come to expect a level of quality and creativity unprecedented in much of the industry today. Clan Creator, Majima Construction, the Cabaret Clubs, and Yakuza’s past mini-games have been one of the franchises most impressive elements, but Judgment is lacking in comparison.
The traditional arcade games are there, alongside darts, offering brief moments of respite from the often exhausting detective work but as the game progresses, the more integrated mini-games become unlocked. The primary opportunity of investing time into a mini-game comes in the form of Dice & Cube, a virtual-reality mini-game where you throw a dice, move spaces, and complete basic tasks. It’s incredibly rewarding in value, offering the best method of earning money and rare items, but the entire experience itself is bland and repetitive. Judgment’s mini-games and activities are far from bad but they fail to meet the high expectations put in place by previous games in the Yakuza franchise.
If there’s one aspect of the Yakuza franchise that is still very much alive and kicking in Judgment, it’s the masterfully crafted combination of relatable characters and a thoroughly intriguing story alongside some of the wackiest and entirely insane moments you’ll experience in a video game. In one breath I’m examining the latest victim in a series of murders, attempting to understand why the killer gouges out the eyes, and the next I’m shooting a Spider-man-like pervert with a camera off the side of a building using a drone, dressing up as a vampire to distract paparazzi, and being approached by a huge, muscly naked man with the phrase “Have you come to bask in the shadow of my scrotum totem?”.
Humor in games with a mostly serious tone seldom sell me on the combination. One is typically contradictory of the other, and usually results in the serious aspects of the game losing tone and impact through comedic flavor. However, much like they did with the Yakuza franchise, the development team at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio once again proves that they have the art to near perfection in a game that shocked me as much as it did make me laugh.
Judgment is a must-play for fans of the Yakuza franchise and a fantastic entry level title for those a little put off by the time required to catch up with the Yakuza series. It offers a fun and challenging dive into a wonderfully crafted game world, whose only disappointment is the result of the quality of past works.
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