What’s that? A new IP from Sega? Well…sort of. Actually, we’re pretty much talking about a new Yakuza game here. Judgment represents a sort of spin-off of the Yakuza series, taking the same setting and concept and going in a different direction. For longtime fans, this is another chance to dive deep into the seedy world of Yakuza from a new set of eyes.
Kamurocho is as bad a town as ever, as we’ve seen in Yakuza games past, but this time we’re sticking to the straight and narrow…or at least as close as we can get. Takayuki Yagami is a former lawyer who gave up law and became a private detective after defending a murderer who turned out to be guilty. When more killings start happening around the city, each resulting in a corpse with its eyes gouged out, it falls to Yagami and an ever-growing stable of seedy allies to figure out what’s going on and dig up the truth.
You’ll do this in a couple ways. First, you’ve got the standard Yakuza-style combat. This time around, your character has two styles – the sweeping Crane and the pouncing Tiger, useful against groups and single targets respectively. Crane is the better option as a general rule early on, but as the game progresses Tiger becomes the superior choice by far, to the point where you’ll rarely if ever need to use Crane style and the entire system kind of falls apart. My other complaint about combat is that bosses, in true Yakuza style, tend to get fired up and become immune to stunning – rendering many of your attacks useless and forcing you to rely on more simple combos, which feels like it defeats the purpose a bit.
Anyway, when you aren’t fighting, you’ll be investigating, which ends up being a little reminiscent of the Batman Arkham games – checking out crime scenes, digging up clues and so on. It’s a nice break every now and again, though I’d argue that the tail-the-target missions are a little too common and take a little too long.
Despite the shift in perspective, Judgment plays pretty much exactly like the modern Yakuza games. You’ve got a big open city to run around in, allowing you to do what you please between story beats. This runs the gamut from arcade gaming to drone racing to straight up thug-smashing. Make friends! Date women! You’re never going to be bored. It’s not like you wouldn’t be anyway, really, since I’d argue that Judgment’s story is one of the most compelling that the series has seen. Without spoiling anything, once things get going, they really get going, and the last five hours or so might be some of the best in gaming.
But it’s not all bento boxes and sushi dreams. In particular, one recurring sidequest involving a gang of roaming street thugs starts off annoying and only gets worse over the course of the game. It’s particularly aggravating when your contact for this particular quest calls you right in the middle of an important plot point – can’t it wait? For the most part, though, Judgment has a lot to offer and is polite enough to let you experience it on your own time.
Judgment owes a lot to Yakuza 6, and by “owes a lot” I mean “many of the assets and animations are shared.” That’s not exactly a problem, though if you go directly from one to the other it might be a little weird. On the sound side of things, Judgment has an English voice track! It’s even on by default! Those familiar with the game’s *ahem* bumpy Japanese release due to its voice actors will have a nice chuckle at this. Surprisingly, the English tracks isn’t that bad, though I still found myself switching back to the original Japanese track before too long since…well, since this is a Yakuza game and that’s how they’re meant to be played.
I can’t really go too far into why Judgment is so good without making it less good – in other words, if I talked too much about the plot, I’d ruin it. Suffice to say, this is a game that takes the best parts of Yakuza and Ace Attorney and combines them into something fantastically new. There are problems here, don’t get me wrong, some of them even glaring. But the overall experience of playing through this story makes it worthwhile to overlook them. You owe it to yourself to take a look at Judgment, even if you’re not familiar with the series that begat it – Judgment might even serve as a great starting point.