We’ve been fans of the Yakuza series for many years now, and after getting a pair of entries in 2018 we figured we were due for a little dry spell before heading back to Kamurocho. Wrong. Developed by the same team, Judgment arrives on the PlayStation 4 as a spin-off of the Yakuza series, offering up a familiar location and aesthetic but with all-new characters and storylines. Does this newcomer live up to its Yakuza predecessors? There’s only one way to find out.
Judgment pretty much lifts the control scheme from Yakuza 0, including offering the option to switch between fighting styles — in this case we get crane and tiger (cue the Wu-Tang Clan). Each style has its own move set and intended use: crane is for fighting groups of enemies whereas tiger is best suited for one-on-one encounters. It didn’t feel like there were quite as many street-level scrums here versus a Yakuza game, but the options helped things stay fresh.
There are also all manner of mini and retro games to spend your time on. Classics like the batting center and darts return in all their glory, and you also get a bunch of retro SEGA games you can fire up like Space Harrier, Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 5. Some of the more fleshed out extra content includes the on-rails, light-gun style zombie shooter Kamuro of the Dead, and a VR board game that features things like fights and lock picking where you can win some yen.
Easily the most robust addition to the activities roster is drone racing. Although you will be called upon to use your drone during some story sections, the racing elements is entirely optional and highly involved as parts for upgrading your drone are strewn about Kamurocho. The races above the city’s streets are fun, and beefing up your racer can be an addicting time waster.
Unfortunately, the game’s detective-specific additions aren’t as well executed. Investigating crime scenes consists of moving a cursor over objects until you’re given the option to interact with it. Interrogating suspects is similarly foolproof as if you make the incorrect choice you’ll get some piece of dialogue and then circle back to make the right one. It feels tacked on and tangential rather that a critical part of your job. L.A. Noire it ain’t.
If you’ve played the recent Yakuza games then you know exactly what you’re gonna see. A city that’s packed with charm and vibrant colour, but one that doesn’t have a ton going on in the same way a Rockstar title does. We’ve spent many hours in Kamurocho, and we’ll take any excuse to prowl the streets again, pummeling street punks in the most devastating ways possible, but it’s fair to write that Judgment doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve.
Well, not on the visual side anyway. With the audio, however, we get one major departure from its predecessors as there’s a full English dub (albeit with hit-or-miss lip syncing). We turned it on to get a taste, and while it’s solid enough we soon switched back to Japanese with English subtitles. That’s what we’re accustomed to, and we enjoy the emotion those performances portray. Still, if language has ever been a barrier to entry with the series this offers a great chance to check it out without being forced to read subtitles.
Judgment tells the story of Takayuki Yagami, a one-time defense attorney turned private investigator after the criminal he earned an acquittal for went on to murder his wife. His partner is an expelled Yakuza from the Tojo Clan, Masaharu Kaito. Together they scrape by doing odd jobs and bits of investigative work to help defense teams with their preparation for trials.
They land a break when Tak’s former employer is hired to defend Kyohei Hamura, a captain in the Matsugane family, on a murder charge relating to a series of bodies that had begun to turn up in Kamurocho with their eyes gouged out. While Tak is eventually able to prove that Hamura was not the killer, he suspects the captain is involved. When he decides to continue pursuing the case Tak runs afoul of Hamura, who wants to stop him. Now it’s up to Tak to try and unravel the mystery while being hounded by the Matsugane family.
Despite the underwhelming nature of the detective work, Judgment still tells a very compelling story, and there’s little question that being freed from years of increasingly intertwined plot threads in the Yakuza series allowed the developers more freedom when crafting the tale. The new cast of characters is interesting and well fleshed out, and the way things begin to intertwine as you progress is a lot of fun to experience.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Yakuza spin-off without memorable side quests, most of which now take the form of cases you accept — there’s also a friendship mechanic that increases your reputation in Kamurocho and opens up more cases as you progress. Once again you’ll run the gamut from reasonably serious to completely wacky and everywhere in between. There’s some decent depth to the extra content as well, so they aren’t all glorified fetch quests.
Between the side cases, friend events, main story, drone racing and all the other random activities to do you should expect to spend upwards of 40 hours playing Judgment, though that number could rise or fall a fair amount depending on how much of the secondary content you invest in.
If you’ve been curious about the Yakuza series but balked at the thought of reading copious amounts of subtitles, Judgment is the perfect way to experience the gameplay formula packaged with an intriguing story and memorable characters.