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Judgment, a spin-off of Sega’s popular Yakuza series, puts you on a path of redemption in a tale of a disgraced lawyer turned private-eye who gets wrapped up in a criminal conspiracy.
This stylish detective noir story is a polar opposite from Yakuza’s over-the-top, often ridiculous crime drama. While Judgment takes place roughly around the same time as Yakuza 6, the only thing you really need to know is that both games take place in the same city with little interaction with each other.
So, if you’re not caught up on your Yakuza games, don’t sweat it (even though you should play them -- they’re great). It’s more of a sequel than a sister game.
Judgment casts you as hot-shot defense attorney Takayuki Yagami, who is fresh off his courtroom win. Unfortunely, his victory is cut short when the very client he got aquitted of murder, murders again and throws Yagami’s views of the law and morality upside down. No longer a lawyer, he opens a small detective agency with his ex-Yakuza buddy Kaito who acts as his muscle. Let’s just say Yagami isn’t really doing the most noble work out there. He’s jaded, miserable and taking whatever jobs he can.
Most of the Agency’s work involves collecting debts for the Yakuza until one of their lieutenant are framed for a murder. Before you know it, you discover that you might be on the trail of a serial killer who has been stalking the streets of Kamurocho, Japan. Without getting into too much spoiler territory, let’s just say things lead to a grander conspiracy with you in the middle.
What really sells the drama is the absolutely gorgeous facial capture tech, which is running off the Dragon Engine that’s also used in recent Yakuza games. Most of the main cast are modeled and voiced by well-known Japanese actors. Takuya Kimura’s work as the lead Takayuki Yagami is great and really nails the whole cool leather jacket wearing detective vibe. Do yourself a favor and play with the japanse voice overs.
Despite having good instincts, a detective can’t get the job unless he’s got the right tools for the job. Yagami’s got disguises to go undercover and a smartphone he uses to track targets via social posts and take pictures of suspects and crime scenes. Your handy drone also plays a huge role in your information-gathering abilities. Often when you’re tailing a suspect, you’ll transition into drone play if your target decides to hide in an alley or a rooftop in order to keep from being seen.
The Side Cases are great tonal palette cleanser from all the horrible crime scenes and intense courtroom drama. Side Cases range from catching a cheating husband in the act or tracking down, I kid you not, a panty thief. Much like Yakuza’s Side Stories, most side Cases at first seem pretty boring but often take unusual and hilarious turns. For the most part, it’s the main Case is what will keep you sucked in most of the time because it’s so well acted by all the major players that it feels like a TV show.
Throughout Kamurocho you’ll come across a number of people need the skills of a handsome private investigator with a hell of a roundhouse kick. Make friends with locals and they will give you leads on the new cases.
As fun as the pay off is for completing a case, the actual investigations can often be a chore. Some cases will require you to discreetly tail a person which turns the game into a short, mostly clunky, stealth sequence where you’ll blend with crowds or duck away in a hiding spot to avoid detection. Investigating crime scenes essentially boils down to going on pixel hunts. I would prefer a little more depth to these missions.
Each solved case, fight won, and all-around good detective work rewards skill points (SP). SP can unlock new fighting moves, improve your drone and lockpicking skills, and a host of useful quality of life perks.
Of course, no good private eye wouldn’t be doing his job unless they were involved in some sort of fisticuffs. The combat in Judgment takes a more streamlined approach by letting you switch between two distinct fighting styles on the fly: one designed for fighting groups and the other for fighting a single enemy.
As you fight, you’ll build up EX that’ll open up the insane special attacks you’ve grown to love from the Yakuza games, like slamming punks heads into walls or doing high flying spinning jump kicks. My personal favorite is the classic move of picking up one of the seemingly endless bicycles in Kamurocho and slamming it down on some poor soul.
One thing I did notice is that Judgment has less activities and side content when compared to the other Yakuza games. You won’t managing hostess bars or baseball teams but you can still keep busy in the streets of Kamurocho that don’t involve drop kicking people from a swing set.
You can though, compete in drone races, go on dates, or do karaoke. I've been spending my time in the batting cages and in the arcade playing around half dozen classic SEGA games like Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, and Kamuro of the Dead which is Judgment’s take on the zombie rail shooter House of the Dead.
Judgment is a good addition to the Yakuza series even though the game itself feels lighter than previous installments in terms of content. But the game makes up for it with a great detective story with stylish characters and fantastic drama, and you’ll learn a bit of the Japanese legal system along the way.
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Jorge Jiminez is a reporter, game critic, and writer from New Jersey with more than 10 years of experience. He writes primarily for PCGamer, although his work has appeared on other sites, including Tom's Guide, DualShockers, WCCFTech, and more. He specializes in reviewing games and gaming hardware, and greatly enjoys Pop-Tarts.