Wow, ok holy shit I forgot about this. So, I’ve been thinking about what game I’ve played recently that I should write about and totally forgot to write about Judgment, despite it being one of my favourite games of 2019. In fact, I was only reminded of it because I watched a WhatCulture Gaming Chatty Faces video, in which Scott Tailford listed Judgment as one of the most overlooked games of the year and he is very correct as illustrated by absent mindedness (Cheers for reminding me of this one, Scott). So, all this time I have been wracking my brain, and the topic was right under my nose the whole time.
So, what is Judgment? Because let’s be honest, chances are if you haven’t picked it up and played it by now, you probably don’t know what it is. Or you vaguely remember seeing it on the shelf in your local Game (Or GameStop/EB Games depending on locale). Judgment is the latest game released by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios, the studio that brought us the Yakuza series. Judgment is a spin off of the Yakuza series, taking place in the series’ renowned fictional city of Kamurocho, a ward of Tokyo and based on the real red light district of Kabukichō. The Yakuza series primarily focused on Kazuma Kiryu, canonically beginning with the prequel Yakuza 0 as an upstart Yakuza enforcer, up to Yakuza 6 where Kiryu is an infamous Yakuza leader. The series’ gameplay is delivered through quick-paced and stylish martial arts fighting. Judgment, in broad strokes, is very similar. Taking place in the same city not long after the events of Yakuza 6 with surprisingly little reference to Kiryu albeit from the presence of the Tojo Clan. A lot of the gameplay is also delivered through the same martial arts combat seen in Yakuza 6. The key difference being the change in perspective. Takayuki Yagami is a disgraced defence lawyer who left the profession to become a private detective after a suspect he freed killed his girlfriend not long after the trial’s end. Now he is a detective, locating people’s cats and spying on spouses who are suspected of adultery alongside his ex-yakuza friend/colleague, Masaharu Kaito. So not exactly like Kiryu’s criminal inclinations within the Yakuza.
Firstly, I’ll start with what I adored about this game. Now, Judgment was actually my first foray into the Yakuza series. I did buy Yakuza 0 in 2015 after watching Angry Joe’s review on it. However, the beginning of that game is so painfully slow, I ended up putting it down and never picking it up again. The beginning of Judgment immediately grabbed me. The visuals, especially during cutscenes, are stellar. Ryu Ga Gotoku have achieved some of the best video game motion capture acting I have observed, possibly ever. Even the cutscenes a few years ago with Yakuza 0 still stand up amazingly with negligible difference in quality between the two. I initially booted up the game and played with the English dub, the first time an English dub has been available with a Yakuza series game. However, not long after, I swapped to the Japanese voices out of curiosity and stuck with them. The voice acting is also stellar. I can only speak for the Japanese voices however, as I did not use the English voices for long. All of the voiced cutscenes are incredibly well produced, especially the deliveries from Takuya Kimura (Yagami), Yuko Kaida (Saori), Miou Tanaka (Hamura), Ken’ichi Takito (Ayabe) and Shinshu Fuji (Kaito).
However, what made the game for me was not the characters and the performances, though that helped. No, what made the game for me was the world itself, specifically the city of Kamurocho. Upon researching the games and reception towards the portrayal of a Tokyo red light district, I was surprised to find that a lot of Japanese reviewers, players and media outlets highlighted how accurately a district such as Kabukichō is portrayed through Kamurocho and the Yakuza series as a whole. Some saying that the Yakuza series is one of the best portrayals of Tokyo in a digital medium, all bar the constant street fighting of course.
A kind reddit user summarised his thoughts on the accurate portrayal of Japanese culture in Yakuza, and by extension Judgment (Linked at the end). In summary, the user highlighted the accurate use of formal and hierarchal language in interactions between characters, the way the city feels at night or during the day (I.E. drunk salaryman on their way to the local massage parlour for a “service” during the night time phases, just look for the speech bubble of a dude pondering whether he can bang for 3 hours if he pays for that time), the activities available such as batting cages, arcades, bars, indoor pond fishing etc. A note the user leaves at the end is something I highly agree with: “The one thing I really like about what the Yakuza games do is they don't depict Japan as this wonderland. Tokyo is a city just like anywhere else and it has its dirty sides, billboards and design choices seemingly from a different generation and a very noisy visual presence.” This can be seen in Judgment, also. The various side streets look run down, there is homeless people wandering around, some litter in places amongst other things. I’ve found a lot of media which portrays Japan, depicts it in a very clean, almost hygienic manner. And compared to many cities in the world, Japan is a much cleaner place. But it ain’t sparkling, it has its rough spots and rundown areas like anywhere else. The uncensored portrayal of Tokyo and the culture present there actually makes it more fascinating, at least to me, as opposed to the wonderland type portrayal seen in other mediums.
I won’t go into too much detail around the main story as to avoid spoilers. Though I will cover broad strokes in terms of the story’s themes and my overall thoughts of its quality. A quick synopsis of the story is that our protagonist, Yagami, is a lawyer turned private eye who was disgraced three years prior as a murder suspect he acquitted killed his girlfriend, Emi, not long after the trial finished. Yagami resigned from his post in shame and took up his current career. He now takes on odd jobs to pay the bills along with his friend Kaito, an ex-yakuza from the Tojo clan who Yagami has often dealt with since a young age. A series of murders have been occurring in Kamurocho where Yakuza members were found dead with their eyes gouged out. This murder spree ends up involving Yagami and Kaito as they attempt to find the killer, dubbed the Mole after his modus operandi. The main story’s themes are considerably dark and some of the cutscenes can be hard to watch at times due to the emotional weight of the events on screen. This contrasts incredibly heavy with the open world activities which are often bubbly and upbeat. I, personally, really enjoy the juxtaposition of the themes, though at times it can feel like you are playing two separate games at once. Overall, I found the main story enjoyable, however it did go on for a very long time. At times I was like “Wow, I’ve only finished one chapter and I’ve been playing for 4 hours.” Despite its length, it does feel the right length for the story, you get attached to the characters, you end up despising the antagonists, you get annoyed when the plot sets back Yagami. In short, I was very much invested in the story and wanted to see it play out.
Aside from the main story, you will spend a lot of time roaming the streets of Kamurocho. This can include doing minigames which I will cover in a moment, side cases, fighting random goons on the street, making friends with various people around the city and going on dates with love interests that you meet throughout the game (But unfortunately, not Saori). The side cases you will unlock as you complete various milestones throughout the game, most often this is by reaching a certain chapter in the main story or making a certain number of friends throughout the game. The side cases are often activities such as tailing a suspect, finding a lost person/item, hunting down and beating up a group of sex pests called the Twisted Trio who keep preying on one girl. (Side note, the name of the Trio is great as well: The Panty Professor, Ass Catchem and Judge Creep n’ Peep). Another thing you will spend a lot of your time doing is making friends with the people of Kamurocho. Now, there are a huge number of candidates and I can’t cover them all, but a few of them include: Various store clerks, Mr Try and Hit Me, a famous author, playing matchmaker for two coffee shop employees, being a coffee afficionado to be friends with a coffee shop manager among many, many others. A good portion of my time was devoted to making friends with everyone in Kamurocho. As soon as a new green icon appeared on the map, I was straight there to do their side story. These side stories are short and unvoiced but the interaction between Yagami and these people is definitely the best part of it and more than worth the time commitment.
Another portion of the game, similar to the friend mechanic, is the girlfriend mechanic. You will meet 4 women throughout the game, either through friendships or side cases, which will lead them to be interested in Yagami and become available for Yagami to date. Dating in Judgment involves buying the right gift depending on the girl you are about to go on a date with, as well as taking them to do an activity as part of the date, often something like darts or Mahjong. Again, depending on the girl you are going on a date with, you need to choose the activity carefully. Often, there are stories for each girl which you experience as you date them. I haven’t found that this affects anything outside of the dating mechanic but its still a fun addition.
Now, the gameplay. Compared to other games in the mainline Yakuza series, Judgment does fall short in terms of minigames available to play on the side. Minigames have been a staple of the Yakuza series with Yakuza 0 boasting an incredibly large number of them. Ranging from karaoke in the local bar to working on a phone sex line. From batting practice to running a hostess club. Judgment does lack the same variety but does have enough to keep you going through the earlier sections of the game. You can do a similar batting practice minigame (be sure to buy the golden bat and gloves from the dude at the batting cages), a VR board game involving fighting enemies in different scenarios, play darts at the local pub or arcade, play old Sega arcade games like Space Harrier, play Kamuro of the Dead (An on rails zombie shooter), as well as many gambling games such as Poker and Blackjack as well as some Japanese ones like Shogi, Mahjong, Koi Koi and Otcho Kabu (I had no idea how to play these and was obviously terrible at them). One of the minigames I enjoyed the most was the Drone Racing minigame, where you fly your drone around a circuit. You can also customise your drone for better speed, acceleration and handling by finding various components around the city to build the upgrades.
The combat system is pretty much identical to that of Yakuza 6 with many of the same animations for special attacks reused in Judgment. The differences being the change in names of the fighting mechanics. Yagami’s stances are Tiger stance and Crane stance as opposed to Kiryu’s Dragon stance. Tiger stance is better for one on one fights dealing rapid damage to one target. Whereas, Crane stance is better against groups with many attacks spanning a wide area to hit multiple targets. The meter for your special attacks is called “EX” and once you gain enough EX you can perform special attacks against your enemies using various items or combos. Or alternatively, fill the bar entirely and initiate EX Boost in which you take less damage, don’t stagger upon hits and deal more damage to your opponent(s). The gameplay can grow stale, especially over the game’s substantial runtime. It took me roughly 48 hours of game time to finish Judgment. That is considering the various minigames I played as well. Though I did not 100% the game either. So, after a while, the random encounters do grow stale and you’ll find yourself bypassing the groups of thugs who run up to fight you, especially near the end of the game.
As this is a detective game, it would make sense that you’re gonna detect and inspect some stuff. Throughout the main story, the interaction you as the player will have in the detection of evidence will take place through Yagami’s eyes. At certain points in the story, it will be necessary to search for evidence in the location you’re in. At this point the game will change perspective to first person view from Yagami. You will then need to scan the room and look for evidence, often indicated by your controller vibrating when you’re very close to it. Hitting X will then register that you have found this evidence. In terms of detective games, it’s a little light on the Detective aspect. Most of your duties as a detective will take place through this evidence finder view, tailing suspects and, obviously, knocking seven shades of shit out of people because this is still a Ryu Ga Gotoku game.
One of the few, actually only thing I despised about the game was the Keihin Gang. The Keihin gang are a small gang of street thugs who harass the locals of Kamurocho. Yagami ends up getting entangled with them during a mission midway-ish through the game. After this point, Kim, one of the friends you make during the game, will text you informing you that the gang are running amok through the city and you need to go fight the bosses of the gang to stop the gang’s rampage. During the time of the rampage, the random fight encounter chance will go up as the game spawns more thugs so you will be constantly harassed until you fight the bosses. The rampage timer will decay but it takes quite a long time. Once you defeat the bosses, Kim will text you again thanking you. Now this wouldn’t be so bad, if the game didn’t do this, pretty much, once every 30 minutes. So every now and then between missions, you’ll get a text from Kim which you don’t have the option of avoiding, and a rampage will start forcing you to run around the city avoiding thugs or force you to fight the Keihin gang bosses again. This, along with the samey-ness of the combat after a while does begin to wear on you. I’d rather that the mechanic had a longer cooldown between rampages or that it didn’t exist. Its fault is a real shame, because compared to the rest of the game, it really does feel out of place and annoying.
I feel this review(?) has gone on long enough and is now, by far, the longest piece I have written for the site. So, if that doesn’t tell you how much I enjoyed this game I don’t know what will. So, in conclusion, Judgment is a fantastic spin off to the Yakuza series with a great cast of characters which rivals those of the mainline Yakuza series. The main story was satisfactory with some hard hitting themes. The side activities such as the side cases, friendships, dating and minigames are a great addition to the game, though lacking in the minigame department compared to, say, Yakuza 0. The combat feels great and fluid, though begins to feel samey at around the 24 hour mark. The only real glaring problem with the game being the Keihin Gang’s constant harassment every 30 minutes. However, I find that the rest of the game does make up for that annoyance. To summarise, the game is a great overlooked game of 2018/2019 and is definitely worth picking up. Especially as Ryu Ga Gotoku games don’t hold value for long and currently can be picked up for around 25 quid from most retailers.